Becoming A Thai Buddhist Monk

In our rural village near Nakhon Nayok, two Thai men became Buddhist monks today. Noon and Too, took their vows and donned the orange robes of a Thai monk. They will remain Buddhist monks for the next several days.

It was a double ceremony today, which is not unusual. Combining the ceremonies is much more cost effective than a singular ordination. The celebration that takes place when a man becomes a monk usually lasts three days and can become quite expensive, with non-stop food, beverages and live music all provided by the host family.

In Thailand almost all men become Buddhist monks sometime during their life. Ordination in the Sangha is considered a rite of passage for young Thai men, as an essential part of maturity or becoming “ripe” (suk), but an adult man of any age can become a monk. Ordinations are not considered a lifetime commitment. Traditionally three months was the standard commitment, however, a man can be a monk for a day, or for a many years, the length of time wearing the robes of a monk is up to the individual.

One man said after becoming a Thai monk: “As I am a Buddhist, I decided to follow the Thai tradition and become a monk. I also wanted to make up for all the bad things I have done to my family and my friend, Richard. So, this is the least I could do”

The formal name for a monk in Thailand is Pra Piksoo and comes from the Pali language where it is pronounced Bhikkhu. In the present Thai vernacular, most people, however, address a monk as Pra Song. Becoming a monk in Thailand is an intentional act to make merit, especially for one’s parents and most particularly for one’s mother since she, as a woman, cannot make merit by becoming a monk. Although you will see Buddhist nuns in Thailand, called Shee, many who have shaved heads and wear white robes, they are lay people who are not fully ordained and who follow eight precepts instead of the 227 precepts that an ordained monk must follow.

The decision of a young man to become a monk, and thus to make merit for his family, is an extremely important act. The making of merit should not be looked upon lightly in this context because Thais believe that merit (boon and kwam-dee), plus demerit (bap), is always rising and falling and that one’s future, in this life and in the next, can change at any moment.

Together, merit and goodness determine a person’s level of existence at any moment in time. This is what is generally known as a person’s karma. Thais see both their suffering and enjoyment at any time as a result of their own karma, and making merit increases their level of existence in Thai society and hence their enjoyment. By becoming a monk, a young man can make merit for himself and for his family.

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