Did you know that most men in Thailand will be a monk at some point in their lives? In fact, many women in Thailand will refuse to marry a man who has not been a monk for at least three months, as they believe being ordained and practising for a substantial amount of time proves them to be more trustworthy and loyal.
It often comes as a surprise to foreigners that one can become a monk for only three months but even more surprising is that it’s possible for someone, no matter what they look like or where they come from can be ordained as a monk and practice for as little as two days.
If you live in Thailand, no matter if you own a house or rent a condo, it would be a very enriching experience to attend a Monk ordination ceremony or even become one yourself.
Becoming a Monk
Becoming a monk, even if it is only for a short period of time can be an intense and interesting experience, as it’s really a hands-on way of getting to know the intimacies of another culture. If you are interested in being a monk only for a short time, keep in mind that you will need to dedicate some time, typically at least a week, to studying and practising the monks’ way of life and Buddhist teachings.
The best way for a foreigner to become a monk is to get in touch with a monastery that houses an English speaking monk who can not only ordain you, but explain to you the significance of becoming a monk and the traditions behind the ceremony. The international forest monastery – Wat Pa Nanachat – in the north-east is recommended.
The Monk Ordination Ceremony
The ceremony will begin with prayers and chanting and immediately followed by the traditional hair-cutting, which is usually done by family members, and then monks take over by shaving the head and the eyebrows. The hair is not allowed to touch the floor but is collected in a lotus leaf as it falls. The hair will either be kept for safe keeping or floated down a river for good luck. Water is poured over the head and cleansed with blessings and turmeric before changing into white robes, which will be worn until the following day when the ordinance happens.
The day of ordination, the prospective monk and supporters enjoy a morning feast before the procession. The new monk must be carried or lifted to the procession car, as his feet cannot touch the ground until he reaches the temple. Guests and supporters follow in the procession with gifts and donations. Before reaching the temple, the monk will toss coins wrapped in colorful ribbons to the crowd. Once inside the temple, he must read a Buddhist scripture, and answer several questions asked by the head monk. If he answers correctly, he will be given the orange robes and an alms bowl. Now he is a monk.
If you want to be a monk or stay in a monastery for any length of time, remember:
- Even though you will be housed and fed by the monastery, you will still need access to finances in case you should need medications, visas, etc.
- Do not expect to use your phone, camera or any other gadget while in the monastery.
- Get your visa in advance so you don’t need to do a border run once you’ve just settled in.
- Don’t expect to sleep in or go to bed late. Typical wakeup time is before 3am!
- If you’re just watching a ceremony, do NOT wear black as this brings bad luck to the monk and everyone in his family. Opt to wear white or something colourful.
Interested in learning more about Thai culture? Keep reading our blog!