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.
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.
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.