ORDINATION AS A MONK Although one does not have to be ordained as a //bhikkhu// (monk) to

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ORDINATION AS A MONK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Although one does not have to be ordained as a //bhikkhu// (monk) to follow the path of the Buddha, the monastic life can be most conducive to the practice of meditation. It is a life relatively free from the worry of worldly cares and distractions. One has the opportunity and environment in which to live a life-style that the layman cannot experience. Thai Tradition Monks receive the greatest respect in Thai society, for ordination implies that the person has turned away from worldly desires and ambitions in pursuit of the highest wisdom and purification. Ordination is considered by Thai Buddhists the most worthy act a man can perform. So worthy is it, in fact, that most every Thai male will at some time in his life, generally after completing his studies and before marriage, spend a period in monkhood. Ordination traditionally takes place with much celebration before the commencement of the rainy season and the newly ordained monk remains in the monastery for a period of a week to a few months. During that time he learns to chant some Pali scriptures, studies the Buddha's teachings, and receives instruction in meditation. Upon completion of his time in robes, he reenters society as a layman, wiser for the experience, "ripe," and ready to fulfill his responsibilities as an adult. Some boys receive novitiate ordination as a child and remain novices throughout their youth before receiving higher ordination as a monk. Some men spend their entire lives draped in the saffron robes of the Buddhist order. The Ordination The sight of a foreigner ordained as a monk brings pleasure to the Thais. It's a sign that the foreigner accepts and respects their beliefs and wishes to experience what they consider to be a very important aspect of their lives. To wear robes means to place oneself as a symbol of the Buddhist way of life, thus it's essential to learn the proper behavior for a monk beforehand. This may take more time and effort for the foreigner than for the Thai who is "born" into Buddhist culture. Usually one spends a period at a wat as an 8-precept layman to learn the rules and some chanting. Laymen in some monasteries wear the white robes of a pakow (anagarika). Novices wear orange robes, follow 10 precepts (basically the same as 8 precepts except no money can be possessed), and have 75 training rules. Prior to full ordination as a monk, one must meet the requirements of being a man at least 20 years old, free of debt and government/military obligations, and have consent of immediate family. The ordination ceremony uses Pali language, which must be memorized. In the first part one takes the going forth as a novice; the second part, which can be done immediately following the first, comprises the higher ordination of a monk. Monks follow 227 rules of discipline (//Patimokkha//). Requesting Ordination When one has made the decision to lead a monk's life and selected a wat, one approaches the abbot or his secretary for an interview. One is then accepted as a //naga//, an applicant for ordination and given training in rules, daily chanting, and the ordination procedure. Some abbots feel that a short-term ordination is worthwhile and readily grant permission. Others believe that one should try to stay in robes as long as possible (1-5 years minimum). Length of training before ordination can be one month or even less at some wats; at other wats the abbot might expect an applicant to spend at least 9 months as a layman and novice before higher ordination. As the famous Ajahn Chah put it, "Easy to ordain, easy to disrobe." The Monk's Life To become a monk requires conviction. To remain a monk requires patience and understanding. These attributes can be cultivated and will arise naturally with the development of meditation. The life of a monk has its highs and lows and requires constant effort. There are always periods of discouragement, but with the right attitude and a balanced view of one's emotional changes, one will learn from the difficulties that arise and gain understanding. Time spent as a monk will be a valuable and rewarding experience. ON BECOMING A NUN ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ When the religious order was first established, women were excluded. After several requests, and after carefully considering the social values of the day, the Buddha agreed to allow women to be admitted to the order. The first woman accepted into the Sangha was Paccabadi Gotami, the Buddha's stepmother, who was ordained by the Buddha himself. In establishing the //Bhikkhuni Sangha//, the Buddha stipulated that future ordinations should be conducted with a fully ordained bhikkhuni present as a witness. For over 1,400 years women sought and received ordination. In later years, however, the number of women seeking to live the holy life began to dwindle until the day came when there were no longer any fully- ordained bhikkhunis living in the world. Without a bhikkhuni present as a witness, ordination could not be given to female applicants and the Bhikkhuni Sangha ceased to exist. Women have not been deprived of the opportunity to live the holy life. White-robed maechees can be found following ascetic practices in many temples throughout Thailand. In fact, in some temples they outnumber monks. Ordination for women in Thailand means undertaking to live by the 8 precepts, dressing in white, and shaving the head. A woman intending to stay for only a short period does not have to shave her head. The life of a maechee in a wat or meditation centre follows much the same pattern as a monk's, but with a greater emphasis on service (i.e. cooking and cleaning). Maechees, although living and practicing in a separate area of the wat or centre, follow a daily routine which includes meditation and chanting sessions and interviews with the teacher. They usually do not go for alms rounds, however, and sometimes eat after the monks. Maechees generally do not receive the same high degree of respect as monks, but as a foreigner, the reception will always be warm and welcoming wherever one goes. Women's liberationists may find plenty to support their cause, so to avoid conflicts, it's better to leave such thoughts at home. Thailand offers a rare opportunity for women to experience and live the contemplative life. Foreign women have taken advantage of this opportunity to live the life of a Thai maechee, many quite successfully. Sometimes the struggle may become difficult, but with patience and understanding, and a sense of anatta (selflessness) and humor, all obstacles can be overcome. * * * * * * *


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