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.