Customs and Rituals

What is the meaning of Buddhist “ordination”?

Ordination in the Buddhist tradition does not imply the same kind of conferral of spiritual power or authority that it does in many Christian denominations. A closer parallel would be the taking of religious vows. Young men and boys in many Buddhist denominations submit themselves for ordination to the monastic sangha under a variety of circumstances. In some cultures boys as young as seven can enter the monastery and receive the “lower ordination” (parivraja) to the rank of novice in the order. Those who choose to stay and commit themselves to the monastic life permanently can receive the “higher ordination” (upasampada) to full status of monk or bhikshu. Ordinations are often held at the start of the Rain Retreat, and it is not unusual for young ordinands to remain in the monastery only for one rainy season. Thai men sometimes still enter the monastery for a week or less after the death of a family member. In some areas ordinations occur after rice harvest, since increased revenue makes for better celebrations, but the rituals can occur anytime outside of the Rain Retreat itself. Prospective ordinands petition the abbot of a local monastery, who might then allow them in directly if they intend only a short stay. Those who propose to remain and take the full monastic ordination eventually go through a more elaborate ritual. They kneel before ten monks and the abbot, ask permission to enter, and receive the two-piece robe of the novice. After donning the garb, the candidates recite the Three Refuges and Ten Precepts. Ordination to full membership in the monastic order repeats the novitiate ritual and adds a further examination of the candidates. Each novice receives a begging bowl and a three-piece garment.


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