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Date: 2/16/97

Publication: The Nation

Section: ViewPoints

Monkhood provides a deeper understanding


IT is an age-old Thai custom for a young man to enter the monkhood at least once in his life, to gain a deeper understanding of the Buddha's teachings.

Each April sees scores of university students heading to Buddhist monasteries to become bhikkus (novices) for the duration of the long summer break. At the temple, the young men must practice self-restraint and discipline in the Buddhist tradition, while steeling themselves against worldly temptations.

The main method of passing on the techniques to achieve such self-control is by experience and example: the actual ordination process and the influence of older, long-term monks.

''During my time as a bhikku, I learned how to discipline myself as I avoided worldly distractions. On the outside, a monk is distinguishable by his shaven head and saffron robes. These external factors influence those ordained to strive to be good, calm, and self-controlled," Anuchit Sornsilp, a 22-year-old Ramkhamhaeng student said.

Anuchit, in his fourth year at the Faculty of Political Science, took part in the yearly ordination rites at Wat Dhammakaya in Prathumthani, during the summer of 1996.

Besides the drastic change of appearance, the temple's serene atmosphere is another major influence on the behaviour of novice bhikkus, according to the student.

While the aim of the custom is to ground Thai youths in the Buddhist philosophy, there are other benefits to short-term ordination. It is regarded as a rite of passage to adulthood.

''A person who spent time as a monk is generally considered a mature and learned man, and he has earned respect," Anuchit said, commenting that now his mother treats him like an adult and his friends no longer use bad language when he's around.

The student feels people have drifted away from Buddhism, and need more education in the philosophy to overcome their difficulties.

''I believe people are now so preoccupied with survival that they don't know how to solve their problems. If they learn how to follow the Dhamma, they can get rid of these problems."

Anuchit admitted he never went to the temple to learn about the Dhamma before his time as a bhikku, but said he is now a frequent visitor.

Wat Dhammakaya is a popular destination for many students because it has an innovative way of imparting Buddhist principles. Meditation is emphasised as a way to achieve peace of mind, and strict observance of the precepts is required.

''I think what I learned during the short course at Wat Dhammakaya will help me to work in today's rapidly changing world. The teaching methods at the wat are also compatible with the university curriculum, which means I can apply what I learned to my daily life."

Kittikorn Daengprapai, 21, was also ordained at Wat Dhammakaya, but his intention was to make merit for his parents.

Kittikorn admitted that although he learned important techniques to make life's problems less of a burden, he finds it difficult to carry out some of the temple practices now that he's a layman again.

''When I was a monk, I would rise before dawn to wash, dress and tidy up my cell. Then I had to meditate until it was light enough to see the palm of my hand clearly, at which point I'd start my alms round. After taking the morning meal at my quarters, I spent the rest of the day meditating, reading, or studying with the older monks.

''But now I can't carry out such a routine. I have to stay up late to study, so I wake up late. And the housekeeper cleans up and does the laundry," Kittikorn said.

The student believes many of those who are ordained for a short time are not truly interested in immersing themselves in Buddhist studies. They are just laymen temporarily wearing monk's robes rather than monks who have given up the worldly aspects of a layman's life.

''From what I saw of the others who were ordained with me for a short time, most of them were more interested in escaping from work, family problems and money worries," he said.

Although Kittikorn was only a monk for a short time, he had to live under the same conditions as the long-term monks. He made alms rounds every morning, and ate only two meals during the day.

''I had to meditate, chant, study the Dhamma and obey the monastic precepts, just like the other monks."

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