During the school holidays in Thailand, it is common for Thai students to ordain as novice monks for a short time. In the olden days, before there were government schools, poor boys would ordain in order to get an education. However, these days, their parents want them to ordain for a short time during holidays in order to keep them out of trouble. They also have training in ethics and Buddhism which is good for them. At Wat Chai Mongkhol in Samut Prakan, over one hundred Thai boys recently ordained as novices to honour the 82nd Birthday of H.M. The King. They will be novices from 17th to 25th October 2009.
On the first day, the boys went to the temple with their parents and other family members. All of them were wearing white. The first important ceremony is the cutting of the hair. The first few snips are symbolic and are usually done by an elder member of the family or honoured guest. Here the abbot and local politician went around cutting a small piece of hair each. The other family members then took turns. Finally, all of the hair was shaved off including the eyebrows. Once this was completed, the boys took part in a parade through town to visit the city pillar. At the shrine they made an announcement to the spirits of the shrine that they were ordaining for H.M. The King. In the picture, you can see some of the boys carrying portraits of His Majesty. Others are holding yellow flags.
In Thai, novices are known as a “samanen” or just “nen” for short. A monk is called a “bhikkhu”. The main difference between a novice and a monk is that novices only have 10 precepts while monks have 227. If you are a male and are less than twenty years of age, then you cannot become a fully fledged monk. Everyone first ordains as a novice. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the candidate requests to become a novice. He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin.
The first half concludes when the shoulder cloth is put over the head of the boys. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes. These are not easy to put on. The boys certainly couldn’t do it themselves. As there were so many of them, they needed the help of monks and family members who may have once been monks themselves. The novices basically wear the same robes as monks, but they don’t put on the double-thickness robe. When you see the monks go out on the morning alms round it is easy to spot the novices as they have one shoulder uncovered. Novices and monks can only wear the orange robes. They are not allowed to wear vests or underwear.
Once they have the robes on, then all of them go back into the hall. They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They say: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”. As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. This includes basic things like not stealing or lying and also not eating after noon. But they can drink liquids in the afternoon like milk.
At the end of the ceremony, the abbot reads the 10 precepts out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him.
1. Refrain from killing living things.
2. Refrain from stealing.
3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
4. Refrain from lying.
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs.
8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
10. Refrain from accepting money.
The new novice monks now prostrate three times and leaves the hall.