Monk In Thailand

Let me share some of my monastic experiences with you. I started to meditate in Chiang Mai, which is a sizable town in the north-western part of Thailand, the year was 1993.

If you would like to read about my very first encounter with meditation, then the article Divine Meditation makes for interesting reading.

Many years passed until I took the step to ordain as a Buddhist monk. During those years I lived and practiced meditation as a layman in many monasteries round the world. The countries where I spent the most time were UK, Japan and Malaysia.

For those of you who are familiar with various traditions, know that the kind of Buddhism found in Japan is quite different from Thai and Tibetan Buddhism, but more on that in another post.

So, after having spent a lot of time in monasteries working and meditating side by side with monks and nuns, I decided to take the step to ordain as a junior monk which in Buddhist terms is referred to as a samanera. Junior monks follow a set of 10 precepts or rules if you like, whereas a fully-ordained monk which is called bhikkhu observes 227 precepts. For quite obvious reasons, it's recommended to start out as a junior...

The Monk Ordination

Ordain as a junior Buddhist monk in Thailand and deepen your understanding of the Buddha dhamma.
I spent the day before the ordination at the temple dressed in white clothes. My room didn't have any mosquito nets or furniture so I had to sleep on a thin rice mat. As a monk you really part with comfort.

The monastery was located in a small fishing village some 300 km south of Bangkok. I had been meditating for 14 years when I ordained in 2007 but my Thai-language skills were still basic, but living in the monastery proved to be an excellent way to practice the language. The photo is from the ordination ceremony which turned out to be much livelier and more colorful than I could ever have imagined.

In Thailand it's a tradition that your mother and father offer you the monk robes, the alms bowl and other necessities. This offering is considered a highly meritorious deed since monks live according to the Buddha's teachings and meditate a lot, which purifies the mind and leads to enlightenment. It's believed that people who make such offerings will enjoy a better birth in existences to come.

No one in my family was able to make it to Thailand for this event so my girlfriend's family and friends sponsored the ordination, for which I'm most grateful.

Thai-Buddhist Culture

In Thailand it's a tradition for men to ordain as a monk at least once. Some ordain for a whole year while others do it for just a few hours. Traditionally, it was done for a period of three months known as the rains retreat. Ordaining gives you the chance to study and practice the Buddha's teachings and your parents get the opportunity to offer you the monk robes, alms bowl and other necessities. For someone who isn't the least familiar with Buddhist culture, it would only be natural to view monks as beggars and therefore a burden to society but according to Buddhist teachings generosity is a meritorious deed.

So, by offering food to monks the giver gains merit which is believed to generate positive results in the future, that is what we call karma. Likewise, when we do something bad that's believed to have negative consequences. As we all know, a sense of happiness and satisfaction arise when we do what is good and right, therefore one could say that generosity is a source of happiness.

For more on Thai culture, I highly recommend Thailand Breeze.

Thai Monasticism

The day starts early in the temple, at four in the morning the monks chant Buddhist texts and by dawn they set out on alms round. During alms round the most senior monk walks in front and the rest of the monks follow in line. The Thais are so generous that many days our alms bowls were completely full and we had to carry the extras in shopping bags on the side.

As a Buddhist monk in Thailand, you go on alms round every morning to collect food.
Monasticism is full of daily routines: Wake up, go to the toilet, chant four times a day, alms round, eat breakfast, sweep the monastery grounds, clean your room, do laundry, eat lunch, private meditation practice, Buddhist studies, take a shower, attend ceremonies and funerals.

It's a wonderful place for someone who's interested in practicing awareness and meditation but if you're not, it could be incredibly boring.

Have you ever seen an 8-year old monk? These children often come from underprivileged or dysfunctional families. The boys attend most activities at the temple such as alms round, chanting and sweeping. They also go to school full-time which is paid for by the monastery.

The monks eat twice a day. We had breakfast round 7.30 in the morning and lunch had to be completed by noon. It's only natural to ask, "What's the fuzz about not eating after midday?" It's foremost a matter of tradition. This is the way it's been done for over 2500 years.

Let me share some reflections with you. Buddhism teaches awareness or mindfulness if you like. When hunger sets in sometime in the late afternoon you can become fully aware of the unpleasant sensation and let it go. To be aware of every sense impression and to be able to let go of them have very positive effects on meditation practice.

Monks are allowed to drink tea, soy drinks and milk in the afternoons and evenings. So, hunger or a lack of energy is not really an issue. More so, it's a matter of letting go of habits and unpleasant sensations.

Forest And City Monasteries

Monasteries in Thailand are divided into two main groups. For easy understanding I'll call it forest and city monasteries. The city monasteries are not as strict as the forest monasteries. For example, in the forest monasteries they often only allow one meal per day and spend a lot of time meditating, whereas the city monasteries are known to emphasize Buddhist studies over meditation.

Awareness And Meditation

I was a junior monk for 46 days and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who's interested in meditation. Full-time community practice makes for speedy progress, but remember that you don't have to be a monk or nun in order to benefit from your practice.

We practice meditation and awareness with our minds. No matter what clothes you wear, if you are at a temple or in prison, regardless of your gender, age and race; the fruits of spiritual practice are readily available to all of us.

May you find happiness and wellbeing.

Best of luck!

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