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A Guide for Laypeople

Becoming A Bhikkhu

In the Pali texts, when a man decided to become a bhikkhu, he is often quoted as saying:

"Confined is the household life, a path of dust; the going forth is open and spacious. Not easy is it living in a house to lead the religious life absolutely fulfilled and purified, as polished as mother of pearl. Suppose I were to shave off my hair and beard, clothe myself in ochre robes and go forth from homelife into homelessness?"
(HS ch.19)

However, anyone wishing to become a bhikkhu must fulfill certain conditions about which he will be questioned during the actual ordination procedure. The candidate must be male and at least twenty years old. He must never have committed any grievous crimes and, if previously ordained, he must not have been guilty of any Defeater (Paaraajika) offences or have entered some other religion without disrobing first. (See BMC pp.88-89) He should also be of good reputation; fit and healthy enough to carry out the duties of a bhikkhu; not in debt; not subject to government service; and have permission from parents or guardian.

The Ordination ceremony requires a prescribed boundary (siima), a preceptor (upajjhaaya) and a quorum of bhikkhus to validate the formal Sangha Act. In the formal procedure the candidate is examined as to the necessary qualities[1] and, if all the bhikkhus are satisfied, they receive him into the Sangha, the Community of Bhikkhus.

It is in this way that yet another link is added to the bhikkhu lineage. Henceforth, the new bhikkhu can participate (and make up the necessary quorum) in future assemblies and help receive other new bhikkhus — as bhikkhus have continued to do for two and a half thousand years. (See EV,I,p.4; OP)

When a candidate requests full admission to the Community[2] (after the saama.nera ordination) he does not make any lifetime vows but offers himself for training and instruction under his Preceptors guidance. At the end of the ordination ceremony, the Preceptor will immediately instruct the new bhikkhu (or arrange that he is properly taught) about the Paa.timokkha Rule and the other principles that all bhikkhus should follow and observe.[3]

For the first five years a bhikkhu is called navaka (new one) and he must live dependent (nissaya) on a senior bhikkhu — either his preceptor or teacher (aacariya) — training in the ways of a bhikkhu. The preceptor and the new monk should be kind and helpful to each other, in almost a father and son relationship. A new bhikkhu who no longer lives under his preceptor must take another senior bhikkhu as his teacher and depend on him instead.[4]

For the next five years after his navaka period, the bhikkhu is called majjhima, (one in the middle) and he is allowed to live by himself if he is accomplished in certain qualities.[5]

When a bhikkhu has completed ten Rains he is called Thera, which can be translated as an elder who is worthy of respect. If he is also accomplished in certain extra qualities,[6] he is allowed to give ordination as preceptor, to be a teacher, and have young monks live in dependence on him.

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Footnotes and references:


"To qualify for Acceptance a candidate must also have the necessary robes, bowl and a preceptor. When the Acceptance procedure was finalized, the candidate was formally asked if he was free of the various obstacles to qualification,... as well as being a human, a man, at least 20 years of age, having parents consent and complete as to robes and bowl. He was further asked to state his own name and that of his Preceptor." (HS ch.19)


OP pp.17-24


This is the Admonition (Anusaasana), which always includes an explanation of the four Offences of Defeat (sexual intercourse, theft, murder and falsely claiming supernormal powers) together with the four supports or basic requisites (almsfood, robes made from thrown away cloth, lodging at the foot of a tree, medicine of fermented urine).


"... even though he has knowledge of Dhamma and Vinaya, yet it is not proper if he does not take [dependence] nissaya and live under the control of his [preceptor] or [teacher]. For him not to live in this way is prohibited by the Buddha." (EV,II,p.52)


"He is one who has faith, shame, fear of evil, effort, and mindfulness; He is complete with moral precepts, good conduct, right view, deep learning and wisdom; He knows what is [an offence], what is not [an offence], what is a light [offence], what is a heavy [offence], and he has memorized correctly the Paa.timokkha without any mistakes; He has five or more Rains." (EV,II,p.53)


"He himself can nurse, or order to nurse, a sick [dependent monk]. He can put an end to, or seek another to put an end to, passion arisen in a [dependent monk] who is dissatisfied with the [holy life of a monk]. He can relieve boredom with the Dhamma path which has arisen for a [dependent monk], or get another to do so. He knows [offences] and the ways out of [offences]; He can train a [dependent monk] in the highest training in proper conduct and give advice to [him] on the principal training in the pure life, the Buddha law which is essential for the [holy life]. He can give progressive advice in the Dhamma and Vinaya. He can release a [dependent monk] from the wrong view by way of Dhamma; He has ten Rains or more than that." (EV,II,p.53)

"It seems that these principles are not for the bhikkhu to consider for himself. It is for the consideration of his [preceptor] or teacher or of an Elder who is his senior, whether it is proper or not for a bhikkhu who lives with them to be released and to stay alone, and whether a bhikkhu who is released from [dependence] is able to be a [leader of an assembly of monks]." (See EV,II,pp.45-54)

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