I live on the grounds of Wat Doi Saket temple. My room is inside a building originally used for an HIV education program. The bedroom is spacious, with a glass door and pink curtains. It has two windows and one of them with a nice view of the woods….or what I call woods anyway. At night I can hear a huge “gecko” right outside; one day I hope to be able to also see it.
I was in my room chatting with friends in Mexico and heard lots of music and cheering right outside my room. I didn’t know what has happening so I grabbed my camera and headed out to investigate. I was immensely surprised to see a lot of kids dressed in white robes walking around the temple followed by cheerful adults and a band. “What is this?” …. I decided to follow them to find out. They all went to the “Akan See Su Pa Ak Son” (new building for ceremonies which is named after the donor). As I was taking video of all this, I saw my good friend and Buddhist teacher Phra Maha Ake. He explained to me what was going on: ’Novice Ordination’: 60 young kids from a school in Chiang Mai called Montfort were ordaining as monks.
Montfort (‘fortress in the mountain’) is a Catholic school. Montfort is managed and supported by the St. Gabriel Foundation in Thailand, which follows the moral principals and spirituality of St. Louis of Montfort. Montfort is the name of a district in France where Louis Marie was born; he became a priest in 1700. In 1932 Montfort College was founded in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The schools logo is ‘God alone’. Kids from this school come from a high socioeconomic status. This is interesting because most of the young Buddhist novices enrolled in Buddhist high schools come from lower socioeconomic status in search of an opportunity for education. The school these kids go to is Catholic and yet they all ordain as monks to learn about their religion and gain merit.
The young boys ordained for 7 days and lived like monks. The week before the ceremony, monks from Doi Saket went to their school to teach them about ordaining.
They must purify themselves before ordaining so they came to the ceremony dressed in white robes which means purity. During the ceremony they acknowledge their parents, asking for their forgiveness for any wrong doing. The kids also recognize what their mothers have done for them from the moment of their conception until the day they are being ordained, and they do this by paying respect with three consecutive bows. They do not ‘out’ words expressing this. The head teacher leads them through it. When I saw them crying I originally thought they were saying good-bye to their parents and I was very sad. Later, I learned that they were crying due to the emotional aspect of the ceremony which also involves asking their parents permission to freely ordain and parents giving them their blessing, telling them not to worry about anything and granting their forgiveness.
Aside from this sad moment, I was impressed by the joyful atmosphere of the ceremony and all the feelings involved. They chanted together requesting the Monks’ Leader to be ordained as monks. You could see some serious faces, the older ones, and some mischievousness in the little ones.
The parents give their children the orange robes, a lotus flower, and an alms bowl. The lotus flower in Buddhism is associated with purity, faithfulness, and religious awakening. The flower is considered pure because it grows in muddy waters and remains impeccable through all the mud and dirt of its environment. It represents the journey through darkness into light and knowledge.
Once they have been accepted by the Abbot to ordain, they proceed to change into their new orange robes. Older novices, and monks help and teach the ‘novices-to-be’ how to wear the robes and how to put them on. One can see the emotion and happiness in the parents’ faces, taking video, photos, and smiling from ear to ear at the sight of their sons.
After putting on the orange robes they go back inside to proceed with the ceremony. They are now officially novices and they chant the 10 precepts that will be undertaken during their life as novices.
Every morning around 6:30 am all of them go down for alms. Their parents await by the stairway entrance to give them food. When novices and monks go for alms they do it barefoot. It was very cute to see the young ones having a hard time walking without shoes, tip-toeing. When the alms round is finished, they all chant a blessing to their parents and walk back up to the Wat for breakfast.
When I followed all of the ceremonies, activities, and events during those 7 days, I came to think of it as a Buddhist version of a western summer camp. Sure, they were all novices and wear the orange robe, people respect them for doing this, but they are all kids nevertheless, I saw them playing, laughing, and running around. It was an incredible experience. And in April, 120 young kids and men will be ordaining, some for a week some for the whole month.
Check out this video to see the ceremony (switch to 1080p for maximum viewing enjoyment!)