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Information about the way to become a monk:

Conditions, procedure of integration to the community, and also the procedure of abdication.

how to become a monk?

The going forth

To become a bhikkhu, it is sufficient to want it! This is the main going forth. Once he has acquired a bowl, a set of three robes and a belt, the future bhikkhu takes the ten precepts of the sāmaṇera (if he has not done so already), because only a sāmaṇera can be incorporated into the saṃgha. Once this step is accomplished, the procedure of integration into the saṃgha can begin.

The ten precepts

  1. «pāṇātipātā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «will refrain from harming the life of others.»
  2. «adinnādānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from stealing the property of others.»
  3. «abrahmacariyā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from sexual practices.»
  4. «musāvādā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from lying.»
  5. «surāmeraya majjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.»
  6. «vikālabhojanā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from food between noon and dawn.»
  7. «nassa gīta vādita visukadassana veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from dancing, singing, listening to music, and watching shows.»
  8. «mālāgandha vilepana dhāraṇa maṇḍana vibhūsanaṭṭhānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from using perfumes, cosmetics, and also from ornaments (and anything that bears relation to seduction).»
  9. «ussāsayana mahāsaranā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from installing myself in places located on a higher level than the noble beings (bhikkhu, bhikkhunī or sāmaṇera, or older than oneself), or reserved for such beings.»
  10. "jātarūpa rājata paṭiggahanā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
    «I will refrain from accepting or using gold or silver (metal and notes).»

At the time of entering the saṃgha, the new bhikkhu must not possess anything, because everything that he will possess must be offered to him. Thus, just before taking the robe, he must abandon all his possessions (except for medicinal articles such as spectacles, medicines, or a toothbrush). If he has objects that could be necessary to him, such as sandals, books, an alarm clock, he must give them to someone who can re-offer them to him once he is a bhikkhu. He can explain the situation to this person but cannot demand that these things are next returned to him, because a bhikkhu cannot accept anything that he has requested for himself (unless he is ill), even if he was a lay person at the time of making the request. Naturally, temporary bhikkhus are allowed to keep their possessions, but these must be put aside or entrusted to someone else for the duration of their monastic experience.

The integration procedure

The procedure of integration in the saṃgha basically consists on a few questions. This requires the presence of at least ten bhikkhus of pure sīla (five are enough if this takes outside the Majjhima region), and with at least ten years of seniority. The bhikkhus and the sāmaṇera (future bhikkhu) take their place in the sīmā, which must be well prepared. The preamble of the procedure and the three sections of the kammavācā must be articulated clearly, respecting the pronunciation scrupulously.

There are bhikkhus who could enter the saṃgha exclusively to benefit from care by doctors who provide free health care to the bhikkhus. Others could enter to elude legal obligations. To avoid problems of this type, in the first part of the procedure the postulant is asked fifteen questions, which he must be able to answer satisfactorily in order to be accepted.

The 15 questions asked to whom wish integrate the saṃgha
Questions: Answers:
Questions: Answers:
Do you have leprosy? No, Venerable
Do you have boils? No, Venerable
Do you have eczema? No, Venerable
Do you have tuberculosis? No, Venerable
Do you have epilepsy? No, Venerable
Are you a human being? Yes, Venerable
Are you a man? Yes, Venerable
Are you a free man? Yes, Venerable
Are you free from debts? Yes, Venerable
Are you free from government service? Yes, Venerable
Do you have your parents' permission? Yes, Venerable
Are you at least 20 years of age? Yes, Venerable
Do you have your bowl and your robes? Yes, Venerable
What is your name? My name is Naga
What is the name of your preceptor? My preceptor is the Venerable Tissa

Note: During the procedure, the postulant and the preceptor provisionally take the names of Naga and Tissa (respectively).

If the postulant is able to answer as indicated above, he can enter the saṃgha. It is as simple as this. After this, the integration procedure can continue, the preceptor gives the new bhikkhu the essential instructions, which are the four offences entailing the loss of the bhikkhu status. See "The 4 pārājika".

The duration of the monastic experience

Monastic life can be experienced in two ways: provisional or definitive. In any case, the bhikkhu can "return the robe" and take it on again at any time. This choice is perfectly free and can be done as many times as the need is felt. See "How to disrobe?"

The "temporary" bhikkhu

He takes the robe for a few days, a few weeks or a few months to dedicate one or more periods of his life to train into monastic life. He is still engaged in various activities, which he does not feel ready to renounce. However, he knows enough to distance himself from them in order to dedicate some time to a life of detachment. If he ascertains that this experience is beneficial to him, he could eventually envisage extending it until the end of his life.

The "definitive" bhikkhu

It is he who renounces; he renounces the world and all its pleasures. For this, he trains with vigilance and perseverance in observing the reality, in remaining mindful. He trains without respite in following the correct path leading to the final extinction of all suffering, he strives incessantly to improve himself, to maintain a noble behaviour in any situation, to help others with the dhamma in the most positive manner, and his conduct is irreproachable. Thus, he is worthy to represent the saṃgha, which is the vehicle of the Buddha's word.

How to disrobe?

To cease being bound by the rules of discipline of the vinaya, the bhikkhu wishing to abdicate so as to return to lay life must declare this verbally. If, after this, he commits an action entailing a pārājika, as he is no longer a bhikkhu, he does not commit – by definition – the pārājika. A bhikkhu who has committed a pārājika, loses automatically his status of bhikkhu. Thus, la question of disrobing does not apply to him. For the abdication to be valid, six factors must necessarily be met:

  1. the bhikkhu really wishes to abdicate;
  2. the words of the declaration are correct;
  3. the declaration is pronounced at the time of abdication;
  4. the declaration is pronounced verbally and clearly (the abdication cannot be acknowledged if done by gestures or in writing, unless the bhikkhu is mute);
  5. the person to whom the declaration is addressed is a human being;
  6. the person to whom the declaration is addressed is capable of understanding it.

There are numerous ways to declare one's abdication from the saṃgha. Here are some examples: I reject the dhamma); I reject the discipline of the bhikkhus; I no longer want the pātimokkha; I no longer want a preceptor; I no longer want to live with bhikkhus; take note that I have become a lay person; take note that I have become a kappiya; I wish to become a sāmaṇera; I wish to become a disciple of another school; take note that I am no longer a bhikkhu; the teaching of the Buddha does not bring me any benefit, I have had enough; I no longer need the dhamma, I free myself.

In order to disrobe, he must then recite a declaration expressing his wish to abdicate from the saṃgha, whether in Pali, or any other language. In all cases, the person to whom the declaration is addressed, must understand the language spoken and the meaning of the declaration. The declaration can only be done at the time of disrobing. If it is announced beforehand or after the time of disrobing, the abdication is invalid. This declaration can be announced to a man or to a woman, but under no circumstances to a deity, an animal, a tree or a statue. The person listening to this declaration must understand its significance at the time. If he / she only understands later (after reflection, or after someone else's explanation), the abdication is invalid.

For this reason, the abdication of the saṃgha must be declared to a person who understands the vinaya. Otherwise, it is necessary to provide the necessary explanations before making this declaration.

The temporary bhikkhus must take care to disrobe correctly. Otherwise, they could unknowingly commit a pārājika when wearing the clothes of a lay person, when they have taken care not to commit such offences during their monastic life. Thus, they could risk being pārājika when entering the saṃgha again. It is extremely negative to wear the robes being in pārājika, even unknowingly; in the same way that it would be dangerous to rejoin the crowds if one suffers from a serious contagious illness, whether one knows it or not.A bhikkhu pārājika is nothing but a lay person with a shaven head wearing a robe, he could make the bhikkhus living with him commit innumerable faults.

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Origin: Text wrote for the Website

Author: Monk Dhamma Sāmi

Date: 2001

Translator: Lucy Costa

Date of translation: 2002

Update: 2005, June the 18th