Temporary Monastic Ordination in Southeast Asia and Chakma culture.

Buddhism is one of the ancient religions having thousands years old history and spreading all over the world today. Buddha was born in ancient India in a royal family in Lumbini which is now in Nepal. He married to princess Yashodhara, both were 16 years old teenagers at that time. Then they got a child at 29 and eventually prince Siddhattha left family life, searching the path of liberation for 6 years and became a Buddha, the Enlightened One at 35, under the Bodhi tree in Buddhagaya, Bihar, India. Then he taught his teachings for 45 years across the Indian subcontinent and passed away at 80.

Even though, we might say it took him 6 years but it’s not true. It’s said that the Bodhisattva ( a being who is fulfilling all the perfections of wholesome deeds to become a Perfect One, the Buddha) had spent a hundred thousands of worlds cycles of lives in the past to fulfill all his duties and wholesome deeds to become a Buddha. Buddhahood is the highest level that a human can ever achieve which no other being can. 

Anyway, at present, there are millions of Buddhist followers around the world where 90% are in Asia. In Southeast Asia, culture and traditions are inseparable from Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy. We grow up with Buddhist ethics, philosophy, culture, tradition, rites and rituals which are our recognition and our pride. There are two groups in Buddhism, one is Monastic Community and other one is Laity Community. These two groups can’t exist without the other one. The existence of Buddhism means the existence of monastic community and lay community. They are inseparable and interdependent on various occasions of stages of our life. 

Not everyone wants to be a monk due to its strict rules and practices. There are lots of sacrifices and disciplinary codes needed to be a monk. But, of course, anyone can become a monk or nun for a short time. We believe, doing good Karma will keep us safe, secured, happy and peaceful. For that, as Buddhists, we practice 10 Pāramis or Pāramitas, which mean PERFECTION of those actions.

  1. Generosity (dana)
  2. Moral conduct (sila)
  3. Renunciation (nekkhamma)
  4. Wisdom (paññā)
  5. Effort (viriya)
  6. Patience (khanti)
  7. Truthfulness (sacca)
  8. Determination (adhitthana)
  9. Loving-kindness (metta)
  10. Equanimity (upekkha)

    These ten qualities should be fulfilled to ultimately to attain Nibbana and liberate from all the worldly sufferings. Attaining Nibbana is the hardest task but the most worthiest achievement in this universe as it’s the end of suffering. Many life times, we roam around the universe with various forms according to our bad and good Karma. Bad Karmas give us more pains and sufferings while good Karmas keep safe and give us worldly blessing of happiness or in other word “less suffering” as long as we come to this world until the Nibbana. These Ten Paramitas are the tools that keep us safe and prosperous and also lead to the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

Temporary Ordination in Southeast Asia: 

Buddhism is a very liberal religion and indiscriminatory religion. It praises in good deeds and denounces bad deeds. No matter who does that. Be you a man, or a woman, or LGBT….sex, race, nationality….. nothing are important than being a good person. And that’s the reason, any man or woman can ordain for short time if not for long term or life. Most of Theravāda countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Northeast India, Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, and Theravāda Vietnamese. Even though, Sri Lanka doesn’t have such temporary ordination culture but recently it’s leaning on it after they are seeing the important of ordination in other countries; be it short or long time or life time.

It’s very normal to see famous and popular actors and actresses becoming monks and nuns for short time. Even in our Chakma Culture, we follow the same thinking of doing good merits for wellness of ourselves and our family members. Thai people believe just like Chakma people or Burmese people or neighbor Buddhist countries, that, once in a life time, a man should become a monk to be grateful and thankful to their parents who gave them birth. For women, it’s kind of difficult unlike men who can easily shave their  hair and become a bald guy to become a monk. Men usually keeps short hair, so it doesn’t matter to shave the head and grow hair back later. But women keep long hair and it takes years to grow it back. That’s why not all women want to become female monks for short time but of course, there are women who don’t mind to have a bald head and grow it back after returning to family life from short term ordination.

Becoming a monk, means training yourself with discipline, self-restraint, tolerance, patience, let things go and many other personality development skills that we all really need throughout our lives. In our Chakma culture, all men or most of the men become monks for a week or a month or few days when a parent dies. We believe, spending sometime as a monk, we acquire lots of merits that we can share with our departed parents and other relatives. As Buddha taught, we can never ever repay the debt to our parents for bringing us up and taking care of us from childhood. The only way we can repay them back is establishing ourselves in Dhamma and establishing our parents in Dhamma. Thus, we children and parents stay on the right track until we achieve Nibbāna, the supreme bliss of liberation from all kind of suffering. 

In Thai culture, a man must spend 3 months or more as an Upasampadā monk, a fully ordained monk before getting married. And it could be after marriage too. One can ordain for short term as many times as one wants. There is no restriction becoming a monk or a nun as long as one doesn’t harm the society or oneself and follow the respective monastic codes as much as possible. If you break those rules, nobody is going to punish you but your conscience will haunt you until you perform comparative wholesome deeds. It’s like you cut one tree, you regret it and then start to plant as many tree as possible. Temporary ordination is one of the most important qualities that sought by bride party. And women too, should be respectful and faithful to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Most of those necessary qualities are being taught by parents at home. And of course, our Asian culture share similar ideology in marriage of accepting parents-in-law as our own parents and taking care of them like own parents. On the other hand, the bride or groom will be joined the family as their own son or daughter. But, yes! human nature! not all are same. There could be many different stories too.

Another most important reason to become a temporary monk or nun, is being grateful to the parents. We believe, spending some time as a monk, we acquire lots of merits that we can share for our parents’ wellness and good health. Our parents also expect from us to be a righteous child and a good citizen. It’s common to all parents to see their children grow up with good discipline, good manners and good character.

On various occasions, one might take temporary ordination throughout his/her life. If one doesn’t prefer ordination, then one can still practice lay Eight Precept or Lay Ten Precepts in the place of monkhood. Lay Eight Precepts or Lay Ten Precepts doesn’t require you to shave you head. In Chakma culture, during the new year in April, Kathina ceremony in October, or other fortunate or unfortunate occasions, we become monks keeping the good spirit in our hearts to perform good deeds. We believe, good deeds and good actions keep us all safe, healthy, wealthy, peaceful and prosperous.

Education, skill development and temporary ordination in Chakma culture: 

In our Chakma culture, those who become monks for long time or life time, are from very poor family background. It might be same for all the other Buddhist countries too. Rich families don’t want their children to become monks even if they would wish. But poor families, willingly or reluctantly they wouldn’t mind if their sons stay as monks for long terms or life time. It’s hard to stay miles away from parents but those young monks with strong spirits march forward on their unpredictable journey. On the other hand, in Chakma society, there is no facility or accommodation for women to become nuns like other countries such as Myanmar has. Female ordination is still taboo and it became more taboo after few popular sexist and patriarchal figures influenced on uneducated society as well as illiterate elite in the sense ignorant of Buddha’s teaching. Though, it’s no surprise as most of the world has been patriarchal  and sexist until this day. But, things are getting changed now. In fact, Buddha was the first religious teacher who gave the women right of practicing a religion and ordination. Imagine, the situation of women in 3000 years ago. In that time, women were treated as an asset and sexual tool which Buddha raised voice against all kind of discrimination, racism, sexism, dogmas; instead he emphasizes of qualities and inner values rather than a gender or a race. He is the first religious teacher who gave women ordination rights and taught the society that we are all equally capable to attain Nibbāna, the supreme goal of Buddhism. It is the practitioner that  matter most according to Buddha, not the sex or race. Anyone who follows the path, will reach the destination; it’s that simple teaching of the Buddha. 

The good consequences of temporary ordination in Chakma culture will be only fruitful if those monks who will remain as monks or return back to lay life, is by learning lots of survival skills, technical skills, and of course Dhamma too. It’s like having an intensive bootcamp before recruiting to an army. To join a military, one must train lots of skills, disciplinary codes, self-restraint and good character. Many monks who ordained in young age, most of them return back to family life but of course some remain for lifetime. It depends on one’s will power, sacrifice, family background and personal  challenges. If an illiterate person becomes a monk, he is still an illiterate person. If an educated monk goes back to a family life or remains in monkhood, he is still an educated person. Today, monks are the most influential figures in our society. Soon, they take the robe of Buddha, naturally they become social leaders and influencers. They are invited to teach us on every important occasion in our life. Therefore, we must train them to be more skilled community and build them as good leaders. 

We need to train many young monks and children with various skills as tomorrow they will be our leaders and influencers. Also we should recognize and denounce all those illiterate and misleading godmen and leaders who are exploiting public resources and destroying the social values of unity and harmony. We should collect all the good things and distribute them among the needy communities. We should all monastics and laities along with Dhamma studies focus on education, social development, skills development, technical programs and many other professional skills that practically uplift a society. Humankind is inventing new things everyday and we should learn how to cope with all those survival skills and challenges. It’s like making and wearing a pair of durable boots depending of what condition you have to step on and move forward.

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