Today was the day for Ben to become a Buddhist monk. After a short night we were on our way to Lais’ house at 7 am. She was living with her mother in her own house. What impressed me most was that she built her house herself. A real power woman.
When we arrived everybody was awake and ready. Lai distributed bananas and snacks. The neighbours supported them and because they didn’t need our help, we watched the hustle and bustle. All utensils for the monk ordination in the temple were packed together and the present guests divided into the cars.
A new experience on the temple area
The temple (“Wat” in Thai) was only a few minutes drive away and we could easily walk to it. The reason for not doing it is that Thais never walk. Even the shortest distance is done by scooter or car. Probably that’s why there are only few sidewalks.
It was also strange for me that mourning societies gathered here. There were several coffins at the entrance of the temple complex, which were richly illuminated and decorated. In Buddhism, the ceremony after death lasts a few days. In some regions the deceased is not touched for three days in order not to disturb him during the dying process. Instead of crying, the mourning community should remember the beautiful experiences and give positive thoughts to the deceased. Another possibility to process the mourning is to meditate together with a monk. According to Buddhist teachings, death is not the end of life, but consists of a cycle with rebirth.
I saw the family and friends sitting there and eating together. At that time I didn’t know about the funeral ceremony either. But the open way they deal with death and dying is impressive.
Preparations at the temple
Between the coffins came a converted scooter. It was packed with Dim Sums. These are steamed dumplings. Lei organised this for her guests. It was Ben’s celebration, but as usual the preparations and costs were taken over by the parents. To compare with a communion or confirmation. Only that Ben is over 20 and is not a child anymore. After the small snack we went on to the temple where the ceremony takes place.
On this day traditional dancers and musicians accompanied the ceremony again. We assembled around the temple.
Ben sat on the shoulders of a friend and they carried a white umbrella over his head. He dressed in his white robes and held a lotus flower in his hands. The temple was circled three times. Everyone danced and celebrated. Except the monks. They were waiting for Ben inside the temple. But before that, Ben had two more tasks to do. In front of the entrance there is a stone in which a spirit should live. With the help of his older relatives he tuned the spirit mildly and knelt in front of it. He put down lotus flowers and spoke a few learned Paliverse. The inscriptions of Buddha are recorded in Pali and usually only monks understand this ancient language.
Afterwards Ben’s parents brought the large vessels with lucky charms. In Thailand we have seen women folding these in laborious work. There are coins inside. First Ben stuck a few of them in his mouth and then spread the rest among us. With full hands he threw them into the crowd. Everybody tried to get some. I caught some as well and was very happy about it. They are with us since then in our backpack.
Entry into the temple
Now it was almost the time. Two men lifted Ben up and afterwards he hit the door frame three times at the threshold. By the way, the threshold must not be stepped on with the feet, because a spirit should also live there. Feet are considered as unclean and should never be directed to a person or Buddha.
(Temple visit link) Inside the monks gathered. In the middle sat the oldest monk of the community, who led the ceremony. The other monks were next to him. When Ben came inside, he bowed before Buddha and the monks. Next, he gave his future robe to the oldest of them. He spoke a few verses and Ben was allowed to go outside.
Ben took off his white clothes and with the help of two monks he put on the orange robe. He gave his golden necklace to his family. For the reason that a monk may not possess any gold. Also a virtue in Buddhism. At this point the novice became a monk. But only externally. The admission as Buddhist monk is not yet finished.
He came back, bowed down in front of the abbot three times and he took his vows. Ben had been in class before, but it seemed a little bumpy. Fortunately, the other monks helped him and supported him. Probably he was too nervous. During this time he got his alms bag hung around and bowed again several times. This was accompanied by beautiful music of Pali. The sound of the few voices covered the whole room and it had a meditative effect. That was a beautiful experiences.
The last steps of becoming a Buddhist monk
Afterwards Ben stood up and ran to the entrance. There was a clock between the two entrances. Here he stood with folded hands in front of it. A further part of the monk consecration followed. After this he was accepted into the community. Ben moved forward and was now a part of the community and had the privilege to learn the teachings of Buddha and was thus a full member.
Ben’s family had brought many donations for the monastery. Ben presented flowers to the abbot and his parents began to fill rice into his alms bowl and then passed the rice bowl on. So everyone from the family filled a ladle in Ben’s alms bowl. Rice has a special position in Asia. The consecration of the monks was coming to an end. Now only the closest family members are left for the blessing in the temple. At the blessing all touch to each other, so that the blessing passes equally to everyone. Accompanied again with sung verses of Pali. The ceremony was therefore completed and Ben become a monk.
Donations to the monastery
Ben’s new duties as a Buddhist monk
Now the attendees were invited to inspect Ben’s new accommodation and talk to the monks. A monk wanted to communicate with us, but he only spoke Thai. I would have liked to know more. He has a happy and friendly charisma. If I had the opportunity, I would love to be able to learn from him. When Ben said goodbye, everyone made their way home. Meanwhile it was 11 am and the monks started to eat. Of course everyone is invited.
But if you think that Ben will stay a monk and will never be able to leave, you are wrong. With all the tears and effort I expected this. However, in the meantime it has simply become customary and it is partly presupposed with a marriage that a young man was a monk for a few weeks. Yes, Ben will stay exactly three to four weeks in the monastery. Because in contrast to other religions, this entry sees itself as a guide and not as an obligation for life. At any time he can enter from, but also come back again.
The next morning Ben had to collect alms. Even if he only lives like a monk for a short time, he also has to live according to the rules of the order. But luckily he stood in front of his mum’s and friends’ door.
Our travel continues
We are very grateful for the insight into this family celebration and we wish Lei and her family all the best. Biggest thanks to Andi, Lei and Ben.The next days we slept at Andi’s house and discovered new places in Phuket. Next comes the TOUR WITH ANDI?
Some deeper knowledge about becoming a Buddhist monk
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Buddhist monk in Thailand, there are some really got articles, we’ve found investigating about this cultural event.
The first article on Expat.com is about the common procedure, written from a foreigner that managed to become a Buddhist monk for several months. His second article on Two Monkeys Buddhism is more interesting, if you want to become a Buddhist Monk as foreigner, or so called farang. Yes, that’s possible.
And the third article about how men in Thailand become a Buddhist monk is on Culture Trip. Also a very recommended reading for those, who want to dive a little deeper into the Buddhist culture.