Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon RatchathaniPinit Sunipan
“More and more visitors to Thailand are interested in Buddhism. Many of them come to Thailand to ordain as it is very well known Buddhist country. Wat Pah Nanachat is one of their destinations”, said a monk from England who has ordained at the monastery for 2 years. However, ordaining at the monastery seems to be really challenging for many of them. It is important that they should study and prepare themselves well beforehand about their unforeseen living at the monastery.
With a very tranquil forest monastic environment, Wat Pah Nanachat (the International Forest Monastery) is an appropriate home for many foreign monks from a wide range of nationalities to practice meditation. It is located in a small forest of Bahn Bung Wai of Amper Warin Chamrab about 15 kilometers away from the city of Ubon Ratchathani of Thailand.
The monastery has been blessed as a good place for meditation and Dhamma teaching established by Venerable Ajahn Chah, one profoundly wise Buddhist meditation master of Thailand, in 1975 as a branch of Wat Nong Pah Pong. Therefore, many foreigners who search for true happiness come to ordain at the monastery every year.
In Thailand, there are many good places for people who are interested in practicing meditation.”This monastery is also one really good and quiet place for meditation practice. It is quite far away from disturbing things. To live here is a good opportunity for me to practice. And, traditional monastic training is always provided very well here”, kindly and mindfully said one monk who is from America.
Men with shaved heads who wear loose white and long trousers with white shirts are trainees who are during the traditional monastic training before ordaining at the monastery. “The interested foreigners who want to ordain here have to be initially trained about traditional way of monastic living for a short period so that they can live peacefully and successfully. The training is relative to the Buddha’s teaching and code of monastic discipline”, explained a senior monk who is from Germany.
It is not easy but not too difficult for the trainees to be during the traditional monastic training period at Wat Pah Nanachat. They will be taught about how they can enjoyably live with local culture. They are expected to follow and join all monastic activities such as meeting and work activities, rules or regulations, and daily routine of the monastery. Therefore, all of them have to adjust themselves very well with these things.
As the trainees have to join and follow everything that the monastery expects them to do before the ordaining, early during the traditional monastic training, many of them may face some challenging difficulties. The difficulties may be relative to monastic activities, rules and regulations, and daily routine of the monastery. For many current trainees and monks as they used to be trainees of Wat Pah Nanachat, There were three most outstanding challenging difficulties: getting up early, weather, and hunger.
The first quite common difficulty for them early during the training was getting up early. It is one of the rules of the monastery. “When I first came here, it was quite difficult for me to get up so early in the morning. However, it could make them to become more active”, said one trainee from Holland.
At 03.00 AM, because of the rules of the monastery, every trainee had to get up to participate in the monastic activities such as morning meeting for chanting and meditation. Also, while monks went out to surrounding villages on alms-round, trainees did the chores such as sweeping the monastery and helping in the kitchen.
In general, for some people, getting up early in the morning may be not a problem, but it should not be disregarded for prospective trainees who want to ordain at the monastery. To make sure that they can follow the rules of the monastery efficiently can mean that they can ordain and live in the monastery more happily or without any problem.
Weather was also the common challenging difficulty that many current trainees and monks as they used to be trainees at Wat Pah Nanachat used to face during their traditional monastic training. As most of them
are from the western countries which some are considered cold countries, therefore Thai hot weather was a problem for them early during their training period.
However, after they had lived with that condition for a while, they could overcome the problem and their bodies could be accustomed to it. “The weather here is really hot for me. In my hometown, it is quite cold. When I first came here, I had to take a shower more frequently than before”, explained a monk from Finland who has just ordained for only 2 months.
Also, as Wat Pah Nanachat allows the trainees to have only one meal a day at about 09.00 AM, the hunger can be one difficulty of many of them. Many current trainees and monks who used to be trainees said that they were usually hungry early during the training period.
However, after living at the monastery for a while, those trainees and monks could be used to living with those difficulties because their bodies could adjust themselves for it.
After the traditional monastic training in a short period, the trainees then can ordain. The difficulties that they may face after the training period (after they ordain) may be different from those they have to face during the training. However, they will certainly have 227 monk’s rules (the basic Theravada code of monastic discipline) to comply with.
“Actually, it is generally agreed that the monk’s rules laid by the Lord Buddha are considered great thing to keep; they are not a problem at all. However, they possibly cause difficulties for the future trainees”, said another monk from America.
According to monks at Wat Pah Nanachat, three most outstanding challenging monk’s rules for them were relative to speech, gestures, and damaging living plants. They said that these rules were difficult to keep.
Why rules about speech were challenging for the monks is that they had to be well mindful about their speech such as to avoid complaining, telling a lie, talking too loud, and saying something that might cause the break among them.
The next challenging rules were about gestures. In any habited area, they had to avoid swinging their arms, head, and body when they walked and avoid tiptoeing or sitting with arm akimbo.
The last outstanding challenging rules for them were about damaging living plants. They said that when they did the chores such as sweeping floor, it was hard to knowingly avoid damaging living plants like grass and other small plants.
Therefore, it will be very useful for prospective trainees to study about monk’s rules before they come to the monastery. It will be faster for them to learn about the monk’s rules when they ordain.
Thus, it is quite necessary that the future foreigners who want to ordain at Wat Pah Nanachat should prepare themselves well before they come to the monastery. There may be difficulties caused by monastic activities, rules or regulations, and the daily routine during the traditional monastic training. If they can prepare themselves well beforehand, they will be able to live in the monastery successfully.