Becoming a Monk; Shaving My Head and Eyebrows

Posted by SammyK on Mar 22, 2010 at 04:05 AM | Comments

I'm Monking It Now (sort of)
I'm officially on the 8 precepts:

1) Refrain from causing harm to any living creature.
2) Refrain from taking what is not given.
3) Refrain from sexual immorality.
4) Refrain from false speech.
5) Refrain from becoming intoxicated.
6) Refrain from eating at the wrong time.
7) Refrain from dancing, singing or beautifying the body with perfumes and cosmetics.
8) Refrain from comfy bedding.

Not much has changed except I'm not eating after noontime and I'm wearing all white. I'm not a fully ordained novice monk or anything, so I'm not taking on the orange robes.

There was a little ceremony that took place to officially start me on the 8 precepts. I had to recite a few phrases in the ancient Pali language to one of the monks. Things like, "I request the precept to refrain from harming any living creature, etc". But I had a little cheat sheet and a personal pronunciation coach.

The monk then gave me a blessing in Pali and told me to "keep the precepts".

Meditation Lessons
I then had my first lesson on meditation. I have be anxiously awaiting such a lesson. Taming the mind is not easy which is probably why not very many people meditate. The whole idea is to concentrate on one thing like your breathing or a white circle with a black border. My mind is constantly wandering and I keep catching myself thinking of anything but what I'm supposed to be. It's a constant struggle now, but they say it gets easier.

Yeah, don't worry, I'll get to the shaving-the-head part soon enough...

A Monk Ordination
Yesterday I got to witness two laymen get ordained as novice monks. It was a huge celebration with lots of people.

It all started with each of them sitting in a wooden chair while the laymen lined up behind them. One at a time a layman would take a pair of scissors and cut off a lock of hair.

It is said that when the Buddha was establishing the Sangha (basically, getting Buddhism started by ordaining Buddhist monks and establishing a Buddhist community), one of the Naga (a serpent-looking animal that protects of the Buddha) turned into a human and tried to become ordained as a monk.

The Buddha knew that the Naga was not really a human and said, "No, silly rabbit, Tricks are for kids." Just kidding, he said, "No, silly Naga, monks are for humans."

So when a "pre-monk" is going through the ordination service, they are called "Naga" and are eventually asked a number of questions before becoming ordained. One of which is, "Are you a human?"

The mother of one of the Naga even let Ralph (one of the fellow "Monk For A Month" students) cut off a lock of hair.

It's taboo in Thai culture to touch someone's head. And in the "old days" a barber would apologize to their client before a cut saying, "I'm sorry sir, but I will have to touch your head and step on your hair while I cut your hair."

That is why the Thais are so diligent about putting the the locks of hair into a special bowl instead of letting it just fall on the ground.

Once all the laymen had had their way with destroying the Naga's haircuts, the shaving time began.

Then the laymen lined up again and each poured water and flower petals over the Naga's head.

When one is ordained as a monk in the Buddhist faith, a huge amount of merit is given to the mother of the monk. So it was quite an emotional time when one of the Naga paid respect to his grandmother and parents.

It was equally emotional for the whole family when they poured the water over their son's head.

Then he got rubbed down with turmeric powder. Not sure why they do this but the original monks used to dye their robes with turmeric powder or saffron.

Then the whole party moves to the main temple where they get their gifts ready. All the gifts looked like one of two things - an orange blanket or a fan...

The Naga is brought in and is given louts flowers (a huge symbol in Buddhism) and incense.

The Naga don't get to wear the signature orange robes until the robes are ceremonially given to them in the temple. They change into the robes in front of everyone (they are diligent not to expose anything that might break any of the precepts of course).

Then everyone gets behind him to parade around the temple three times.

Then right before they enter the temple, the Naga is handed a bowl full of what looks to be colorful candies.

In reality it's wrapped money. The Naga tosses handfuls of the wrapped money into the crowd symbolizing him giving up his worldly treasures to pursue a life of holiness.

Then the whole party moves into the temple and spends over an hour ordaining the two.

I didn't have quite the party full of family and friends for my head shaving... but I'll get to that in a sec.

Farewell Ralph
One of the fellow "Monk For A Month" students Ralph (who cut the hair in the video above) had his last day yesterday. It was just him and me for this past week and so we got to share a lot of experiences together.

There are about 20 temple dogs running around the temple. One of them in particular whom Ralph so affectionately calls "Chicken Killer" (because that's what he does), is easy to fall in love with. He always comes and lays next to us when we eat and is always jumping on our white clothes thus making them brown.

When it came time for Ralph to leave, Chicken Killer followed us out to the bus stop. When the van arrived, we said our farewells.

When Ralph boarded the van, Chicken Killer tried to get on with him and Graham had to hold him back.

So off he went and when we turned to go back to the temple, we saw one of Ralph's bags sitting on the ground. Frantically we waived for the van to stop as Graham grabbed the bag and ran towards the van.

A kind man on a motorbike saw what was going on and stopped in front of running Graham and pointed to his motorbike seat. Then Graham jumped on and they sped off after the van.

The van came to a stop and Graham was able to return the bag to Ralph thanks to random kindness from a motorbiker.

Chicken Killer was so sad to see Ralph leave that he had to be carried all the way back to the temple.

My Head & It's Lack of Hair
And finally, I know my head-shaving experience is at the forefront of most of your minds, so here we go.

Meet the head barber - Joy.

Joy is a senior novice monk and speaks very good English. He's been unofficially put in charge of shaving all the foreigner's heads.

Not much more explanation is needed really, bring on the pics!

I asked Joy to just leave the sideburns.

But that lasted about 10 seconds.

And did I shave off my eyebrows too!? I'm afraid so.

Just one missing...

Well, there you have it. I now have no hair anywhere on my entire head. It feels really weird, not so much the feeling of touching it, but the feeling of the top of my head being touched. You should try it some day!

I’m Sam “SammyK” Powers. Freelance PHP coder, West Coast Swing Dancer, and Linguist who loves to travel around the world.

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