How to Become a Thai Monk: First Impressions and Daily Schedule, part 1 Posted by palmisano on Nov 27, 2013 in Beginner, Culture
[This article is a continuation of a series of articles on becoming a Thai Buddhist monk.]
I had internally imagined what life as a monk would be like long before becoming one. And after becoming one, my expectations were mostly the same. As you read this, keep in mind that monk life in the US is much more comfortable than in Thailand. The rules are a bit different, too, for practical reasons.
Before becoming a monk I was very concerned about being allowed to eat only between 6am and 12pm, as I normally eat often and in large quantities throughout my normal day. But it turned out the meals we ate within that time period were so filling that I was able to go the rest of the day with little issue. The ‘trick’ is to eat a large breakfast, and to absolutely stuff yourself full during lunch. You won’t go hungry again until the next day, although sometimes I got a glass of juice/milk before bedtime. They allow drinks as it isn’t considered a food (only things you chew are foods).
My day typically looked something like this:
5:30am – Wake up, shower, get my robes on, grab my chanting book and walk over to the main building for chanting.
6-6:45am – Chanting (end time varied each day, as each day had different chants)
7:00am – Breakfast
8:00am – Freetime
10:00am – Meditation lessons. Usually lasted 40 minutes.
11 – Lunch
11:40am – Freetime (naptime for me, tired and full of food!)
3pm – Meditation lessons. Usually lasted 40 minutes.
3:40pm – Freetime and/or chores. Sometimes taught English.
6-6:45pm – Chanting (end time varied each day, as each day had different chants)
6:45pm – Either a special ceremony, freetime, or chores.
This schedule is probably specific to a newbie monk at this specific US temple. I really don’t know how it will vary for others. Other monks worked in the office, preparing documents or writing things for newsletters and such.
The orange robes are actually quite complicated to wear, and I had to be helped for the first few days. You’ll probably learn four ways to wear them: casual wear style (thrown on you), formal chanting style (wrapped and held together under your left arm), ceremonial style (tightly wrapped with a sash), and going outside the temple style (covering both shoulders). Note that these are not the actual Thai names of the styles.
For chanting, about a 3rd of the monks were late each session. I was late occasionally too, but mostly because I had trouble judging the time I needed to get ready (robe issues, etc.). Often there were non-monks that came to chanting too. They were mostly women – I assume that is because any men who came often would have been ordained already.
Chanting at 6am in the morning basically involved me reading from the chant book, in Thai, with sleepy eyes and groggy brain, for 45 minutes straight. For those that can’t read Thai they have the books in English, however the phonetic spellings are terrible. Most of the chants are in ancient Bali, so you’re reading long strings of seemingly random syllables for what seems like forever. It makes Thais feel better, like being good Buddhists. But for me it was a mostly unpleasant experience that at least helped me read Thai faster.