The Daily Life of a Thai Monk
Monks on alms-round The Sangha World in Thailand consists of about 200,000 monks and 85,000 novices at most times of the year. However, these numbers increase during the Buddhist ‘lent’ to 300,000 and 100,000 novices. Young boys may become novices at any age, but a man cannot become a monk until he reaches the age of twenty. He can then remain a monk for as long as he wishes, even for just one day. Three months is more usual, although some choose to remain in monkhood for the rest of their lives.
There are over 29,000 temples in Thailand and the daily routine of the monks in all of them is pretty much the same.
4.00 am – The monks wake up and meditate for one hour, followed by one hour of chanting.
6.00 am – The monks walk barefoot around the neighbourhood while the local people make merit by offering them food.
8.00 am – Returning to the temple, the monks sit together to eat breakfast, then make a blessing for world peace.
Before 12.00 noon – Some monks choose to eat a light lunch at this time. This is the last solid food they are allowed to consume until sunrise the following morning.Row of seated Buddhas
1.00 pm – Classes in Buddhist teaching begin. Some monks may attend school outside the temple.
6.00 pm – A two-hour session of meditation and prayer begins.
8.00 pm – The monks retire to do homework.
Besides these duties, all monks are given specific roles to play in the day-to-day running and maintenance of the temple and its surroundings.
After being in the monkhood for several years and demonstrating extreme dedication to both social work and spiritual study, a monk can be promoted gradually until he reaches the Sangha Supreme Council, the governing body presided over by the Supreme Patriach.Novice monks
All monks must follow 227 strict precepts or rules of conduct, many of which concern his relations with members of the opposite sex. When a monk is ordained he is said to be reborn into a new life and the past no longer counts – not even if he was married. Women are, of course, forbidden to touch monks and should not even stay alone in the same room as a monk. If a woman wishes to offer an object to a monk, it must pass through a third medium, such as a piece of cloth. In fact, monks always carry a piece of cloth for this purpose. The monk will lay the cloth on the ground or table, holding on to one end. The woman places the offering on the cloth and the monk then draws it away.
Thai monks can be seen wearing various shades of robes, from dark brown to the familiar brilliant saffron. There are no rules, but the darker shades are preferred by monks in the Dharmmayuth sect and Thu-dong or forest monks.
The Thai Buddhist Calendar
Visakha Puja – falls on the full moon of the sixth month of the lunar year (around the middle of May on the international calendar). It is one of the most important days for Buddhists because on this day the Lord Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died. All three of these significant events fell on the same day. Visakha Puja is usually celebrated with a public sermon during the day and a candle lit procession to pay respect to the Lord Buddha during the night.
Magha Puja – falls on the full moon of the third lunar month ( February). It was on this day that 1,250 enlightened monks converged to pay respect to the Lord Buddha without any prior appointment. The day is celebrated in a similar fashion to Visakha Puja day.
Asalha Puja – falls on the full moon of the eighth lunar month (July) and is also very important. It was on this day that the Lord Buddha preached His sermon to followers after attaining enlightenment. The day is usually celebrated by merit making, listening to a monk’s sermon, and joining a candle lit procession during the night.
Khao Phansa – falls on the first day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month (July) and marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist ‘lent’ period. At this time, all monks and novices must remain in their temples. They should not venture out or spend the night in any other place except in cases of extreme emergency and, even then, their time away must not exceed seven consecutive nights. This is a time for serious contemplation and meditation for both monks and laymen alike. Traditionally, it is also important for laymen to ordain their sons into the monkhood on this day to get maximum benefit from the Buddhist teachings.
Ok Phansa – marks the end of the Buddhist lent and falls on the full moon of the eleventh lunar month (October). This is a day of joyful celebration and merit-making. For many families, it is also the day they welcome a son back into the home and celebrate his successful completion of a term in the temple.
Tod Kratin – lasts for 30 days, from Ok Phansa through to the full moon of the twelfth lunar month. During this time most Buddhists take part in ceremonies, either directly or indirectly. Robes and other necessities of temple life are offered ceremoniously to the monks on an appointed day. Each temple may hold a Tod Kratin ceremony once each year. Originally, in the time of the Lord Buddha, this ceremony was meant to teach monks humility and show them how to cut, sew, and dye the robes for themselves. The finished robes were then offered to the members of the company deemed most suitable. Today, however, the ritual has evolved dramatically into a grand celebration where hundreds and thousands of people join in the merit making. It is also an important occasion for the temple to raise funds.
The sequence of events for each of the above three religious days goes something like this: Early in the morning, people begin to arrive at the temple wearing their best clothes. They carry food prepared at home, usually in highly decorative gold or silver bowls, and offer it to the monks. After this breakfast, the people are blessed by the monks and many return to their homes. The more devoted may choose to remain at the temple and, later in the morning, take a vow with the monks to keep either five or eight precepts throughout the entire day. After taking this vow, they split their time between praying, listening to the monks’ preachings and doing meditation. In the evening, the monks lead a candle lit procession, making three complete circuits of the main temple building. This event signifies the end of the celebrations.
Reference: Buddha Dharma Education Association 1996-2012