A short term ordination experience, Part 3: Life as a Monk
KennC, 31th Dec 2012
After the ordination
We are happy monks now. Right after the higher ordination we packed up and travel 14 hour by bus to a place call Panawan in Chiangmai, Northern Thailand. It was a hilltop retreat under Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The weather and environment here were very different from Bangkok. Here it was cold and rainy. Temperature was around 17 to 20+ degree Celsius. It was a beautiful place with fresh air, colourful flowery plants and trees.
We were issued long sleeve t-shirt and a head wear to keep warm. We stayed in rooms for 30 monks each. Daily activities remains unchanged. The pace was slower and less tiring because there was no more rehearsal for the ceremonies. We had our first opportunity to meditate outdoor in beautiful scenery. Meditation outdoor prove to be a challenge. Insects like to crawl all over mediators, hard to concentrate for beginner like me.
First Alms round
The Buddha laid down the rule that monks and nuns may not cook or store their own food. The intention was for monastics to be free from the worldly burden of cooking, to have more time to practice the Dhamma and for lay followers to gain merit by their generosity. My first alms round was at a small villager in Chiangmai. It was early in the morning at around 7am, after a morning rain. There were 12 of us; we form a line with a more senior monk in front of us. The village wasn’t a well to do village. Some of the houses were shabby wooden houses, other was better brick houses. We had to walk bare footed in an orderly manner, looking straight ahead with the head slightly bowed. No exclaiming in pain when stepped on sharp pebbles or jumping round animal faeces. No looking around into the houses and are not supposed to call out for alms. The alms round start at the same time every day, villagers who want to give alms will wait at their door step.
The first alms I received were from a middle age lady. She stands at her doorstep with food waiting for us. We stop at her doorstep, she walk pass each of us and placed a packet of food in our bowl. After placing food in the bowl of the last monk in the line, she walks back, and did something that shocks me. She kneeled down on the wet floor in front of us. This is something I did not expect, imagine kneeling to a person for giving him food, and you don’t even know that person personally. At that moment, I feel the greatness of the Buddha. She is kneeling because of her faith in the Buddha and his teaching, not just because I am wearing a monk robe. We gave her a blessing in Pali, wishing gher ood health and happiness. During the alms round, there are young children and old people offering us alms, all are respectful to us. Our mentor monk told us sometime the poor villagers will buy exquisite food to offer as alms which they themselves cannot bare to eat. I am touched by the villager’s generosity and also the faith they had in Buddhism. I feel Thailand is the most blessed country with the most generous and kind people, and i feel i am blessed to be ordinated in Thailand to expereinces all this.
Among our group, there was a doctor in his late thirties. He shared with us his first alms round experience. There was this old man with Parkinson disease who walks down very slowly with great difficult from his door step. With the assistance of a walking stick and his granddaughter, he walk to the first monk, took the food with his shaking hand, after much perseverance, finally place able to the food in the alms bowl. He do this one by one. When he reaches the doctor, tears started flowing uncontrollably from the doctor eyes. He said that was the first time he cried and when he was standing there dropping tears, past unhappiness flashed across his mind. He reflects upon himself and at that moment, let go of past hatreds he had been holding to. He was still dropping tears when he shares this experience with us a few days later. Alms round might just be a simple act of giving food to support monks, but it have the effect of teaching us to share and care for other.
End of 1 month international ordination program.
Time files and it was the end of the one month international ordination program. With sadness, we said goodbye to most of our brothers who disrobed and return to their respective countries. Disrobing was much easier, reading 3 short sentence in Pail, having their robe pulled down and they return to manhood again. Most of the teaching monks had also gone back to their temples after the 1 month program. 30 of us from this program joined the rain retreat. Our mentor monks and some senior monks remain with us. I was to stay for 1 month of the 3 months rain retreat.
Start of rian retreat
We move to a new location call Sub-sawan in Korat, northeast Thailand. This place used to be vacated temple until it was took over by Wat Phra Dhammakaya. This place is on a flat piece of land, surrounding the temple compound are some farms and further on, there are some hills. The temperature was slightly lower than Bangkok. We were assign 4 monks to a small room. We sleep on the floor with a foldable matter and a sleeping bag.
Time for dharma lessons were reduced, replaced by longer meditation time and “boon” time. “Boon” is the Thai word for merit. Boon time also means hard work time for us. As this place had been vacant for some time and as it will be used as the new base for the international ordination program from this year on, a lot of rebuilding and improving is required. We had to clean up the whole place inside and outside, build path ways, remove wild vegetation and replace with new plants and some others works. It was hard work and tiring task, we would grumble sometime, but we agreed that gave us satisfaction when we imagine future monks using the facilities that we had build.
Saturday was outing day. Usually we went to the city area for alms round or visit temples within one hour drive from our temple. I enjoy the outing as i always enjoy seeing new things and visiting new places. The weekly trip also give us a break from the work hard and monotonous schedules. One of the place we visited is call Pusandao or “ten thousand stars mountian”. There is a small temple on top of this mountain, looking out for this mountain, we see a breath taking huge flat plain below surrounded by mountian ranges. The vision is far-stretching, i feel i’m so tiny, i feel i’m one with nature, i love this place.
Rules and disciplines
Discipline was strict here. All things had to be in an orderly manner and follow certain standard which we were taught. Towels, bathing kits had to be arranged in neat rows. Our sleep areas have to tidy in standard arrangement with our 3 pieces robe neatly folded. We had to turn up neatly dressed and be on time during roll call. There was even a competition where points were given for the tasks above. The top 3 monks with the most points at the end of the retreat will recieve a token gift. I find this too strict to my liking, not the care free type of environment I wish for. Though, I can understand they need to be stricter because this is the international group, some of the new monks will stay on after the rain retreat and will be assigned to overseas mission to help ordination. They need to set a good example to new participant in those countries.
The meditation sessions is longer for the rain retreat, sometime up to 2 hour. It is during this month that I feel an improvement in my meditation. I experience calmness and peace during meditation that I never felt before in meditation. Sometime I will feel time pass fast and does not feel the body. I had been using the Dhammakaya meditation method, in this method, when the meditator is in really calm and clear state, he will see a bright crystal ball at the center of the body. I didn’t see crystal ball, not at that deep stage of calmness and clearness yet.
I had the privilege of staying for 2 nights in a local hospital. I had never stayed in a hospital before, it was a new experience. My left feet contacted some infection from insect bites or small cuts. After a few days, it swollen to the size of elephant feet, I was limping and had fever. During the stay, I hid inside the room with closed door all the time., because I am a new monk, I was worry I might break some monks rules unknown to me if I venture outside. There was a nurse who offers me alms on both mornings. I give her blessing, wishing her good health in English. Very thankful to her. Had tubes of antibiotic pump and me and swallow many tablets. It took 2 full weeks to get my feet back to normal size.
With the removal of external influences and worldly worries, the condittion was just right for self discovery. I start to look at my mind more. I look at my thoughts, they are like clouds appearing, floating around and disappearing due to surrounding condition. I look at my emotions and desires from simple things, like during meal, I want an extra egg or banana or a delicious looking dessert. I ask myself why I want it? Is it necessary? Often, it was not necessary, and I want it because of desire for it taste or I was just simply greedy. Those desire and greedy thoughts usually arose by themself , my actions were been control by them without me noticing. By being mindful, I notice and understand them, and I have the choice to put a stop to them. I apply this to my other actions. I begin to see Buddhism as good method to understand myself and control my own mind. If I can control my mind, I can remove negative thoughts the moment they arouse. This will reduce suffering. I begin to see the true meaning of the Buddha’s teaching such as 4 noble truth and eight fold paths. I had read them before but never really understand or put their in my heart.
My ordination objectives
My objective before coming for this ordination was to learn mindfulness and concentration, improve my meditation, understand the Buddha teachings, and hopefully, earn merits for my parent. I feel that I had achieved them. I am more mindful now; I look inside instead of outside only. I look at my thoughts and try to control them. My meditation improved, I felt peace and calmness during meditation. I understand Buddhism more and feel it is a systematic way of improve myself. I feel I had done good deeds, but I can’t see merit, i hope my parent will receive them.
I had received more than my objectives. I encounter many kind and compassion people that I want to emulate. I feel I am connect to all beings, this make me more compassionate and live my life not only for myself. I learn that I am too materialistic, as I feel happy with little possession when I am a monk. I understand myself more and have a clearer direction in life. I am not the superstitious Buddhist I used to be, though I still believe in miracles and the paranormal; i feel those happened for a reason which technology cannot prove yet. I had better judgement by understand the Buddha’s way. I believe in the core teaching of the Buddha, my Buddhism belief does not belong to any sect, I keep an open mind on differences between sects.
I feel I am blessed that I had my ordination is Thailand, where I met so many kind people, had great experiences and learnings hard to find in other places. This short-term international ordination program was a excellent program. The teachers and mentors are kind and helpful, and I learn a lot form them. I am very grate that I had attended this ordination program and it was a right decision. Over all this program was great and well organize, thought this program might not be the liking of some as the schedule was quite rigid and strict discipline was required.
It had been 3 months since i disrobe and right at the end of 2012. I feel wonderful that I had been ordinated and was part of the Sangha community. I still had this wonderful feeling today. I would encourage anyone who is interested in ordination to go for it. I had benefit and learn a lot about myself and about life from the short-term ordination, but this is only a tiny bit of the Buddha’s teaching. There are much to learn. To conquer myself and end suffering, it will take a lifetime of practise or more. I want to help bring the Buddha’s great teaching to more people and had since set up a website about Buddhism. It is an insignificance website, but i feel happy as long as it can help a single person a little bit.
Below is the video on the international ordination program that i went through.
IDOP10 – 2012