There are 300,000 monks and 38,000 temples and monasteries in Thailand; really it has deserved the title of the most Buddhist country in the world!
Monks with their abundance in the streets are the most “visible” part of Thai Buddhism for the foreigners, and at the same time – the most secret. I have gathered 15 interesting facts that can help lifting the veil of secrecy over monkhood for us.
1. Many years ago all young men (including the royalties) were required to become monks, even for a short period of time, before they were 20. It’s not strictly observed now, but most of Thai males enter the monkhood: this step is highly respected by the society. Usually young men do it after graduation.
2. Normally “monkhood season” falls on a rainy season, from July till October, and lasts 3 months, or any other term that has number 3: 3 years, 3 weeks, 3 days. Or it can be, for instance, 3 months and 3 days.
3. Though monkhood is an honorable act, not everyone can become ordained. One is allowed to be a monk if he is a man of at least 20 and older ( Thai or any other nationality) and: has no leprosy, tuberculosis and epilepsy; being independent; has no debts; has got a permission to become a monk from one of the parents or superior.
4. Young men with the monkhood in their records are considered to be more suitable husbands – “ripe” partners, as oppose to “unripe”, unordained ones.
5. A monk-to-be has to bring to the temple the following things he will use during his monkhood: the outer robe; the inner robe; the under robe; a girdle; a bowl; a kettle; a water strainer; a razor; a needle; an umbrella; a mat; a pillow; a pair of shoes and a bag.
6. The life of a Thai monk is quite tough and requires a lot of discipline. Meditation and chants are the first things to do in the morning that starts at 4am. Then he takes his bowl and goes out to the neighborhood for alms and food donations, which are a support for himself and the temple. He comes back at around 8am and has breakfast. At noon he has some snack too, and this is his last meal before the following morning. After 12pm the monk can only drink water, milk or herbal tea. In the afternoon he gets busy with the duties around the temple, learning Buddhist teaching. Late afternoon he has big worship followed by further Buddhist learning and homework. At 9 pm our monk goes to bed.
7. A monk cannot touch a woman, even his mother. A woman is not allowed to walk ahead of a monk, she can only follow him.
8. Monks cannot drive a vehicle or ride a motorbike.
9. With the exception of Buddhist Lent, which lasts 3 lunar months, a monk is free to leave his orders at any time and return home.
10. For a monk who chooses not to come back to lay life, there are two ways of specialization: scholarship or meditation. There are regional Buddhist learning centers around Thailand, Buddhist universities where the monks, specializing in scholarship, travel to for studies and knowledge exchange.
11. Unlike the monks of other religions, Buddhist monks don’t have to be stuck to strict religious dogmas; they are encouraged to be free to question Buddha’s thinking, study and write articles based on their own research of Buddhist philosophy in order to further this knowledge.
12. There’s a number of public hospitals where monks can get free medical services. Often both private and state hospitals have charitable check-up programs for the monks.
13. Buddhism is the state religion of Thailand. Therefore the candidate for the post of the Head Monk in Thailand – an analogue of Orthodox Patriarch – always has to pass through the procedure of approval by the Prime-Minister of Thailand with further formal ratification by the King of Thailand.
14. A monk is a man, so nothing human is alien to him. The local media regularly reports on sexual assault, embezzlement, drugs use, gambling, extravagant lifestyle and even murder committed by monks. The annual donations received by temples and monasteries are estimated at 3.6 bln US dollars, largely – in untraceable cash. So there is always a ground for corruption among high-ranking monks.
15. Unlike in Myanmar or Sri Lanka, there are no women monks in Thailand. They can take part in religious life only as lay parish with a small number of women who become non-ordained specialists. This phenomenon has a long history and related to the strong belief of Thai religious hierarchs that the main mission of a woman is to give birth to children and take care of the family.