Life Under The Saffron Robe - Part 3

Freshly Shaved Monk Candidate
Originally uploaded by Wardman.
This is part 3 of Suriya "Nuk" Chitchulanon's journal describing his Buddhist ordination ritual and subsequent monkhood.
Head Shaving

Saturday night was my first night staying at the temple where all monks resided. It was 8:30pm and everyone was in their room. I asked myself “Did they go to bed at 8:30pm? I guess so. They need to wake up at 4:30m, don’t they?”

I went into my bedroom up on the third floor. It was a simple bedroom - basically a bed and room. There was a thin sheet on a futon, two thin pillows, a blanket, two book shelves, a desk, a chair, and the sport bag I brought along. No TV, no radio, no computer, and no clock in this room! Well, what can I say? There was nothing to do but to take a shower and get ready for a big day tomorrow.

I awoke at 4:30am the next morning and stayed in my room. The sound of a large bell chime hit by a wooden stick wrapped with cloth signaled the monks to their morning chant at 5:00am. I was still in bed on a futon covered by a very thin sheet... half awake, half sleep. I could hear a resonant chanting by the monks that sounded so peaceful. Then I fully woke up at 6:00am and opened the door to my room. Maha-Sunthorn, the senior monk, and another monk – Maha Aram - were waiting for me. “We shall shave your head now” – said Maha Aram.

Needless to say, I nodded my head and acknowledged his statement. If my parents were here, they would cut a lock of my hair then a monk would shave my whole head. Maha-Aram asked me if I preferred an electric clipper or a traditional razor. I had no preference, so shaving head was performed in the bathroom my Maha Aram with an electric clipper.

As an electric clipper began, I was thinking to myself “Is this real? Am I dreaming?” I guessed that I was still in a state of unbelief until I saw a lock of my hair drop into a waste basket. That moment I realized I couldn’t turn back. I tried to be calm as he was shaving my entire head and my eyebrows as well (Thai style). It took about half hour to make my head bald. I rinsed my hair off, dressed in white, and looked into a mirror for the first time after my shave. This ritual was a renouncement to my former life.

Prior to the ordination ceremony, Maha-Sunthorn asked me about my birthday, my parents’ names, and my educational background. Based on the information provided, he named me “Api Panyo” which means “scholar”. This was my monk name which would be used in the ordination ceremony. Later, we rehearsed the ordination steps such as how to recite passages in Pali – an ancient language of the scriptures, the five-point prostration, and how to sit in the proper way, etc.

At that moment, I wore white and I was considered a "Naga". In Buddhist legend, Naga generally takes the form of a large cobra-like snake, usually with a single head but sometimes with many. The story goes that Naga disguised himself as a human being in order to become a monk. The Lord Buddha discovered this trickery. Then Naga was not allowed to become a monk but since this time all candidates to monkhood are called Naga. Ward and Chris were surprised when they arrived at 7:30am an saw me without my hair. They thought that the head shaving would be part of the ordination ceremony.


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