In Thailand, ordination is a revered rite of passage for young men, signifying their dedication to the Buddhist faith and their commitment to a monastic life. This thousand-year-old tradition carries profound religious significance and cultural value.
In this comprehensive article, I will explore the history, religious meaning and the process of ordination for young men in Thailand, including the customary practice of young men spending time as a monk for a short period before marriage.
Historical Roots & Meaning of Ordination
Ordination is a religious ceremony or ritual in which an individual is consecrated and formally initiated into a religious order, clergy, or monastic community.
Ordination in Thailand finds its origins in Theravada Buddhism, the predominant school of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. The tradition of ordination is closely tied to the Sangha, the monastic community established by the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. The Sangha plays a central role in the spiritual and social life of Thailand, and ordination is an essential part of its continuation.
The practice of ordination was introduced to Thailand during the early periods of Buddhism's arrival in the region. The exact timeline is challenging to ascertain, but it is believed to have been established around the 3rd century BCE. The ordination tradition gradually evolved over the centuries, blending with Thai culture and customs.
Ordination holds profound religious significance in Thai Buddhism. It represents the voluntary renunciation of worldly attachments, mirroring the Buddha's own journey towards enlightenment. Through ordination, young men take their initial steps on the path to spiritual awakening and liberation from suffering.
Ordination is also seen as a powerful means of merit-making. Thai Buddhists believe that supporting someone's ordination accumulates spiritual merit, and the act of ordination cleanses the individual's past karmic deeds. As a result, the decision to ordain is often a source of great pride for both the individual and their family.
The Path to Ordination
Selection and Preparation
The journey to ordination typically begins during a young man's adolescence. Families often support their sons' desire to ordain and may make arrangements for their ordination, including financial preparations and arrangements with local monasteries. Young men undergo rigorous religious training and education to prepare for the monastic life.
Ordination Ceremony (Pabbajja)
The formal ordination ceremony, known as “Pabbajja,” marks the beginning of a young man's monastic life. During this ceremony, the candidate receives the initial monastic robe and is taught the fundamental Buddhist precepts. The Pabbajja ceremony is often a public event, with family and friends in attendance to witness and support the ordination.
Novice Ordination (Samanera)
After the Pabbajja, the novice, or “Samanera,” undergoes a more extensive period of training. Novice monks receive additional robes and participate in daily monastic life, observing strict rules and engaging in meditation and religious study.
Short-Term Ordination: A Customary Practice
In Thailand, it is a customary practice for young men to spend a short period as a monk before marriage, typically around the age of 20.
This practice allows young men to deepen their understanding of Buddhist teachings and gain spiritual merit before embarking on married life. It is considered a crucial step in their personal and spiritual development.
The duration of short-term ordination can vary. Some young men may spend a a week or two in the monastery, while others may choose a more extended period, such as a few months. The decision often depends on personal preferences and family traditions.