Thursday, June 6, 2019

Temp Ordination: "Taste of the Holy Life"

Susan Elbaum Jootla (A Taste of the Holy Life); A.Larson, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

Ehi bhikkhu means “Come, monastic!” With these simple but portentous words, the Buddha founded the Monastic Sangha, the Order of Monastics (monks and nuns, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis), which has preserved and practiced the Dharma (Doctrine) from that day to this.

With that “Ehi bhikkhu” the Buddha conferred ordination on the first monastic, Ven. Kondañña, at Isipatana (the “Resort of the Seers,” Sarnath, in the Small Animal Park) near Varanasi. At the conclusion of the Buddha’s first discourse, Kondañña had asked to be ordained, and the Buddha, simply by calling him a "bhikkhu," transformed him into one.

The Buddha went on to say: “The Dharma has been well expounded. Practice the supreme life rightly to make an end of suffering.” That was the ultimate, the highest aim of becoming a monastic then as now: liberation from all dukkha, the disappointment/suffering of repeated becoming in the endless cycle of rebirth called saṃsāra (“continuous wandering on”).

Samsara: Wheel of Life and Death (Tibetan thangka)
During the Buddha’s life and ever since then, the procedure to become a Buddhist monastic evolved into a series of steps often involving large numbers of monastics and lay people. Modern ordination ceremonies clearly express the interdependent relationship of monastics and lay people supporting each other in their efforts to put an end to suffering.

The  monastics by their conduct inspire confidence in lay people. The householders, in turn, show deep respect for the Order by honoring the individual monastics, who in turn determine to make themselves worthy of the respect and support they receive from them.

The Buddha could only ordain a few monastics with the phrase “Ehi bhikkhu.” Such instantaneous ordinations required that the person had cultivated certain pāramīs (“perfections,” qualities necessary for the realization of enlightenment) in the past.

Chief among the good karmas (merit, profitable actions) needed for the Buddha to accept someone as a monastic in this way, tradition says, was having been a monastic in previous lives and/or having helped others to ordain.

This is one of the reasons why lay people in Burma (Myanmar) ordain temporarily and why they obtain such lavish help from lay people, notably their families, when they undertake temporary ordination.

Because they are closely based on the Code of Monastic Discipline (Vinaya Piṭaka), the ordination ceremonies in the different Theravada Buddhist countries are almost identical.

Whether the monastics expect to remain in robes for the remainder of their lives or are "temporary" monastics (a common practice in Burma and Thailand) makes no difference to the procedure. But national variations, especially in the lay aspects of the events, do lend color and specific points of interest to this solemn ceremony.

In January 1994 a mass ordination of foreign males was held in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar) under the combined auspices of the Department of Religious Affairs and the International Meditation Centre, Rangoon.

This event -- unusual in its location, scale, and international scope -- is described below along with a summary of the week these meditators were in robes.

All the detailed arrangements of place, transport, requisites, and the like had been made by the hosts beforehand for seven boys aged 9-14 to become novices (sāmaṇeras) and 49 men and one Burmese man to take the full (upasampada) ordination.

They would remain in robes for about a week, in accordance with the Burmese custom of temporary ordination. In that Buddhist land it is considered essential for every Buddhist male to become a novice as a boy and a monk as a man at least for some short period of his life. The reason for this is to earn a very high kind of merit (puñña).

Buddhist monks walking in single file.
Everyone in this group to be ordained were meditation students of Mother Sayamagyi and Sayagyi U Chit Tin, direct disciples of the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin (S. N. Goenka's teacher) and renowned lay teacher of insight (vipassana) meditation in Burma.

They were associated with the international meditation centers in the insight-meditation tradition around the world. The small original IMC, located atop a low hill in suburban Rangoon’s diplomatic area, was the focus for most of the activities. More

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