Thai Theravada Ordination Ceremony

Many owners of Thai Buddhist amulet shops claimed to have gone through proper monkhood in Thailand so as to assume proper knowledge of the Theravada traditions. I too am no exception. In this article, I will chronicle the process of my legal ordination in one of Thailand’s historical temple. I used the description “legal ordination” because the process of Thai Theravada Buddhist ordination ceremony (UPASAMPADA) is one which is regulated by The Sangha Act 2505 in line with the ancient order contained in the Buddhist Monastic Rule (VINAYA) laid down since the time of Lord Buddha. In contemporary Thailand, with the rise of tourism, many temples had unofficially lower the bar of ordination for foreigners. Nonetheless, any ceremony not performed according to the Buddhist Monastic Rule is invalid and the candidate is not a monk proper regardless of the temples’ altruistic motive. Therefore, a legal candidate must necessary be familiar with the ordination process. I will not reiterate the entire Buddhist Monastic Rule but suffice to share herein my personal experience.

I will split the Theravada Ordination Ceremony into two sections, namely, the Shaving of the Naga and the Entrance into Vinaya.

Shaving of the Naga

The ordination ceremony in Thailand is still conducted in the Pali language, the original Buddhist language, so as to maintain a certain degree of sacred and solemn formality. The ordination ceremony is not conducted in any other language. Honestly, this is a language not many people are versed in. So am I. Therefore, prior to my ordination, I had the script recited to me and had it recorded phonetically. The meanings thereto were also painstakingly explained to me. Once when I had memorized the script, I returned to the temple and requested to be ordained.

It was in the early morning on or about December 1, 2534, I was legally ordained as a monk in one of Thailand’s historical temple Wat Noi Nanghong, Bangyikhan District, Khet Bang Phlat, Krungthep Maha Nakhon 10700, Thailand. Wat Noi Nanghong was built more than two centuries ago during the Rattanakosin period by Luang Phor Pin Dhamma, a highly respected meditation master from Wat Daodoongsaram, Khon Kaen, Bang Yai, Bang Phlat, Krung Thong, Nakhon Si Thammarat 10700, Thailand. For more than two centuries, Wat Noi Nanghong has hitherto remained an important centre for Thai Buddhism and the current abbot Luang Phor Boonrod is one of the few Pali language specialists.

Wat Noi Nanghong

Wat Noi Nanghong

Wat Noi Nanghong

My ordination ceremony begins with blessing from my late father who initiated the shaving ritual conferring his approval of me entering the Vinaya. That was followed by the Naga ritual initiated by Maha Bard whereby the elder monk shaved my head, eyebrows, and anointed me with pure white water which represented cleanliness of my body and mind.

The Ritual of Shaving the Naga has its root back to the days of Lord Buddha where a serpent transformed himself into human form and was ordained as a monk but when his identity was discovered, Lord Buddha summoned for the Naga and told him that only human can be a monk. Lord Buddha bestowed on the Naga the Five Precepts so that he will attain human existence in his next life thereby allowing him to enter the Vinaya. At the same time, Lord Buddha declared that all future candidates for monkhood will go through the “Naga” ritual before being officially conferred the saffron.

The Naga was then dressed up in:

1. Long-sleeved white shirt

2. White apron

3. White sash

4. Naga belt.

5. White robe embroiled with gold

6. Necklace.

When the Naga ritual is completed, friends and well-wishers broke into fanatical fanfare with musical instruments and dances known to the Thais as temple fun.

My late father initiated the shaving ritual

Maha Bard performing the Ritual of Shaving the Naga

The Naga is dressed in white

Temple fun

In the process of the temple fun, which is actually a ritual informing spirits that that I was about to enter monkhood and they should rejoice and come forward to share and receive the merits. That was why I had to stop and make offerings to the spirits when I encircled the temple compound.

Praying to the spirits

After the proclamation of the upcoming ordination to the spirits, I was ordered to return to the “sala” or simply known as a sacred chamber to listen to a sermon delivered by my would-be teacher Luang Phor Somjit Sukkho. I was told by His Venerable that I will only be accepted as his disciple if I were successfully ordained as a full-fledged monk.

Entrance into Vinaya

Shortly after receiving blessings from His Venerable Luang Phor Somjit Sukkho, I was summoned to the “ubosot” or ordination hall before the congregation of monks assembled. I was stopped approximately twelve feet from the entrance of the ordination hall by two senior monks. That was whence the Ordination Ceremony officially began. As aforementioned, I am an illiterate in as long as Pali language is concerned and, hence, I anxiously and intently listened to the chant delivered by the two senior monks whilst waiting to deliver my answers to the questions asked。

With much anxiety, I finally let out a sigh of relief when I finally cleared the “antarayikadhamma” or the obstacles to entering the Order and was summoned to appear before the Sangha. The moment I stepped into the ordination hall, I received the saffron from my sponsor. The congregation of the Sangha was chaired by a heavyweight monk, Chao Khun Suthep (now known as Chao Khun Phrathep), the abbot of Wat Phra Pathom Chedi, Nakhon Pathom. Chao Khun Phrathep was my Upajjhaya or literally my Preceptor responsible for my good behavior and adherence to the 227 precepts throughout my monastic life. The ceremony continued. I knelt before the Sangha and place the robe down on my left so that I was able to present my Preceptor, Chao Khun Phrathep and two senior invigilators Luang Phor Supod (former abbot of Wat Noi Nanghong) and Luang Phor Boonrod (current abbot of Wat Noi Nanghong) with offerings. Thereafter, I chanted the request of Bhrampacha in Pali (a request to move forth with the ordination) thrice. My Preceptor then instructed me on meditation before delivering the forward and reverse orders. He subsequently place the “amsa” over my head and returned the rest of the bundle of saffron to me which I got changed into.

Officially entering the Vinaya

After I had changed into the saffron, I returned before the Sangha where I took refuge in Triple Gem and received the Ten Precepts. That was really a test of root memory whereby I had to chant in Pali beginning with “ukāsa vandāmi bhante, sabbaṃ aparādhaṃ khamatha me bhante…” followed by a series of to-and-fro chants between Luang Phor Supod, Luang Phor Boonrod and myself. After I successfully completed the undertaking of the Ten Precpts, I became a “nen”or novice.

Anjali Gesture asking for Nissaya

Next I received the alms bowl from my sponsor together with flowers, joss-sticks and candles. I returned to my Preceptor and placed the alms bowl down on my left whilst I presented him with the flowers, joss-sticks and candles.

Making offerings to Chao Khun Suthep

hen I clasped my hands in an “anjali” or a “wai” gesture and requested “Nissaya” through Pali chant. A series of to-and-fro chanting ensued. My Preceptor then told me my Pali name, Khantipalo and placed the alms bowl over my head whereby I carried on my left. I was then instructed to retire outside the assembly.

In just a short while, I was again summoned back to the assembly by the Karmavācācāriya and Anusāvanācāriya. That was when I requested for “upasampada” that was accepting the full 227 Precepts and officially became a full-fledged monk.

Officially accepting the full 227 precepts

After that I became known as Luang Phi Khantipalo. I was allowed to take a short break before my Preceptor instructed me on the Cattaro Nissaya and the four basic needs which anything exceeding thereof are luxury to be denounced. However, contrary to the monastic instruction, I received plenty of gifts and even money on that eventful day which I returned as offerings to all members of the Sangha present and money were in turn donated to temple fund. After-all, entering the Vinaya is all about letting go of worldly possession or was it not?

The entrance to the Vinaya has completed but another series of rituals were about to take place. The Ritual of Wai Kru took place on the night of that eventful day as I was officially accepted as a disciple of guru master Luang Phor Somjit Sukkho which set the journey for decades of learning and practicing of Thai mysticism…