Frank has been meditating a long time, and is well versed in the suttas (teachings) and over the years has been more and more committed to the practise and development that is the Buddhist way. On March 29th ’09 he passed the event horizon and took ordination as a monk, and has gone to live in a country temple not far from Bangkok.
A good number of us, mostly regulars, joined in the ceremony at Wat Terwarat- a temple that just seven years ago was run down and filled with a shanti town of squatters. Frank, now Phra Adhicitto (which means ‘refined mind’ or ‘higher heart’), managed to battle his way through the pali verses admirably. It is not easy to learn by heart the difficult pali lines.
Marcus, also at the ceremony, blogged on this event too :
While practising the pali stanzas, Frank bemoaned the passing of the original ordination procedure that the Buddha used in his early ministry – there the aspirant requested ordination and the Buddha replied:
Ehi Bhikkhu svakkhato dhammo caro brahmacariyam samma dukkhassa antakiriyaya
Come Bhikkhu, well expounded is the Dhamma, live the holy (celibate) life for the complete ending of dukkha
That would have been a lot easier. The ordination procedure changed in stages, with later aspirants being required to shave their head and don the saffron robes first, while the monkhood was bestowed not just by the Buddha, but also by his disciples. Taking refuge in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, a formula that we regularly recite nowadays, was also added to the procedure.
Finally, the ceremony grew to what we saw at Frank’s ordination – a quorum of at least ten ordained Bhikkhu’s is required to examine the aspirant and bestow ordination as a Bhikkhu. In Thailand you also get a monk’s ID book.
After shaving the head, the aspirant and family/friends circumambulates the consecrated ordination hall that is marked by 9 buried ‘sima’ stones. Eight of these spots are usually marked by small towers or slabs around the hall. Just before entering the hall, as a layman for the last time, the aspirant will throw coins to the crowd which symbolizes giving away worldly possessions. Yes, in a short while, according to Thai tradition, the people will fill the new monk’s alms bowl with money – but the happy acceptance of total contradiction is one of the charms of Thailand. Another curious Thai custom is during the circumambulation the mother will carry the alms bowl, the father will carry the robes, and the girlfriend (presuming it is a short term ordination) will carry the pillow – presumably the temporary monk will hug his pillow at night instead of her …
Then the aspirant will give the robes to the abbot, who will hand them back with instructions to don the robes. Looking awkward, the bhikkhu-to-be returns and sits just outside the quorum of monks, where he takes the ten precepts – officially becoming a novice. Only an ordained novice can become a full monk. He is taken into the quorum and requests dependence on his preceptor (the one who is ordaining him). Taking dependence means the new monk and the preceptor are beholden and responsible to each other, as a son to a father. The relationship with ones preceptor is kind of cherished in Thai Buddhism, and even when you move elsewhere, you should still find opportunities to return and pay respects to him.
Though taking dependence with the abbot at Wat Thewarat, Phra Adhicittowill live at a different temple with the blessing of his preceptor.
The aspirant is then led outside the quorum, behind a special mat. Two senior monks go and examine him with a number of questions – some of them somewhat controversial. In short he is asked if he is a male, free from debt, complete in all his limbs, over 20 years of age (counted from conception, or six months before actual birth), free from serious illness or criminal charges. This means that an amputee for instance, does not qualify. Nor do eunuchs, those in debt or those who do not have permission from their parents. The main idea was to exclude those who would not be able to fulfil their duties in the Sangha. But some of the qualifications seem a little inappropriate in the modern era.
A female by the way, can also ordain, but must do so before both a quorum of Bhikkhus and also of Bhikkhunis (nuns). There are a few adaptations for women, but basically it is the same procedure.
Finishing the examination the two monks return and report to the preceptor, and the aspirant is called into the quorum again. The preceptor will ask him to recite the meditation practise called MulaKammatthana. That is: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin. He will recite these five items forwards and in reverse.
What is the significance of these five items as a meditation practise? They are all you can see of a human being. Hair is not clean – you have to wash it continually. Skin is the same – it needs constant cleaning. So these five reflections are to be developed as a remedy to lust, and a reminder not to be attached to the imperfect and impermanent human body.
Also mentioned are the Four Requisites
- Alsmsbowl to provide you with food (if invitations are made you may accept)
- Rag robes for clothing (if new robes are offered you may accept)
- Fermented urine as medicine (other medicines/tonics may be accepted)
- Root of a tree for your home (if dwellings are offered they may be used)
The significance of the bracketed qualifications is the development from a true forest sangha of renunciates, to a wide spread group that has interaction with society. In short, even in the Buddha’s lifetime, there was a shift towards involvement with society, and a relaxation of what was then considered the norm for forest dwelling religious seekers.
Finally, mention is made of the four ‘defeat’ precepts – which if a Bhikkhu breaks he is no longer considered ordained.
- Not to cause a human life to be taken
- Not to commit sexual intercourse
- Not to steal
- not to claim supernormalattainments in order to gain faith and requisites from lay people
Each of these is interesting in itself, but a topic for another occasion.
That is it. The new monk then receives any offerings from the people who are keen to ‘Tam Boon’ and participate in the blessings of an ordination. He does not make life vows, and can disrobe and reordain up to seven times in one lifetime. From this point on his seniority is counted in years from ordination date. When you see some monks bowing to other monks, it is because they have been ordained for less time. Seniority is not based on rank, title, or position, but purely in years of ordination.
One final picture at the end of the ceremony (with the Buddha’s head artfully cut short)