Tahn Tanakaro and Bhante Sumano began their journey in Empty Cloud monastery last year, but even though they found themselves ordaining in Wat Thai Thavorn, wherever a monk is ordained in the Theravada world the procedure is exactly the same. It has all been laid out in the monastic vinaya. It’s surprisingly pragmatic as far as ceremonies go!
First, candidates are given the novice ordination (Bhante Sumano already had this). This means they take the 10 precepts, are given a basic meditation technique, and put on the brown robes. From here, they are ready to request a senior monk to be their ‘preceptor’, who will vouch for them in the sangha. The preceptor then requests the sangha consider the candidates for ordination.
Not everyone can ordain – their are disqualifying factors like terminal illness, great debt, filial obligations, and government service. (You also have to be human!) The candidates are taken outside the group in order to be questioned about these factors, as well as prepared for their part in the ceremony. When they return they are formally questioned, then asked their names and the name of their preceptor.
Off to the side, some paperwork is being done. The names and times of the ordination are being recorded, along with the status of the preceptor, so that the candidates will be officially recognized in Buddhist countries like Thailand and Burma. Ajahn Tawin, the abbot of Wat Thai Thavorn, also made sure that Tan Santi and Tahn Pamutto were ready to be good ‘parents’ for the candidates! After all, Bhante Sumano and Tānakāro Bhikkhu will be growing up in the American tradition, rather than in a Thai Wat.
Finally, a legal motion is made three times to recognize the candidates, giving each monk in good standing a chance to object. Following this three announcements are made. Bhante Sumano and Tānakāro Bhikkhu are now bhikkhus!
The preceptor fulfills a further duty, immediately training the new monks in the four parajika, or defeats. Committing these four offenses results in immediate expulsion from the sangha. Other than these four things or disrobing, the monks can maintain their ordination as long as life lasts, and none can take it from them. They are then turned to face the lay community, who will support them in their journey of spiritual freedom. The combined sangha blesses the occasion with special chanting. Sadhu sadhu sadhu!