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Buddhist Monk Ordination in Thailand

Photographer: Rungroj Yongrit


Freedom to practice religion is protected by constitution in Thailand where an estimate of 95 percent of population is Buddhist. Most Thai men aged over 20 from Buddhist families are expected to be ordained as monks. Thailand has roughly 300,000 Buddhist male monks but saffron-robed clad women are rarely seen because Thailand’s conservative Buddhist monastic clergy, the Sangha Supreme Council, doesn’t officially recognize and refuses to acknowledge Thai woman to be ordained as female Buddhist monks, known as Bhikkhuni.The full ordination of female monk in Thailand is forbidden under the Thai monastic clergy.


Dhammananda was the first Thai woman ordained as bhikkhuni, she received full ordination as a Theravada monk in 2003 in Sri Lanka. Now she is an abbess of Songdhammakalyani Monastery, Thailand’s first only female monk temple, located in Nakhon Pathom province. The number of Thai Bhikkhuni has been growing and nowadays are about 100 female monks nationwide. Dhammananda is now pushing for change to restore the women right for recognition as bhikkhuni.


The Songdhammakalyani Monastery female monk temple in April held the ordination mass for 24 female novice monks, for those families, who have only daughters to be ordained.


Thai student Jatuporn Kaewsaipan, 21, will be ordained as a monk for one month period during his semester break as Thai Buddhist believe, that serving as a monk at least once in their lifetime to learn the precepts of Lord Buddha, is the best way to gain merit for the ordainds and their parents.


In the eve of ordination ceremony, a monk-to-be, wearing a white robe, has to ask his parents for forgiveness for the unsuitable deeds he has done. Then his parents or senior relatives do the first piece of hair cut before monks will shave his hair and eyebrows. Family members bless the monk-to-be with rubbing turmeric on his head and body and bath him to cleanse.


The ordination ceremony begin with a festive parade with family members, friends and guests. A monk-to-be is carried on shoulders to the ordination hall. Then he changes white robe to the saffron one, receives alms bowl and monk’s dharma name to remind him of his new life’s purpose.


Traditionally, the ordination ceremony is held in a couple of months before the rainy season. Thai men can stay in monkhood period from weeks to three months to learn Buddhist scriptures and practice Buddhism disciplines.


Each day in the early morning Buddhist monks wake up and chant until dawn, then they walk barefoot to collect alms and food offerings by devotees, before returning to the monastery for breakfast. Then they receive blessing and have lunch before noon which is the last solid meal in the day. In the afternoon it is time to learn Dharma and to work in the temple.