Monkenation (Munk-eh-nay-tion): A clever term used to describe the ceremony in which a person becomes a monk.
Once in a lifetime experiences, when they come along you have to take advantage of them. So when I was invited to go to a monk initiation ceremony for the father of one of my students I put religious differences aside and jumped at the chance.
We arrived at the temple late due to some taxi confusion. Mai pen rai, this is Thailand afterall. Nothing starts “on time,” so we weren’t to worried, in fact we were actually “early.” After a two round tour around the temple given to us by six year old Bam, the only family member we could find, we finally bumped into a family friend who knew which direction to point us in.
All of a sudden things became crowded and chaotic. The students mother beckoned us to come near her husband. Thai people all around us were picking trays up off of a table. Utterly confused and completely out of place we smiled but our minds were blank. It wasn’t until the father, the initiate himself grabbed my arm and told me to pick up a tray that I got any direction at all. I picked up the silver tray, loaded with white roses, Kleenex, dishwashing soap and lotion and took my place in one
of two long lines in front of the initiate. Several pictures later we were commanded to move. We marched around the temple 3 times with a few pauses so that the elders could catch up to us youngsters in the front. The fact that we had no idea what was going on made this situation so much more amusing, and being nearly a head taller than those around me I was able to get a great view of everything.
When we had finished marching around the temple everyone then filed inside to set down their trays in front of an enormous golden Buddha. The Thais around us kneeled and bowed as they set down their trays. Feeling mildly uncomfortable I found myself doing an awkward squat with one knee on the ground solely to gain balance. Quickly everyone shuffled outside once again. At this time the two initiates (another one had joined behind our group), robed in white were led in a prayer and chant by and elder monk on the temple steps. They little a candle and then, with a surge were nearly birthed inside the central temple door. It was at this point that we realized we were on the side of the temple for the wrong initiate. With some ducking, weaving and some pretty fantastic acrobatic moves we were able to get to where we needed to be.
Inside the temple doors people sat and kneeled to watch the proceedings. Space was limited. The only free area of carpet was a roped off space leading to a grandfather clock. My student, Am, tried to explain the significance of this to me but with her 8 year old knowledge of english the meaning was somehow lost. The initiates kneeled in front of what resembled a jury of monks. The elder spoke and read for many, many minutes, so long in fact that my feet reached a severe point of sleep and
I was forced to stand outside the door just to recover. After nearly an hour of talk the initiates were allowed to leave and exchange their pure white robes for the saffron robes of a monk. With that the conversion was official. For the next one to two months this man will serve as a Buddhist monk. Unlike catholic monks the conversion does not have to be for a lifetime and the men are allowed to get married and hold other jobs but this act will mark as good merit in their future.
If you want to learn more about Buddhist Monks you can look here.