Becoming A Monk In Thailand: A Centuries-old Tradition

by Deepanshu Gupta

A few months ago, I attended my first Buddhist monk ordination ceremony in Thailand. My aunt’s ( she is Thai ) relative was being ordained and I went with her. Not having been to one before, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a serious occasion? Would it be a typical Thai excuse to have some fun? Would I be the only foreigner there?

These and many more questions came to mind as I decided whether to go.

Of course, I did attend and had a wonderful time. I learned about how a man in Thailand ordains to be a monk and what the history is behind it.

Becoming a monk in Thailand is of significant importance, and that is why most men in Thailand eventually become a monk. Not necessarily as long-term, as it would be in India ( like sanyasis in India) being a monk in Thailand, can be as short as for only a day or as long as the rest of the man’s life. Most Thai men fall in between.

Becoming a monk for a man in Thailand shows his commitment to his Buddhist faith. It also is usually a precursor to marriage, with some families refusing to allow their daughter to marry a man who hasn’t been one.

What Does the Ordination Ceremony Entail in Thailand?– Of course, many Thai villages and towns will have a slightly different Buddhist monk ordination ceremony, depending on the temple the young man is joining. Although have specific things they include in the ceremony.

Since this was my first time attending an ordinance ceremony, I did not know what to wear, and after enquiring, I got know that the dress code is simple. You can wear jeans, pants, a dress, a skirt, anything that’s comfortable. The only things you should not wear are shorts, very short-sleeved or sleeveless shirts and anything black since it is the colour for funerals, so everyone in my family wore white shirt and jeans, and our favourite pair of shoes.

The ordinance ceremony that I was a part of involved the man’s head and eyebrows being shaved off. After this, he is dressed in a white robe and then taken to the temple, carried on one of his close friend’s shoulders, with his family and friends following (Above are some pictures that I took while we’re following him when he was being taken to the temple)

Once at the temple, followed by family and friends, he will walk around the temple three times with relatives and friends carrying offerings for the temple monks. On the third completion, the young man will climb the temple steps and throw money and candy to everyone waiting below ( I got a coin wrapped up in a cute local woollen packaging) which are considered to be lucky. Then, into the temple followed by everyone else, he will be met by monks who will now officiate for the ordination ceremony.

You will hear a lot of chanting in the Pali language (that’s the language of the Thai temple), the young man will give offerings to the monks, then he will be taken to the back of the temple where he’ll change into the saffron orange robes of a monk and given an alms bowl (the bowl the monk uses every morning to ask people in the community for food; My aunt’s mother(i call her Nani) offers food to a group of monks every morning on their daily visit and is quite similar to “bhiksha” which Indian sanyasis practice.

He will now walk to the back of the temple carrying his alms bowl tied across his chest with a series of questions being asked by monks to be answered correctly to be accepted as a monk.

Once accepted, the young man is an ordained monk and his family crawl to him on their knees to give him offerings of things he will need while living at the temple.

Once their loved one is officially an ordained monk, one by one or in groups, members of his family and friends will sit in front of him to have their photos taken with the new monk. (It’s been 10 months and I still haven’t received the pictures we all have experienced this, getting pictures from friends and families has never been easy) This will continue until everyone has had their photos taken. Everyone except the monk is allowed to smile for the photos too.

Lunch is served but, as Buddhist monks must finish eating for the day before noon, the monks and the new monk are served first while the rest of the gathering waits, but we had to go off early so we skipped the lunch.

Now, as far as taking something to the ordination ceremony, for most special occasions in Thailand family and friends give a gift of money, similar to what we do in India. They put a few hundred baht in an envelope with their name on the front and hand it to the mother or father of the man who is going to be a monk. The monk ordination ceremony is expensive, so the money helps pay for the cost.

Mostly, remember, Thais love to have fun so, even on solemn occasions, you will still have a relaxing and fun time. If you do anything wrong, don’t worry. If it is a genuine mistake, Thais will always make allowances, and will probably laugh right along with you.

Most importantly, enjoy the Buddhist monk ordination ceremony for what it is — a unique experience most non-Thais will not get to experience.

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