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A young monk sitting peacefully in a temple | © Allen Warren / Flickr
A young monk sitting peacefully in a temple | © Allen Warren / Flickr
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How Men in Thailand Become Monks

Picture of Sarah Williams
Updated: 23 April 2018
Becoming a monk, even for a short period, is incredibly common for young Thai men. It shows devotion to the faith and respect to parents, as well as helping the man and his parents gain merit. Becoming a monk is seen as one of the most significant events in a Thai man’s life and there is much ceremony attached to the occasion. This is how men ordain as monks in Thailand.

Before ordination

Upon making the decision to ordain, a man must have studied and memorised the chants used in Buddhist rituals. This can be quite tricky as Thai monks do not chant in the Thai language; they use the ancient language of Pali.

To make the experience more comfortable and to gain the most wisdom and insights from time as a monk, many men also undertake additional religious studies. This can also help a man to mentally prepare for a major change in their way of life and living.

Practically, men must also have arranged time off work, if in employment. When a monk, men are not allowed to deal with matters that are seen as worldly problems, so they should ensure that their affairs are in good order before taking their monastic vows. Relatively simple things must be considered. For example, monks are generally not allowed to handle money, so arrangements for bills and payments should be sorted prior to entering the monastery.

The intention to ordain should be communicated to the monastery of choice. Often a man will choose to study at a monastery close to his family home, or at a monastery that has a particular significance for him and his family. The man should also arrange a date for his prospective ordination.

Ordination rituals at home

There is generally a large ceremony before a man joins a monastery. Monks visit the prospective monk, at this point known as a nak, at his home to pray and chant before shaving the man’s head and eyebrows, along with any beard or moustache. The hair doesn’t fall to the floor however; it is traditionally caught on a lotus leaf and either kept or set afloat on a river. The man bathes and then the monks pour water over the man’s newly shaven head in a symbolic act of cleansing, reciting chants and blessings as they do so. The man changes into a white robe, symbolising purity.

A man preparing to have his head shaved
A man preparing to have his head shaved | © Ben Stephenson / Flickr</a>

Travelling to the monastery

The man must be transported in a vehicle, on a cart, or by some other means of transportation. His feet are not allowed to touch the ground again until he reaches the monastery. He will be carried to his transport and well wishers follow him to the temple’s gates, laden with offerings for the temple and things the man will need for his time as a monk. Sometimes, the procession is elaborate, with men travelling by horseback or even by elephant! If the temple is close, a man’s friend may carry him there on his shoulders.

Ordination rituals at the monastery

On arriving at the monastery the man and his family show respect and seek good luck by circling the temple building three times in a clockwise direction. The man meets with the abbot (head monk). After reading some Buddhist scriptures, conversing with the abbot, and answering set questions, he will be ordained into the sangha (the Buddhist monastic order).

His family members approach him on their knees, to show deference, and present him with everything he will need for his time at the monastery. This includes the saffron robes, an alms bowl, a razor, a needle, and a water strainer; these are among the eight prescribed items for any monk. Additionally, the man will be given a pair of shoes, usually basic sandals or flip flops, a bag, a sleeping mat, a pillow, and other essentials.

Having taken his vows and been honoured by his relatives, the man will change into the orange robe. He is now a monk!

Naks, or prospective monks, in white
Naks, or prospective monks, in white | © Michael Coghlan / Flickr</a>

Family celebrations

The monks, including the newly ordained monk, will generally eat lunch soon after the rituals. This is so that the monks complete their meal before noon, after which they do not eat again until the following day. Proud family members often remain at the monastery to eat lunch after the monks.

Interestingly, after a man has been admitted to the monastery, it’s common for family and friends to have a big party, with lots of eating, drinking, and music. Karaoke, live bands, free-flowing Thai whisky, ladies promoting Thai beer, and hired dancers aren’t uncommon. Although held to celebrate the man joining the monastery, the man isn’t a part of his own party!

Family members posing with a new monk and senior monks
Family members posing with a new monk and senior monks | © Akuppa John Wigham / Flickr</a>