Part III                                       THE SANGHA...

monk-2.jpg (19719 bytes)It is customary for every Thai male, including members of the royal family to become a monk one or more times in his life for at least three months
(though nowadays it is often  less), preferably before he marries, so that he can gain merit for his parents as well as himself, and generally during the season of Phansa or Buddhist Lent Only to September), which is the rainy season, when the monks have to stay in the temple and may not go on pilgrimage.

Novices (nak), who cannot be admitted to the monkhood before the age of eight, must declare their faith in the Three jewels (the Buddha, his Doctrine [Dharma] and his Order [Sangha] and the Ten Abstentions (from murder, theft, unchastity, untruth, fermented drink, eating after noon, dancing and singing, ornaments, comfortable beds, and touching money). The abstention from murder includes all living creatures, even mosquitoes and other insects, but does not forbid the eating of meat or fish, since these are already dead. One way in which a Buddhist can show compassion for all living creatures and so make merit is to buy a small bird (or sometimes a fish or a turtle) in a cage and release it; the fact that the bird has been caught specifically for this purpose and will no doubt be caught, caged and sold again does not appear to reduce the merit of the act of releasing it.

On the day of his ordination, the novice's head is shaved, he is dressed in white and, carrying a stick of incense, a candle and a lotus flower, he is carried in procession to the temple, where he is provided with the articles he is permitted to possess as a monk. Originally these were only an alms bowl, three garments, which must be either red or yellow, a belt, a razor. a needle and a water filter. To these were added later an umbrella, a fan, a wooden toothpick, sandals, a staff and a rosary.

In early times, monks were only permitted to eat food that was given to them, to wear garments that had been discarded as rubbish, to live under trees and to use no medicines except cows urine.   They were expected to lead a wandering life of preaching and teaching, and settled life in a community was at first confined to the rainy season, when it became difficult to wander and the monks would dwell in groups of small huts, such as are used for the monks' living quarters (kuti) in many monasteries to this day Monks of the Aranyika or Forest sect still lead the life of a pilgrim or a hermit in the forest or in caves, with no shelter other than a large yellow umbrella, and only move into a temple during Phatisa.

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At the age of twenty the novice can become a full monk and he then has to observe no fewer than 227 monastic rules, which he must recite every full moon at a special ceremony. In modern Thai Theravada there are two sects, the Mahanikai and the rather stricter Thammayutika. The latter was founded by King Mongkut in the 1840s and is based on a monastic discipline he followed when he was a monk at Wat Bowon Niwet in Bangkok before coming to the throne.

Women cannot be admitted to the Sangha, but they can become nuns. They wear white robes, shave their heads and observe the Ten Abstentions. The monk's day begins with his walk through the streets with his alms bowl. He is not begging for food, but giving people the opportunity to gain merit by giving him food. The giving of food to monks is indeed one of the principal ways in which a Buddhist can make merit.

The rest of the day is devoted to prayer and meditation, study of the sacred texts, the performance of various ceremonies ranging from funerals to the inauguration of new businesses and the blessing of new houses, participation in Buddhist festivals and teaching. Until modern times Buddhist monasteries provided the only education for the people, and to this day, although the state now provides education for all, many monks are still seen, teachers and are consulted on a wide variety of practical local problems.

     

                Copyright 1998 USMTA Inc.  All rights reserved. Revised: October 16, 2004.