Ordination at a Temple

Ordination1

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.

Ordination2

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.

Ordination3

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.

7 responses to “Ordination at a Temple

  1. You can now watch video clips of the procession and the coins being thrown here:

    http://www.richardbarrow.com/video/ordination.php

    Also on that page, you will see a link for downloading a video of the monk being dressed in robes for the first time. Many people have asked us in the past how to put on the robes.

  2. Nice Blog Richard. After watching your video I was amazed at the complexity of what is involved in wearing robes – although the senior monk made it look effortless. Practice makes perfect I suppose.

    Bill

  3. It must of been very interesting to witness two important Thai “rites of passage” in a single day, Richard. Like Bill I was also amazed at the complexity of-and number of pieces to -a monks robe
    Look forward to your blog on the funeral.

  4. Another excellent blog with video too! Thanks so much.

    Do the Thai monks dress differently than Bhuddist monks from India, Japan, China,etc? Just wondering.

    btw, how many yards of material do they need to make their robes? I had no idea there was so many different layers and parts to their robes, I had previously thought that their robes were fairly thin material and couldn’t be much protection for warmth on those colder Northern Thailand mornings, but now feel that with all that material, it might be rather warm, atleast in Southern Thailand where it’s always warm.

  5. I have seen visiting monks from other countries that seem to wear trousers and jacket. I am not sure how long the material is but it is very big. However, they do not wear this all the time. Only for ceremonies. Around the temple, when off-duty, they can wear the “undershirt” which is quite thin. However, when they go out on the morning alms round, they must cover BOTH shoulders.

  6. Government employees get a month off to ordain? Wow! I gotta take advantage of that.

    To answer, superman’s question…the dress of a monk varies very much from culture to culture. The Thai dress is very close to the Sri Lankan style…where as Japanese Zen Buddhist monks have a long blue and grey set of robes! The Thervadian cultures tend to be more similar to each other than the Mahayan cultures.

    You can see an online pictoral of various monk’s robes at http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhistworld/robe_pics.htm

  7. One should be aware that there are a number of nikai (sects) of theravadan buddhism in Thailand.
    It is also useful to be aware of the difference between full ordination and becoming a samanera.
    If a westerner wants to understand buddhism he should have some knowledge of the vinaya(monks code of conduct).
    Thailand can be difficult to understand since many thinks that take place in a wat aare not always done according to the vinaya, or not always within the confines of buddism.

    In modern times, the monk’s wardrobe consists of his outer robe civara (jivorn) and an under-robe antaravassaka (sabong) that is worn around the waist, covering the navel and falling to just below the knees. The sabong is held up by a fold and a tuck and a cord belt. On the top part of his body, under the jivorn, is worn a sort of sleeveless one-shouldered waistcoat (ungsa) which is joined together on the left
    side by tying tags. For religious services inside the monastery, the monk also wears an additional robe (sanghati) which is folded in a very particular way into a long rectangle and hung over the left shoulder.
    In Thailand the jivorn is large and is generally wrapped around the body with the two ends rolled together. This roll is taken over the left shoulder and under the left arm so that its end can be held in the left hand or pressed firmly between the
    arm and the body. Inside the temple the robe is worn so that the right shoulder is exposed, but outside the temple both shoulders and arms are covered.The monk may or may not wear sandals, depending on the tradition of his particular monastery, though most do. He may carry a soft bag, called a yarm, which is like a shoulder bag but which is carried in the crook of the arm and should never be worn on the shoulder or slung over the back.