Thursday, April 17, 2014

Buddhist Monks

Buddhist Monks observe 227 monastic codes called Patimokkha Rules. They are allowed to possess only eight requisites:  thee robes, an alms bowl, a knife, a needle, a waistband, and a water strainer. They can, however, accept other necessities presented to them by lay followers. The monk’s life and daily duties a little differ each Theravada countries. In this post, describe about Myanmar and Thai monks. 

Monks’ daily routine start at 4 am. When they get up and get ready for the morning chanting. After that they go on an alms round to receive offerings which are mostly food from lay people. Monks cannot beg or make any request for things. They accept the offerings only when they are invited to do so. An invitation must be made by lay people who wish to make merit by offering things monks need in their monastic life. The alms round takes about an hour to complete. After that monks return to the temple to have breakfast at around seven 0’clock. Their breakfast consists mostly of the alms they have received. At 8 0’ clock they gather for another  chanting which lasts for an hour in Thailand but in Myanmar after having breakfast monks have to go Pali classes and study in memorized Pali . After the chanting , monks are allowed to do their own things. 

Some monks may be invited to attend religious ceremonies inside or outside the temple. Some may attend class studying Dhamma or Pali language. Eleven 0’clock is monks’ lunch time. They have to finish their lunch before 12:00 noon and they are not allowed to have a meal after midday until the next day. After lunch they are free to continue their study or rest. They gather again at 6 0’clock for the evening chanting. After the chanting, they have to study Pali and Dhamma after that they sleep. Apart from the daily routine, monks take part in religious ceremonies organized at the temple important Buddhist holy days. Sometimes they are invited out to perform ceremonies such as house warming, house blessings, opening ceremonies, funeral, etc.

When being ordained, an ordination candidate is given a Pali monastic name. The name comes from the spiritual teacher or preceptor of the candidate himself. However, newly ordained or ordinary monks are often addressed by an honorific title Ashin or Phra, U and his given name prior to ordination. Pali monastic names are reserved for formal occasions. Monks are governed by the Ecclesiastical Council chaired by the Supreme Patriarch. A temple is administered by an abbot and other senior monks in a descending order. Monks are ranked according to their seniority, administrative or scholastic abilities. They can be promoted to a higher rank in recognition of their service. Monks are highly revered by lay followers. Special vocabulary is used when lay people interact with monks or refer to them.

At religious ceremonies, monks sit on a raised platform while lay devotees sit on the floor. The interaction between monks  and female lay followers is restrained. They may interact with one another in an open space. They are not allowed to have a conversation where there is no one else around but the two of them. Touching between monks and woman is forbidden. Monks are not allowed to touch an object being held or touched by woman.

In Thailand, when receiving things from a woman, a receiving cloth must be placed on the floor for the woman to place the object on. At the same time the monk will hold the other end of the cloth in a gesture of the receiving what is presented. When placing alms in an alms bowl, woman donor must be careful not to touch the bowl, not to stand too close to the monk and not to touch the monk’s robe. But in Myanmar, Monk can receive things directly from female donor without any barrier or without any cloth piece. Some monks are actively involved in worldly activities such as caring for the sick, the needy, the orphans etc. Because of these activities, many temples have unintentionally turned into hospitals, schools, day care centers or rehabilitation centers. Even when temples do not provide that kind of service, they have always been considered the last refuge for suffering beings. 

The practices of Monks set them up for a long and fulfilling life.  Not worrying about material objects, sex, and food all the time gives Buddhist monks a very stress free life. Through meditation, they are able to divert their energy into what is important to them–living a simple, harmonious quality of life.

Source: Pornpimol Senawong, Thai Ties, Samaphan Publishing Co,Ltd, Bangkok, 2008


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