Novice Monks at Wat Chaimongkhol

Many Thai children spent their summer holidays either at summer school or, if they were a boy, ordained as novice monks at their local temple. In Samut Prakan, a number of our temples offered the youngsters a chance to ordain for about a month. I took the pictures on this page at Wat Chai Mongkhol over a period of several weeks this month. This is the oldest temple in our province dating back to 1350 A.D. As this is a prestigious temple, it also saw the highest number of students signing up to ordain at just over 250. This was the biggest ordination of novice monks that I have ever attended.

For the Thai boys, the first event for them was the haircutting ceremony. This wasn’t just a simple task of cutting off all their hair. The ceremony started with prayers and chanting. Then the abbot and a local politician, went around the room to cut a symbolic lock of hair. Then the elders in the family also took turns to cut a piece of hair. None of this is allowed to touch the floor and is collected in a lotus leaf. The rest of the hair is then cut completley off including the eyebrows. There were a couple of students from my school here and I can tell you it is hard to recognize someone when they don’t have eyebrows.

Wat Chai Mongkhol is one of my favourite temples and I often go there to photograph various events. In fact, Phra Ajarn is keen on me taking pictures and always asks for copies. He is vary good at his job and is very technology minded. This is him in this picture. The day after the hair cutting ceremony came the actual ordination. In the run up to the ceremony, Phra Ajarn gave an interesting talk about the important role of their mothers in their lives by using pictures and music to good affect. The highlight were video clips of a woman giving birth showing the pain that she went through. He then asked the mothers to sit with their sons for the last time before they were ordained. Some of the boys were overcome and started to cry.

I have written several times before the details of the ordination ceremony so I won’t go into details here. If you want more information then please visit our web site. The first half of the ceremony for novices and monks are exactly the same. However, the monks have to face tougher questioning in front of a group of monks in a sacred building. Novices can ordain in a normal hall like this one. In the middle of the ceremony they have to leave in order to change from their white clothes to the orange robes of the monkhood. That wasn’t an easy task for them to help 250 young boys get changed into a complicated set of robes that didn’t have any buttons or zippers.

The novices spent a lot of the four week period studying Dhamma, meditating and also having valuable lessons in ethics. As novices, they had only 10 precepts to keep unlike the 227 that the monks have to obey. The novices weren’t allowed to kill, steal, lie or even sing. They also weren’t allowed to have sex or become intoxicated which hopefully wasn’t too hard for them. These ten precepts are the same that lay people try to keep on important Buddhist holidays and during the Rains Retreat. In addition to the precepts, the novices had to learn the 75 training rules which dictated how they should behave in the temple and when they go out on alms round.

The young novice monks didn’t go out on the alms round every day, nor did they all go at the same time. Imagine 250 novices walking down the narrow lanes surrounding this temple. The local people would be completely overwhelmed. It was also a very tiring event for them. I know I was exhausted after we came back. I took my first pictures at 6.15 a.m. and didn’t come back from our long walk until 8.40 a.m. I am glad I was wearing shoes. These poor novices had to go barefoot. But, they did a good job and acted appropriately as a novice monk. Although four weeks is not very long, I am sure what they learned during this short time will last them a lifetime.

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