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Photographer's Note

Since a Buddhist monk is not required to make a lifetime commitment, there are those who wear the robes for only a brief period of time - a few weeks, a few months, even a few days - as well as those who remain in the monkhood for many years or a lifetime.

In Theravadin Buddhist countries (such as Thailand), a man is regarded as 'unfinished' if he has not served, for however briefly, as a monk. Therefore, most young men will be ordained, usually before marriage, for a period of three months, during the rainy season lasting from mid July to mid October.

One of the motives for a short term ordination is to 'earn merit' for one's parents. Another is to prepare oneself for life as a layman, householder, and family head.

While in robes, the short-term monk lives under the same conditions and with the same discipline as the long-term monk. Each morning he leaves the temple grounds to make his neighbourhood rounds carrying his alms bowl, in which local residents place food for his sustenance. He eats only two meals a day (some eat only one meal), and after noon no food, except liquids, is eaten. He meditates, he chants, he studies the Dhamma, he obeys all the monastic precepts. Yet he is best perceived as a layman wearing the robes temporarily, rather than as a monk who has renounced the layman life. (A monk may disrobe whenever he wishes, with the permission of his abbot, permission is never denied and easily granted.)

The renunciate monk

Such monks fall into two categories, those who dwell in a monastic community in temple grounds and those who dwell in a solitary, hermetic state removed from monastic or lay society, the 'forest monk'. Both categories of monks devote themselves to the pursuit of enlightenment, of nirvana, the forest monk to the virtual exclusion of all other activities, the temple monk occasionally involved in lay community affairs, such as participating in Buddhist holy day or ground-breaking ceremonies, in consecration of new homes or businesses, in funeral and cremation rites, and so on, and frequently involved in teaching novice monks, short-term monks, laymen and laywomen, either in formal groups or individually.

The renunciate monk is a man of extraordinary character and virtue. He has detached himself from family, from career, from all secular affairs, from the pursuit of money, even the retention of money. He is chaste, he is poor, he has few possessions: his robes, his alms bowl, his needle and thread, his water strainer. He is a mendicant, dependant almost totally on the charity of the lay community, which regards the giving of alms to monks as a privileged opportunity to earn merit.

A temple monk lives in a simple khuti, a spartanly furnished hut with a low, narrow bed, hard mattress, straight backed chair, perhaps a simple table, perhaps shelving on the wall for his books and texts. A forest monk lives under a special kind of umbrella-tent, sleeps on a mat, and has no material comforts whatsoever.

When a monk goes on his rounds he accepts whatever foods are placed in his alms bowl. He never asks for anything, accepting what is offered, standing silently, with eyes lowered, until after the offering is made, when he may chant a brief blessing for the donor.

Monks rise at an early hour, when the temple gongs are sounded. After attending to their personal toilet, dressing, washing and their household cleaning, they meditate until it is 'light enough to see clearly the palms of your hand' then they make their alms rounds, after which they return to their quarters for their morning meal; some will have a second meal, starting shortly after 11 a.m. so that it may be completed before noon. The rest of the day is devoted to meditation, reading, studying, perhaps an afternoon nap, and attendance at twilight ceremonial chanting. At night the monk retires for six hours, sometimes only four hours of sleep. He leads an austere, ascetic life, in which he has renounced the secular world for the opportunity of a life of contemplation and pursuit of the path. He shaves his head (and in Thailand also his eyebrows), symbolic of his rejection of ego and vanity.

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Additional Photos by Thomas Schembri (disturbia73) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 67 W: 13 N: 59] (373)
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