Life Under The Saffron Robe - Part 1

Suriya "Nuk" Chitchulanon
Originally uploaded by Wardman.
This is part 1 of Suriya "Nuk" Chitchulanon's journal describing his Buddhist ordination ritual and subsequent monkhood. He undertook this journey in November 2008.
Finally the big day arrived. It was Saturday afternoon November 22nd after a 7-hour long drive from St Paul Minnesota to Chicago. It was the day that I had been waiting for, for years. I was about to reach my goal – to become ordained as a Buddhist monk. The reason why I wanted to become a monk was primarily to give merit to my parents, but also to make good on a promise I had made. I also wanted to seek answers to the questions about life that I could not find in the lay world.

October-November Preparations

Last month, I realized that I still had vacation time I needed to use or lose before the end of the year. I would normally spend my vacation to travel abroad to Canada or to Thailand. But this time, I decided to take a short excursion into the mind and spiritual world. After reviewing my calendar, I decided to take the opportunity to take my vacation during Thanksgiving week for a total of 7 days off.

Deciding on the right monastery to approach for this quest was not easy. I spent quite a bit of time to think and to do research on which temple would be the best one. My first step was to pick a city. I chose Chicago because Thai community there is much larger than the one in Minnesota and I wanted to meet new faces and make new friends. Then, selecting a temple was my second step. Nowadays people are finding their information through the internet. Yes, I Googled it and somehow I picked “Wat Phrasriratanamahadhatu” as my final answer. Although this Wat (temple) had no website, the Wat’s name also appeared in 4-5 other websites. The only information I had this far was the Wat’s address, phone number, a little bit about Wat’s history and a picture. That’s it! I guess the reason why I chose this temple was because its name sounded beautiful to me.

Now that the step of finding a temple was over, the next step was to contact the abbot and ask him whether his temple accepts novice ordinations as short as 7-days. Traditionally, most temples only allow men to ordain for at least 1-3 month. They believe that in order for new monks to gain knowledge from the Buddhist teachings (from texts and sermons given by the abbot), and live under 227 precepts with discipline effectively, it would take 1 to 3 months. However, in the modern world, most men no longer spend that much time in the temple due to family and work obligations. Even so, I made phone calls to the Wat and tried to talk to the abbot. Most of my calls were picked up by the senior monk or other monks who would only take a message for the abbot. Luckily I had a few chances to talk to the abbot himself, Ajarn Ratana, and asked as many questions as I could, but it was never enough. He accepted my request to become a monk for a 7-day term and told me the temple would provide monk clothes and robe.

After obtaining the abbot’s permission, I informed my parents and asked their permission as well. Actually we had discussed this the last time I went back home to Thailand in 2007. In fact, I was very close to entering into an ordination in Thailand but the opportunity was not right then. I called my parents about the ordination in Chicago. I answered their questions about place and time. Although they were unable to attend themselves they were extremely pleased, joyful and proud.

In order to complete the requirements for pre-ordination, I would normally visit my parents, teachers, and friends whom I revere and care for to inform them about my “ordination leaving”. If I were in Thailand, I would have to dress in white, buy incense, a candle and a lotus. Bring these to them and ask for forgiveness from whatever I have done in the past that may have hurt them physically, verbally or mentally. They would then bless me in return. Because I live America, I arranged to meet my close friends and mentors to ask them for forgiveness and called my parents for forgiveness as well.

By the way, the process wouldn’t have been a success without Ward. He did some Web research behind the scenes and sent an email to our families and friends to educate them about this event how important it was to me. I got many contributions for the offering to the temple and tremendous support from our families and friends. I was speechless. This outpouring of support really touched my heart! All contributions would be offered to be wisely spent for the monks daily basic needs. Among other items white clothes a yellow sweater were donated to the Wat during the ceremony.


Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, conclusion.