In July 2015, my friend from Kenya decided to try something very extraordinary – he became a Buddhist monk for 42 days. He went through an ordination process and took part in the international monkhood program which gave him an opportunity to try something very new and to look inside himself. I interviewed him about his experience, and below you can read his answers.
Why did you decide to become a monk?
- I have been a spiritual person for a long time, since highschool, in a sense that I wanted to find a connection to myself and the people around me. But everything I tried did not give me fulfilment. When I heard about the ordination program – I wanted to develop my inner sense of spirituality.
What is spirituality for you and how is it connected to religion?
- A sense of purpose, a sense of knowing, of awareness, calmness, in everything, good and bad, right and wrong, just being, knowing the direction. It is like walking down the path and the road is getting clearer day by day. Religion is institutionalized and I don’t have much to say about it I am trying to develop my stand in any of those religions we have, but first I need to develop my spirituality.
Would you like to belong to a religion?
- Yes, it would be good to belong to some kind of religion, I see my ordinationas a different path from Christianity which I grew up with, Buddhism, Islam, or even science. I would like to identify with a religion. However, now as I ordain, I identify myself as a free moving element looking for a nest or a place.
What is the process of ordination?
- First week or two was to get used to the environment of the temple. We dressed in white, meditated together, got used to the temple, and learnt about the rules of what to do when you are a monk.
Then we go and ask for forgiveness from our parents, from whatever offences we did to them. Every participant has a parent in front of them, and once you ask them for forgiveness, they give you the robes. We also had the hair clipping ceremony, where everyone comes and clips your hair. Lay people who came to watch, take scissors and clip your hair as a merit.
The third ceremony is the novice ordination ceremony – we ordained as a novice, somebody who takes lesser precepts to become a monk (not 227 but maybe less than 50 precepts). We were novice just for one day, we had so many novices coming, and everyone who wanted to ordain as a monk needed to be a novice first.
Next day we ordained as a monk. There are many steps – you start with memorizing the chantings in Pali, the Buddha language, which we had practiced for 2 weeks. We ordained in groups of three from a preceptor, someone who ordains a lay person to a monk. Preceptor is usually the abbot of the temple, so we had many abbots in front of us.
There are two categories of monks – senior and junior. Anyone who ordained before you is your senior. If they speak sense or not, you have to follow what they tell you.
What was the toughest thing about being a monk?
- One of them was acknowledging, accepting my ego, and letting go. Being a monk for the first time (first two years you are called baby monk). Every time everyone picked on me to do something in a particular way, these were fellow monks, not the mentors. You have a lot of conflicts, but they are not really obvious. For the first two weeks you move without knowing what you are doing. Letting go of the ego to accept advice from anyone, letting go of the ego to be a developing element. I think throughout this time my ego got refined, because I became more aware of it.
Was there a funny situation during your time of monk hood?
- It is a different kind of environment, because people did not laugh at you for making a mistake. People tended to treat each other more as brothers, and if somebody made a mistake, people would nicely try to help you learn your lesson.
When we were memorising the chanting on the first day, one group could not memorise. They were in front of the preceptor, but they still could not remember, and kept laughing all the time.
Where did you live and how were the conditions?
- In the temple we slept on a wooden bed, no mattress, just a mat like a yoga mat. You may have as many blankets as you want. We slept around 15-20 people in the room. It was decent and simple, but no comfort. Outside of the temple we slept in the tents.
How many ordained in your program and whats the program?
- We were about 45 people and we were part of IDOP 13, International Dhammadayada Ordination Program. Dhammadayada is a person who has dedicated their life to dhamma, to practice and learn dhamma (dhamma is spiritual knowledge).
What is the main lesson that you learnt from ordination?
- I learn that we are all suffering. Some of us know, some of us don’t know, some of us don’t know they don’t know, but we are all suffering. The best thing I can do is make other people feel better. We have a lot of connections to attachments to cravings, and ignorance.
So what is the way out of suffering?
- The way out is to know. Everyone should know, it would be good that everyone knows that life is suffering. When we talk of suffering according to what I learnt, if there is suffering, there is also a way out. Secondly, if there is sadness, then happiness exists. Is there a way to be happy from the inside, knowing about your feelings, regardless of what is happening to you? Becoming aware of them and trying to mold your life as you find suitable with your path.
Would you recommend to other man to also ordain as a monk?
- I intend to come with my brother next year. I definitely recommend, and I would love others to learn what I have learnt. It would be good for them, because the short time ordination program gives you your life in a plate. Life is like a sack of rice, so much of it that you cannot sort out all the things. For me IDOP provided my life in the plate and rice in it, and I could look at it closely. So by looking at life, one can see where they have problems, and work on them in order to move forward. It would be a very good reason to change the society for the best.
To become a monk in the similar programs one can apply online – 5500 baht for the program (approximately 150 USD) which covers temple expenses – you live, eat and get trained there.