Temporary Ordination: Is it a right thing to do?

by Kumāra Bhikkhu, The Buddhist Channel, 17 Jul 2023

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- “Temporary ordination” has become so common in the Buddhist world now that it’s taken for granted as part of Buddhism. However, during the Buddha’s time, there wasn’t such a thing.

There were people who donned the robes and later disrobed, but they didn’t don the robes with the intention to disrobe. These days, however, donning the robes with the intention to disrobe has become common, and we call that “temporary ordination”.

Although this ritual has been sometimes promoted as a way to bring about character transformation, usually people do it to gain merits, or to fulfil a vow, or both. Sometimes, it may even be an avenue for psychological avoidance.

Temporary ordination also happens sometimes in meditation retreat centres, where lay people get ordained just for the period of their stay. Bhante Aggacitta calls them “lay yogis in robes”. In essence, he’s right. Think about it: They haven’t really renounced their worldly life. If they are married, they still are. If they have a paid job, they still do. And of course they still have their money and other worldly possessions, and are ever ready to return to all that.

As such, they don’t consider themselves real monks or nuns. Yet, the ordination procedure is the same as that of those who are doing it for real.

It makes me wonder if this ritual is a proper thing to do. Is it in line with the original teachings of the Buddha?

In my opinion, becoming a Buddhist monk or nun is a serious matter. It allows a person to be dedicated to spiritual growth and liberation. It’s hardly a matter to be turned into a mere ritual for lay people.

While we can admit that people who partake in temporary ordination may benefit from their time spent in the monastery or retreat centre, what prevents them from benefiting all the same if they were wearing lay clothes?

One might say it’s different precisely because one gives up wearing lay clothes, and even shaves their head. Well, actually that’s something you can do on your own, except that wearing white would be more appropriate. In fact, there is already such a thing, and such people are called anāgārika, “homeless one”. They observe the 8 precepts, and can choose to observe more than that.

Perhaps this is a better option.

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