The Initiation of a Buddhist Monk
Rockford Register Star Jan 7, 2017 Channing Kari
Becoming a nun or a monk in America is seen as an extreme. It's typically a lifelong commitment that none except a rare few even consider (despite the all too common "I seriously think I'll just become a nun" comments routinely muttered by the exhausted players in the dating world). When we think of the life of a religious servant, we usually conjure up images of drab clothing and darkened hallways, prayers and hymns muttered by the reclusive.
Buddhist monks, however, are a visible part of the Thai community. I see them daily: walking the sidewalks, barefoot; interacting with students; perched on the backs of motorbikes. Easily distinguishable by their bald heads and dark orange robes, they live within the temples that tourists so often visit, from the mountainous beauty of Chiang Mai's Doi Suthep to the smallest streetside temples of the southern islands. These men are not allowed to a touch a woman in any way, nor are they even allowed to accept anything directly from her hand; if I were to pass a monk a bottle of water, I would have to first set it down upon a table before he is allowed to pick it up. Direct eye contact with a woman, while not strictly forbidden, is considered a rather risqué interaction that should be treated with care.
At the age of 21, a great majority of Thai boys dedicate three months of their lives to the monkhood. Some, however, enter into the monkhood later in life, for an equally brief amount of time or, perhaps, for the rest of their lives. This December, I was invited to the initiation ceremony of a man in his fifties who had decided to enter the monkhood in honor of the late king Bhumibol Adulyadej.
He began the ceremony adorned in a knee-length white robe, bookended by his elderly mentor and his wife, whose skin he would soon not be able to touch. Surrounded by a large group of family and friends, all carrying various assortments of yellow and white flowers, the monk-to-be began the traditional procession around the temple. Marching in their own parade, the group orbits the wat, one woman at the front singing out a joyous Thai hymn while the dozens of followers echo her words back to her. Within a basket next to the honoree are hundreds of candies, decorations, and coins that have been woven into bows. Reaching in, he grasps a handful and tosses them over the surrounding fence, where a mixture of enthusiastic children and impoverished beggars tumble over each other to seize them.
The parade over, about half of the audience follows our honoree inside, where the entire congregation of monks is waiting, seated in rows before the image of the Buddha. For nearly an hour, the existing monks pray with their new brother, pausing to fully explain the limitations of the oath he is about to take. He must renounce all worldly goods, and forego all relationships but the one he has with the spirit of Buddha. Once accepted into the brotherhood, he is stripped of his white robe and wrapped in his own orange drapery, changing from one into the other right there in the temple while his audience chants a prayer.
There is no limit to how long he will stay here; it could be a month, it could be ten years. Every morning, he will now take to the streets, where his daily food will be given to him by the generous members of the community. He will spend his days in prayer, meditating, or completing chores. It is hard to speculate on anything more specific, as monks are, in their vows, barred from speaking of their temple experiences with anyone.
I admire the bravery of these men and the depth of their faith; I applaud their ability to let go of all of the worldly constructs that most of us hold onto so tightly. As for this particular new monk, I hope that whatever he is searching for within himself, he is able to find within those temple walls.
Just like to provide some general knowledge of Buddhism and also let the Buddhist community here know what is going on around them on things that may in some way or other affect Buddhism as a whole.