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The Sangha:
Becoming a Monk in Thailand

giving food to monks

Serving in the monkhood is an ideal for all males in Thailand. Although many young men continue to become official members of the Sangha, as the monkhood is called, for many others it is not practical or not possible due to family financial obligations. The three-month Buddhist Retreat is a time when the new monks are initiated into the order, and it is a time when many young men, and older men, who can not become full-fledged monks engage in a short period of service. We'd like to give readers a better understanding of what becoming a monk in Thailand means and what the Sangha represents.

The formal name for a monk in Thailand is Pra Piksoo and comes from the Pali language where it is pronounced Bhikkhu. In the present Thai vernacular, most people, however, address a monk as Pra Song. Becoming a monk in Thailand is an intentional act to make merit, especially for one's parents and most particularly for one's mother since she, as a woman, cannot make merit in this way. Although you will see Buddhist nuns in Thailand, called Shee, who have shaved heads and wear white robes, they are lay people who are not fully ordained and who follow eight precepts instead of the 227precepts that an ordained monk must follow.

The decision of a young man to become a monk, and thus to make merit for his family, is an extremely important act. The making of merit should not be looked upon lightly in this context because Thais believe that merit (boon and kwam-dee), plus demerit (bap), is always rising and falling and that one's future, in this life and in the next, can change at any moment. Together, merit and goodness determine a person's level of existence at any moment in time. This is what is generally known as a person's karma. Thais see both their suffering and enjoyment at any time as a result of their own karma, and making merit increases their level of existence in Thai society and hence their enjoyment. By entering the monkhood, a young man can make merit for himself and for his family.

Entering the monkhood is called "buat pra" In order to become a monk, a man must be 20 years old, he must be able to read and write, and he must study the rules and precepts for novices. He is given an examination, and if he passes, he is given a certificate of entry to the monkhood by the district head in his province. In most cases, a new monk is ordained just before or at the beginning of the Buddhist Retreat.

On the day of ordination. his head and eyebrows are shaved, he dons a white robe, and he is accompanied to the temple by his family and friends, Once he arrives, he becomes a 'naga', a name out of Hindu mythology which is used because according to a story, a naga (member of a Hindu serpent race) entered a monestary in human form once in order to be ordained a monk and there fore take a quicker path to becoming a real human, subverting the paths of reincarnation.

During the ordination ceremony, he is asked a series of questlons :

  • Do you have Leprosy? (No)
  • Do you have boils? (No)
  • Do you have ringworm? (No)
  • Do you have tuberculosis? (No);
  • Are you epileptic? (No);
  • Are you human? (Yes);
  • Are you male? (Yes)
  • Are you free of debt? (Yes);
  • Are you released from government service? (Yes);
  • Do your parents permit you to become a monk? (Yes);
  • Are you 20 years old? (Yes);
  • Do you have your robes and your alms bowl? (Yes).
If these questions are answered truthfully and correctly, he is ordained.

temple duties

Monks must observe 227 rules which govern their behavior. The five basic precepts, which ordained monks as well as lay men staying at a temple during the Buddhist Retreat must follow, are:

  • Refrain from destroying living beings;
  • Refrain from taking what is not given;
  • Refrain from sexual misconduct;
  • Refrain from false speech; and
  • Refrain from taking intoxicants.
For the ordained monk, there are four cardinal rules which, if broken, result in his expulsion from the monkhood. These are:
  • Engaging in sexual relations,
  • Committing theft,
  • Committing murder, and
  • Cclaiming superhuman powers.

respect to a monk A monk in Thailand is treated with great respect, and the institution itself is highly revered. The Sangha is the official Order of Monks. It is part of a hierarchy headed by Thailand's Supreme Patricarch, who is named by the King and remains in his position until death. The Sangha is governed by the Ecclesiastical Council, a semi-governmental organization, and monks are given official identification cards and give up the national identity cards given them by the Thai government at the age of 15.

Becoming a monk in Thailand requires a rigorous life of moral precepts. The making of merit is emphasized in Thai Buddhism, as opposed to the goal of transcending karma as the Buddha did. Making merit, especially when it is merit given to someone else. such as family, is both legitimate and widely practiced in Thailand.

The monkhood, like all other aspects of Buddhism, is not necessarily a promise for life. Becoming a monk is intended as a way to attain a goal, for one's self or one's family. Any ordained monk may leave the order at any time he chooses simply by informing the abbot at his monestary.

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