The Importance of Monasteries in Thailand
The number of Buddhist novice monks is rising each year in Thailand. The
official figure for the year 2000 was 97 875 novices. It is easy to think that
more young men are being drawn to the religious life. But according to Phra
Peter Pannapadipo (an English monk who has lived in Thai monasteries for
ten years and who has just written a book entitled Little Angels), this is not the
reason for the increase in novices.
He said that the increase is more likely an indication of the continuing
poverty and lack of opportunity among the many disadvantaged Thai families,
especially in rural areas. It is a sad reflection of parents' inability to care for
and educate their children.
Phra Peter Pannapadipo explains that boys from the rural areas of
Thailand become novices because there is nowhere else for them to go.
Sometimes their impoverished parents cannot afford to feed them or send
them to school. For many boys therefore, ordaining and studying at monastic
high schools is the only way they can complete their secular education. In a
few monasteries, however, becoming a novice for a time is a way of testing a
man's spiritual commitment to the monastic life before he becomes a monk.
The majority of novices are in their late teens, but they can be as young as
seven to as old as 20. After 20, a novice is expected to be either
ordained as a
full monk, or disrobe entirely.
Experts say that monasteries play an important role and act as a social
support system that has been around for some time. "Ordaining as a novice or
a monk has been part of Thai society for a long time. This is the way the
monastery and the community support each other," said a professor of' the
Social Administration Faculty at Thammasat University. "In fact, providing
education for young boys and sheltering them from some bad surroundings, so
called `social work education', has been one of the most important roles of Thai
monasteries from the beginning," she added.
Novices usually study during the week. Apart from walking on the dawn
alms round and attending morning and evening services, they have their own
duties. These include for example, keeping the monastery grounds swept, or
preparing candles and incense for ceremonies. Their schedules can be full
beginning as early as 5.00 a.m. and ending as late as 11.00 p.m.
Many novices disrobe after six years of high school studies at these
monastery schools. Some return to their villages, others look for jobs in the
cities. Some ambitious few, if they can find money or obtain a scholarship,
pursue further studies. The rest, less than a handful, stay on to practice
Buddha's teachings for the rest of their life. They look for another monastery
or stay on at the present one.