A common practice for a young boy in Thailand is to ordain as a novice Buddhist monk, usually for a month to learn what life as a monk is like. This starts with an ordination ceremony where the head is shaved, children are given white and then orange robes, they are presented with a talk about Buddhism with some traditional scripture involved, and they also will ask forgiveness from their mothers for anything bad they have done in the past.
In the town of Doi Saket where we stay with Challenges Abroad groups, the new novice monks along with monks from various temples in their area will spend the month travelling around the district, staying in different temples and learning about what it means to be a Buddhist monk. They practice meditation daily and learn about the Buddha’s teachings while doing chores to maintain the temple grounds. At the end of the month, knowing what becoming a monk fully involves, some of the new novices will choose to stay on and live at a temple permanently where they will sleep, eat, meditate, engage in ceremonies and receive a free education while some go back to their usual lives.
At each temple, members of the general community earn merit by giving food as donations to the various temples for the novices to eat. It is their way of giving back to the temple that they attend for ceremonies, and in return they receive good karma. Most donations are in the form of money, rice, vegetables, noodles and meat, but some are just a nice treat for the novices like juice or ice cream.
The monks all collect their food and sit down together to chant as a way of offering a blessing to the donors of the food before eating. The donors are usually at the temple for most of the day, staying with the novices while they eat, for a ceremony dedicated to them. Even though it is not the purpose, this act generally seems to teach the monks to be very appreciative of what they have and what effort has gone into it getting to them, although it seems like a bit of a challenge for the kids who first get their food but have to sit and stare at in until the other 120 novices have collected theirs.
From the group we met, roughly half were going to be staying as monks at the end of the month, with most of them enrolling in one of our partner temples for the coming school year. It was such a unique experience to see a behind the scenes look at how someone enters into monkhood. I really respect the way that the monks are so accepting not only of the new children that continue on as novices, but also of novices who decide to disrobe at the end of the month.