Becoming a monk in Laos: an enlightening experience

Becoming a monk in Laos: an enlightening experienceThe majority of Lao men want to be ordained as a Buddhist monk at least once in their lifetime in order to practice and understand dharma, the teachings of the Buddha which lead to enlightenment.

Some wish to take ordination prior to getting married as a way to show gratitude to their parents.

In Laos, once a son exceeds 20 years of age but before his marriage, most parents invest a large amount of money to organise a Buddhist ordination ceremony, from which it is believed they make considerable merit.

B uddhist ordinations traditionally take place over two days; the first of which occurs at the family home and the second at a shrine in a temple.

Last month, my brother and I were ordained as monks for 10 days in Sangveuy temple, Sisattanak district, in the hope of making merit for our parents.

We made the decision to take the ordination together because my brother is 28 and I’m 26.

We were so excited to become monks as we thought it was the best way to show gratitude to our parents.

Our ordination began on December 23, which was a busy day for our family and relatives who prepared food and merit-making offerings for the temple monks (kong boun). Thankfully, our family’s fine standing attracted large numbers of neighbours to help out with the preparations, especially elders with extensive knowledge and skills related to holding such ceremonies.

That afternoon marked the inauguration of the ceremony, with our parents cutting our hair with scissors, after which the remainder of our hair and eyebrows were shaven off.

All our hair was collected and placed in lotus leaves to be thrown on a bhodi tree, in the hope of making more merit.

Next the mor phon led a baci ceremony at our house, with my brother and I putting on white robes.

The ceremony took about one hour as relatives and villagers lined up one by one to tie white threads around our wrists before heading to the temple where we were to stay as monks.

The parade to the temple, always a big event in the neighbourhood, was very festive with drumming and shouting.

When we arrived, the mor phon led participants to walk three times around the temple, while some people carried saffron robes and pillows as offerings for the monks.

Then folded banknotes and candy were thrown into the crowd, while novice monks noisily beat drums and gongs.

These days, some wealthy people hire folk bands to play during the parade.

Our father and mother then pulled us into the shrine using walking sticks. The process recalled the tale of the naga (serpent), which once disguised itself as a human in order to become a monk.

Once we were all assembled in the shrine, the ceremony proper could commence. We were surrounded by monks chanting in Pali, before we changed out of our white robes into saffron robes, signifying that we were now ordained.

After the ceremony, our family returned home to prepare food and drinks for guests who came to offer alms in the evening.

New monks are allowed to join such festivities but must return to the temple early in the evening.

The next morning there was an alms-giving ceremony at our house, with nine monks, including those newly ordained, joining together for breakfast.

Afterwards, the monks returned to the temple to await the delivery of the kong boun.

Living as a monk was a good experience. I didn’t have to worry about distractions like my work or partying with friends. I devoted myself to learning about dharma and the impermanence of life. I felt like I was living in another world.

In addition, everyone respected me and treated me like I was an elder; even my parents and relatives paid their respects to me, despite being older than me, which goes against the regular norms of Lao culture.

I’ve often thought that living in a temple would be a good way to live, if only you could put aside your desires. You don’t need to spend money on food and, more importantly, you have the opportunity to study.

But when I entered the temple, I realised life wasn’t as easy as I first thought.

I had to get up at 4 or 5am every day to chant or clean the temple grounds. Then at about 6am I had to go walking barefoot to receive some food.

I walked a long distance along a dirt road, stopping every time I saw people waiting to give me offerings of food. This was challenging because it was pretty cold at that time of the morning, but despite our discomfort we marched on.

Furthermore, I was surprised to see the generosity, love and reverence in the eyes of villagers as they offered food to us.

I ate twice a day at the temple, then wasn’t allowed any more food, even fruit.

After a full week, my brother and I returned home, wearing our regular clothes to resume or regular lives, ready once more to encounter the real world filled with competition and rivalry.

My ordination was an excellent experience; one that more young men should consider in order to make merit for their parents.

(Source: By Phonesavanh Sangsomboun – Vientiane Times)

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