Reasons for Temporary Monkhood in Thailand

The Buddhist Channel, 29 July 2023

Bangkok, Thailand -- In the Land of Smiles, a unique cultural tradition has long captivated observers: young Thai men, after completing their studies, embark on a transformative journey as temporary monks. This revered rite of passage has been an integral part of Thai society, offering men an opportunity to show gratitude to their families and immerse themselves in the teachings of Buddhism.

However, as societal values evolve, the reasons behind these temporary ordinations are diversifying, raising questions about the true essence of this age-old practice.

For many young Thai men, joining a monastery for a brief period has been a time-honored tradition, motivated by familial duty and devotion. Palath Dilokloetthanakorn's experience reflects this sentiment. He followed the footsteps of countless others, spending one month in a local temple after completing his university education. The act of donning the saffron robes, walking barefoot through the streets at dawn, and receiving alms from the community is an expression of deep respect and merit towards their parents, who have selflessly raised them.

Yet, as time advances, the significance of multiple ordinations has started to shift. Uthit Siriwan, a scholar of Thai Buddhism, observes that while many once considered ordination as a once-in-a-lifetime event, the allure of temporary monkhood is on the rise.
Instead of a single, definitive act, some young men now view it as an opportunity for periodic spiritual rejuvenation. They recognize the transformative power of monastic life in honing self-discipline, responsibility, and consciousness.

This evolving perspective is evident in the story of Nattapong Chaosangket, who chose monkhood in his late twenties. For Nattapong, the decision came later in life, but the timing proved to be perfect for his personal growth. He expressed that had he embraced monkhood earlier, he might have missed the chance to truly delve into introspection and self-discovery.

However, as with any cherished tradition, there are those who enter monastic life for less altruistic reasons. Some seek atonement and moral redemption, using the respected status of monks as a protective shield against consequences for their transgressions. While some genuinely strive for remorse and growth, others may exploit the public's perception of monasteries as places of forgiveness. This poses a moral dilemma and calls for a thoughtful reflection on the true intentions behind temporary ordinations.

In this discussion of Thai monastic life, we must also address gender disparity. While Thai society holds monks in high regard, the same level of recognition is not extended to women in the clergy. Females are barred from ordination as monks, though an alternative path exists in the form of maechi, or white-robed nuns, who follow less rigid rules. While this has been the longstanding tradition in Thailand, it's important to reevaluate these gender-based restrictions in light of evolving social norms and a broader push for gender equality.

The tradition of temporary monkhood in Thailand is a cultural gem that has intrigued observers worldwide. It offers an unparalleled glimpse into the spiritual fabric of this beautiful nation. As the reasons for ordination continue to evolve, we must cherish and preserve the essence of this practice while also embracing change that aligns with modern values.

A society that encourages introspection, self-improvement, and compassion can only flourish. By embracing diversity and fostering inclusivity, we ensure that the light of Buddhism continues to shine brightly, inspiring generations to come.
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