Category Archives: Ordination

Hilltribe Ordination at The Marble Temple

Wat Benchamabopit, which is more commonly known as The Marble Temple, is probably the most beautiful temple in Bangkok. It is certainly one of the most unique as it is a blend of European and Thai architecture. It is a beautiful place to photograph at any time of the year. However, this last weekend was extra special as 285 Hilltribe people, mainly youngsters, were being ordained as novice monks.

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The boys and young adults taking part in this ordination ceremony came from 13 different provinces around Thailand. This is an annual project that has been organized in order to promote Buddhism among the Hilltribe people. This year it was done in honour of the 84th birthday of H.M. The King which is on the 5th December.

Normally young men being ordained as monks are supported by their families. However, as many of these Hilltribe people come from poor backgrounds, members of the public were invited to sponsor one of the novice monks. They donated 2,500 Baht to a scholarship fund and were then able to make merit by presenting the robes.

Presentation of robes took place all day on Saturday and also on Sunday morning. The same robes were presented many times to the young men dressed in white. Then on Sunday afternoon, the actual ordination took place. This started with a parade around the main chapel. This was done three times in a clockwise direction. They were led by long drums and dancers.

They then entered the main chapel where the ordination ceremony took place. Everyone first ordains as a novice. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the candidate requests to become a novice.

He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin.

The first half concludes when the shoulder cloth is put over the head of the boys. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes. These are not easy to put on. The boys certainly couldn’t do it themselves. As there were so many of them, they needed the help of monks.

Once they had the robes on, then all of them went back into the hall. They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They said: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”.

As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. This includes basic things like not stealing or lying and also not eating after noon. But they can drink liquids in the afternoon like milk. At the end of the ceremony, the abbot reads the 10 precepts out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him. The new novice monks now prostrate three times and leaves the hall.

Mass Ordination of Monks at Wat Phra Dhammakaya

At the crack of dawn this morning, I was back at Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani Province. I was last there for the meditation workshop for female Buddhists (see here).  This picture shows the extraordinary dome that is a wonderful backdrop to many of the pictures that I have taken here. Lit up like this at dusk you can see that it is not a smooth dome.  In fact, it is covered with 300,000 small Buddha images. Inside the dome there are even more and when complete, they aim to have 1 million images.

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Over the past few weeks, a massive project has been organized nationwide entitled “100,000 Monk Mass Ordination Program for Buddhist Rains Retreat”.  I have seen quite a few posters and billboards saying something like “If you were born a male then you should ordain as a monk for at least one phansa”. Others said that you should “ordain for your mother”.  The annual Buddhist Rains Retreat, called Phansa in Thai, starts next week. Traditionally, men ordain as monks for the three months of the Rains Retreat.

When you ask someone how long they have been a monk, you don’t ask “how many years” but instead “how many phansa”. Meaning, how many periods of the Buddhist Rains Retreat have they spent as a monk. This is important as it dictates proper seniority. When monks go out on an alms round or sits chanting at a ceremony, it is the monk that has seen the most Rains Retreats that is the senior and leads the way.The reason that it is called a Rains Retreat is because by now we are well into the rainy season. For the next three months, monks must stay in their temples and cannot move around or even be disrobed.

This morning I took many pictures of the men wearing white clothes holding onto the robes of a monk. At 6 a.m. they took part in a procession around the dome. They then knelt down and prostrated in a show of respect to the 300,000 Buddha images. The picture below shows an estimated 20,000 men who had come to this temple to be ordained. The same event was also happening at other temples all around Thailand. In fact, I left this one early to go and take pictures at a Hilltribe Ordination at the Marble Temple in Bangkok. I will tell you about that one later.

Novice Monk Ordination for H.M. The King

During the school holidays in Thailand, it is common for Thai students to ordain as novice monks for a short time. In the olden days, before there were government schools, poor boys would ordain in order to get an education. However, these days, their parents want them to ordain for a short time during holidays in order to keep them out of trouble. They also have training in ethics and Buddhism which is good for them. At Wat Chai Mongkhol in Samut Prakan, over one hundred Thai boys recently ordained as novices to honour the 82nd Birthday of H.M. The King. They will be novices from 17th to 25th October 2009.

On the first day, the boys went to the temple with their parents and other family members. All of them were wearing white. The first important ceremony is the cutting of the hair. The first few snips are symbolic and are usually done by an elder member of the family or honoured guest. Here the abbot and local politician went around cutting a small piece of hair each. The other family members then took turns. Finally, all of the hair was shaved off including the eyebrows. Once this was completed, the boys took part in a parade through town to visit the city pillar. At the shrine they made an announcement to the spirits of the shrine that they were ordaining for H.M. The King. In this picture, you can see some of the boys carrying portraits of His Majesty. Others are holding yellow flags.

In Thai, novices are known as a “samanen” or just “nen” for short. A monk is called a “bhikkhu”. The main difference between a novice and a monk is that novices only have 10 precepts while monks have 227. If you are a male and are less than twenty years of age, then you cannot become a fully fledged monk. Everyone first ordains as a novice. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the candidate requests to become a novice. He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin.

The first half concludes when the shoulder cloth is put over the head of the boys. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes. These are not easy to put on. The boys certainly couldn’t do it themselves. As there were so many of them, they needed the help of monks and family members who may have once been monks themselves. The novices basically wear the same robes as monks, but they don’t put on the double-thickness robe. When you see the monks go out on the morning alms round it is easy to spot the novices as they have one shoulder uncovered. Novices and monks can only wear the orange robes. They are not allowed to wear vests or underwear.

Once they have the robes on, then all of them go back into the hall. They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They say: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”. As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. This includes basic things like not stealing or lying and also not eating after noon. But they can drink liquids in the afternoon like milk.

At the end of the ceremony, the abbot reads the 10 precepts out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him.

1. Refrain from killing living things.
2. Refrain from stealing.
3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
4. Refrain from lying.
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs.
8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
10. Refrain from accepting money.

The new novice monks now prostrate three times and leaves the hall. We have posted more pictures over at the Samut Prakan Forums. You can read more stories about Buddhism in Thailand at our www.ThaiBuddhist.com website.

Ordination of Novice Monks

In the old days, in particular in the rural areas, many young boys would become novice monks as that was the only way for them to receive an education. As well as having a secular education, they were taught how to read and write. These days, many of the novices that you might see in temples are boys who have been abandoned by their relations. Sometimes their parents have died or they cannot afford to raise them. Then, there is another group who are only novices for a temporary period of time. For example, maybe their grandparent died and they ordained as part of the funeral ritual. Another group of novices are the ones that ordain during their school holidays. The pictures on this page are of an ordination I attended at a temple in Samut Prakan.

In Thai, novices are known as a “samanen” or just “nen” for short. A monk is called a “bhikkhu”. The main difference between a novice and a monk is that novices only have 10 precepts while monks have 227. If you are a male and are less than twenty years of age, then you cannot become a fully fledged monk. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that only boys can ordain as novices. Everyone first ordains as a novice. And some adults may remain as novices. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the candidate requests to become a novice. He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin. The shoulder cloth is then put over his head. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes.

At the ordination I recently attended there were 99 boys. Obviously the temple had to recruit the help of all of their monks as it is not easy to put on robes. The novices basically wear the same robes as monks, but they don’t put on the double-thickness robe. When you see the monks go out on the morning alms round it is easy to spot the novices as they have one shoulder uncovered. Once they have the robes on, then all of them go back into the hall. They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They say: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”. As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. He then reads them out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him.

1. Refrain from killing living things.
2. Refrain from stealing.
3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
4. Refrain from lying.
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs.
8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
10. Refrain from accepting money.

The new novice monk now prostrates three times and leaves the hall. However, if he wishes to become a monk, he needs to continue with the Questioning of the candidate and the Acceptance of him by the monks. This happens during the same ceremony, but it must be done in the special ordination hall. These buildings are easy to spot because of the stone “sema” markers that surround the building on the four corners. I have been to mass ordinations before and the first part is often done in the large hall. But, to be fully ordained as a monk, they then have to finish in the much smaller ordination hall. Novices don’t need to do this. The novices that you can see in these pictures were only at the temple for a couple of weeks. They had to lead a life much similar as a monk though not as strict. In addition to the ten precepts, they also have to obey the 75 Training Rules. I will tell you about these later.

We have more information about Thai Buddhism at our website www.ThaiBuddhist.com. If you have any questions, then please post them in our Thai Buddhism Forums.

Mass Ordination of Monks

Ordination Ceremony

Cutting hair and eyebrows before becoming a monk

While I have been in Thailand, I have witnessed a number of ordination ceremonies. These have been mainly for my former students when they turned twenty. It is traditional in Thailand for adult males to become ordained as monks for a short period of time. People believe that you are not a full man until you have been ordained. Some people, who have work commitments, only stay as a monk for 15 days. Others remain as monks for three months during the Buddhist Rain Retreat. It doesn’t really matter. However, if you are a government official, you are allowed full paid leave to become a monk. Though I presume there must be some kind of time limit. I know some people who ordained for a short period but ended up staying for years.

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Parading around the town of Paknam

Over the last few days, there have been a mass ordinations of monks nationwide in order to celebrate H.M. The King’s 80th birthday in December. In total there were 7,476 Buddhist men being ordained. There were 89 men from each of the 75 provinces and then also 89 men from each of the main temples in Bangkok: Wat Bonornnivet, Wat Saket, Wat Chanasongkhram, Wat Paknam, Wat Trimitwittayaram, Wat Suthatthepvararam, Wat Phrachetupon Wimolmangklaram, Wat Yannawa and Wat Rama 9. An American friend of mine was being ordained at the same time though he wasn’t counted as one of the 7,476. The 89 men from Samut Prakan came from all over the province. On the morning of Thursday, each temple held the hair shaving ceremony.  For this I went to Wat Chaimongkol where my friend would be living as a monk. Then, in the afternoon, everyone came together at Wat Pichai in the city centre, for some chanting and also for the parade around the town.

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Then, on Friday morning, all 89 men, wearing white clothes, went back to Wat Pichai for the mass ordination. There was a lot of important people at this ceremony. Including the governor and police chief. Some of their staff were also being ordained on this day.

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Ordination ceremonies that I have been to before usually only took an hour or so. However, as there were so many people, we were there for nearly three hours. After the presenting of the robes and some more chanting, it came the time for the men to put on the monk’s robes. This of course is not that easy and they had to have plenty of help from other monks that had already been ordained.

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After some more chanting and a sermon it was almost time for the monks to have their last meal of the day. At this stage, all of the men had been ordained as novices. The building that this ceremony was taking place in wasn’t a sacred place. So, what they had to do was go back to their individual temples in the afternoon in order to complete the ceremony.

Ordination at a Temple

Ordination1

It seems I have been in Thailand long enough now for my ex-Grade 6 students to be ordained as monks. I had already seen some of them become novice monks when a grandparent had died. They are usually absent from school for 2–3 days and come back with all their hair and eyebrows shaved. However, once they reach the age of 20 they can ordain as a fully fledged monk. Many of them do this during the summer holiday break from university or during the Buddhist Lent period. If they are working in government employment then it is compulsory for their boss to give them paid leave to become a monk. People who don’t have much time would just do it for a week. But the average among the people I know is at least one month. Virtually every Thai male is ordained as a monk once they have reached the age of 20. To do this it is making great merit not only for themselves but for the female members of the family. For example the mother and grandmother. Women are not allowed to become monks in Thailand and so they can only gain merit in this way when their sons ordain.

Ordination2

Most ordination ceremonies are much the same. For this one, I received an invitation to attend the hair-cutting ceremony which took place on the afternoon before the main event. Usually only immediate family and close friends are invited for this event. Basically each of the elders take turns in cutting a few strands of hair and giving a blessing at the same time. I arrived a little late for the ceremony, but as soon as I was spotted the father called out to me “ajarn, ajarn” which means “teacher” in Thai. (For professional occupations, like doctor, teacher etc., you pay them more respect by referring to them by their occupation rather than their name. So, you would call a doctor, “Khun Mor”.) I was handed a pair of scissors so that I could cut one of the last strands of long hair. The monk then took over and used a razor to completely shave his hair and eyebrows. Next came the bathing ceremony and the elders all took turns again in pouring clean water over his head and shoulders. Later everyone went to the main hall for some chanting and then in the evening family and friends were invited to the temple for a feast.

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The actual ordination took place the next day at 8 a.m. This time I made an effort of arriving 10 minutes early but as I pulled into the temple grounds I could see the procession around the main chapel had already started. I quickly grabbed my camera and went to join in. I had just started to take some pictures when someone called out to me, “ajarn, ajarn”. Looking over, I quickly realized that I had joined the wrong procession! That is the problem when people have all their hair shaved off, they all then look the same! Anyway, ten minutes later, family and friends of my ex-student started to line up for their procession around the temple. This was led by a band of drummers playing on the long drums and some dancers. We then walked around the chapel three times in a clockwise direction. If you didn’t know, out of all the buildings in the temple, it is easy to spot the main chapel (ordination hall) because of the sacred stones which mark the corners. In Thai, this building is called “bot”.

At the completion of the procession, the monk-to-be, who is incidently wearing white, stops at the shrine at the entrance to the chapel. Here he has to pay respect and repeat some phrases in Pali after a monk. Before he enters the chapel he turns around and throws handfuls of coins out to the crowd. This symbolizes giving up wealth on entering the monkhood. Even though they are only 1 baht coins, everyone runs to grab a coin. This is not because they are poor and need a few baht. These coins can actually bring you good luck and great fortune. If you witness this event then feel free to join in with the fun! After this, he then entered the chapel for the ordination ceremony. As two people were being ordained at the same time and as it was a small chapel, I decided to wait outside. You can find full information about this ceremony over at our sister site thaibuddhist.com. I will also post some video clips here later in the day.

I couldn’t stay long at the ordination as I had to rush home to get changed for a funeral. The father of one of the teachers at my school had died and I had been invited to be the official photographer. I wasn’t really looking forward to taking pictures of the dead body and mourners but the temple is ten minutes away from the beautiful beach resort of Cha-am. It is a four hour drive from Samut Prakan and I would be staying there overnight.  I will write about this funeral later.