Thai Language Blog

How to Become a Thai Monk: 227 Rules, part 1 Posted by on Sep 25, 2013 in Culture

[This article is a continuation of a series of articles on becoming a Thai Buddhist monk.]

image: a monk fan for Wat Thai Washington DC

My new life as a monk was one of perpetual confusion. I would only manage to get by on a daily basis by observing and imitation. But one particular day of massive confusion stood out as the most memorable, of which I’d like to share.

This event occurred about a week after my ordination. After we finished our 40 minutes of daily evening chanting, the monks then gathered in a circle around one particular monk. A candle and a glass of water was placed in front of him. One monk faced him, with a thick block of folded scriptures. I had no idea what was going on, so I just followed the cues and did what they did.

And then the monk in the center started reciting something in ancient Bali. He was speaking insanely fast, non-stop! The monk with the scriptures was following along, with his finger zooming across the page line by line. As I sat next to the scriptures by coincidence I was able to see that it was ancient Bali written using the Thai alphabet. I was just barely able to read it as fast as the center monk was reciting it. (I’m relatively fast at reading Thai)

I had no idea what was going on. Was the center monk being tested for something?

10 minutes pass, and the center monk slips in his speech a bit. He corrects himself, and keeps going. Fortunately I’ve finally figured out what is going on – he is reciting the 227 rules for being a monk! I heard it takes like an hour to do this! But, I thought it was an hour while speaking slow, not crazy fast like this!

20 minutes pass, and my back is starting to hurt. I’ve been sitting in this awkward praying position for over an hour now, ever since evening chanting started. The center monk is still chanting as fast as ever. It’s moved passed ‘amazing’ to ‘omg how does the brain even memorize this?!’ I mean, I’ve memorized the entire name of Bangkok and can recite it insanely fast, but that takes me only 10 seconds to say and only a few days to memorize and practice.

30 minutes pass. Ok my back is really really REALLY hurting right now. Pain!!! But he’s still reciting!!! Shifting myself around isn’t really helping anymore, either.

35 minutes pass. Ok, I see that we are on the last few folded pages of the scriptures. Almost done, pain relief anytime now! Hmmm, one of the monks appears to be sleeping . . .

40 minutes pass. Yay, he is finished the last page! Finally! Oh wait…why is the monk now flipping the block of scriptures over to the other side?! Wait, it has something on the other side?! Omg are we only halfway?!??? Ahhhhhh!!! He’s still reciting!!!! He isn’t done! Back painnnnn!!!

50 minutes pass. He’s done! Apparently the other side was mostly blank. Whew!

I had just witnessed the 227 rules of being a monk recited in front of me, and it took 50 minutes even at breath-taking speed! Talking with the monks later, they informed me that he was a bit slow. Apparently there are some monks that can do it in 30 minutes! I asked the monk who recited it and he said it took him just a few months to memorize it all. He also said that out of the 13 of them, only one other monk at our temple can do it.

So what exactly are these 227 rules? Do you need to memorize them? Stay tuned where I explain the details in the coming articles.

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