Thai Language Blog

How to Become a Thai Monk: Introduction Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Culture

Have you ever wanted to know what being a Thai monk is like? To find out first hand, I had myself ordained as a Thai Buddhist monk. In the next few articles I’m going to write about what it’s like to be a monk, the early impressions, the difficult ordination ceremony, the 227 rules, the day to day monk life, monk vocabulary, and my insights on ‘pure Buddhism’ versus ‘Thai Buddhism’.


image: I am the monk on the far right (if it wasn’t obvious!).

Monkhood is by far the deepest part of Thai culture a foreigner can experience. It always seemed like a very interesting lifetime experience for me, where I could completely live a different non-materialistic very monastic life. A life of mostly learning, chanting, and teaching. I had wanted to do it for nearly four years. But until now I never felt ready for it – given the huge language and cultural barriers. Taking a significant amount of time off from work isn’t so simple, either. Actually, I never felt quite ready even up to ordination day, but through careful planning and luck the circumstances in my life managed to temporarily align just right to make this happen.

So why did I become a Thai monk? I grew up in a non-strict Protestant family that dragged me to church early every Sunday morning, until finally at age 18 they lost control of me. Throughout my life I have never been religious or spiritual in any way. Ever. I’m a very scientifically minded type of person . . . Regardless, I’m open minded and I’ve made it a point to learn about other cultures and religions since highschool.

I’ve fasted the entire Muslim month of Ramadan, twice, even going down to the local mosque to observe the prayers. My Muslim friends were curious why a non-Muslim would participate in Ramadan, but invited me to break the fast with them regardless. It was definitely a good experience, even from a non-religious point of view.

In more recent years I’ve been going to the local Thai Buddhist temple. I’m not Buddhist either, but it’s a great place to practice speaking Thai and hang out with Thai friends. As an unintentional side-effect I’ve been daily exposed to Buddhist ideology, and some of it has given me new interesting perspectives towards life . . . from a scientific non-religious point of view, of course.

And that’s what makes Buddhism a bit interesting to me. Although many Buddhist followers worship religiously, pray to statues and light incense, are superstitious, have faith and what-not, the religion can also be very pro-science. Buddhism openly promotes thinking, rationale, and logic to explain the world. It also actively promotes and is fundamentally based on non-extremism. When you think of religious extremists and fanatics, Buddhism is likely the last religion that comes to mind, no?

In the following series of articles I’ll explain the formal process of becoming a Thai Buddhist monk, the many rules, and my general experiences.

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  1. Divine Shame:

    Some times you have to scratch your head and wonder in amazement at the mumbojumbic ideology the infests the minds of some people who for what ever reason seem to have a completely un natural distorted view of the real world that surrounds them , as they sadly try to kid themselves that all’s well down at the Thai Buddhist temple . The ever increasing cases of unsavoury incidents and illegal practices carried out by monks is growing at a siren sounding alarming and some say unstoppable rate . Lets get real , its becoming plainly obvious to any one who has the courage to remove their blind fold of denial and takes a hard long look at the facts, hard facts that clearly show the daily stream of mounting social media negative comments from every day normal people , who are rightfully getting so fed up with the constant and now blatant monk materialism feeding frenzy . Hard newsworthy facts that are being penned by news media journalists as the daily police crime reports recount yet another monk being arrested .

    Sadly too many thai monks are no more than licensed beggars, feeding off the naive belief central to this childish philosophy that it is actually possible to purchase ones way into a better existence next time around by donating to its operators.

    The Thai monks promote their temples by making ever more spurious claims regarding relics, visions, miracles and superstitions and the donators hand over massive amounts of money to help fund the building of gaudy tinsel encrusted temples that resemble children’s disneyland fantasies and feed the egos and support the lifestyle of saffron clad avaricious con men.

    Thai monks seem to have forsaken Buddhism for Bahtism . Money is the new god and any means of acquiring it from selling drugs to the misappropriation of collected funds is now fair game .

    The truth is finally being shown .

    • palmisano:

      @Divine Shame While there are cases as you describe, the question is how much of a problem is it really? It’s the media’s job to hype up stories like this, keep in mind.

      It’s like the Catholic Church and the recent bout of pedophilia incidents . . . that doesn’t make all priests pedophiles!

      That said, I agree with you on many points. And monks I’ve spoken to also agree with you. I will write about this soon, from the viewpoint of inside the monkhood. Long story short, if monks removed the flashy temples, chanting, ceremony, etc, it would start to resemble actual Buddhism. But then Thai’s wouldn’t recognize their own religion!

  2. Divine Shame:

    I am looking forward immensely to your thoughts on the subject of Thai monks gone bad , this ever present distressful stain seems to be an ever increasing problem that’s gaining international media attention on a weekly basis . The door opener that’s now starting to reveal just what’s been going on for years is if course the mobile phone camera and social media networks, the shroud of wrong doing and criminal behavior acted out by so called reverent Thai monks is now a daily occurrence played out for the world to see on youtube , facebook and other more scathing media outlets.

    Ive noticed a pronounced shift in people who once steadfastly jumped to the defense of any Thai monk who had been finally found out doing some thing illegal , Oh he couldn’t have done that he’s the Abbott , Oh no way the drugs were planted , the young boy is telling lies , the overflowing bank account can’t be his , the young girl is getting mixed up .

    Now as the daily media stream of negative Thai monk news stories flows like an unstoppable river of badness , the once defenders of all things Thai monk have no real answer as the evidence is finally out , and its now all indisputable .

    Some defenders use to shout out , yes there are bad Thai monks in the barrel of shame , but they can’t all be bad ,sadly that analogy just going on the constant news reports and increasing police arrests now seems not to be true .

    I’m sure your blog readers who are not currently in Thailand , may like to be kept up to date on the state of things and the current situation , with this in mind I would like to provide this link

    Ex Monk indicted for sex with child

  3. Kullaphat:

    Hello, I’m Thai. Just want to point out something.. (sorry for my English)
    I’m proud to be a Buddhist. And the Monk gone bad? It’s not the religion’s fault. It’s those ex-Monk’s fault that they did it. Really. But I do think that we need to do more checking out the background of someone who wants to become a monk.

  4. Antique Buddhas:

    It seems you had a great experience during your practice in Buddhism. It is quite interesting to read and study the experience of Buddhist monks.

  5. Pascal Yang:

    Hi there, I think I am late by 2 years looking at the date of Sept., 2013. Nevertheless I will just put my point of view.
    Buddhism is very much an Intellectual Adventure(if I may say so) the average Thai who became monks understood Buddhism without really reading more to get to the core of Buddhism. Of course there are some who really understood about Buddhism.
    So the average Thai persons will find it worthwhile to decorate the Temples otherwise they don’t feel they have done much on their part.The money part also became important to them. They are misled to say the least.
    If Thais had really understood Buddhism, you will find temples in Thailand very dull, not much decorations but when you enter the library you will find a lot of good books on Buddhism. And monks would engage in discussions on philosophy and psychology of Buddhism instead of sitting around idling away the time.
    However it is with much regret I find Thai temples are beautiful but intellectually lacking in many aspects.