Lay ordination in Theravada school

How does lay ordination take place among Theravada sects? I cannot find any reliable sources about what it’s called or what the process is.

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Welcome to the site, @vishnu

In Theravada there are Upāsaka/Upāsikā, followers of Buddhism who are not monastics. They aren’t ordained, so probably not what you are looking for. But if you search on the term you might get more information on lay followers and practices.


Thank you, this was incredibly helpful. I did not know the term, but now I got the information I needed.

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Welcome to the forum!

Ah, that’s because there is no such thing. In modern times people have started trying to do this sort of thing calling it a lay ordination. But it doesn’t exist either in the texts or historically. Or logically.

There were, and are, lay people who wore white and were celibate.

Part of the problem comes with the English usage of the word “ordination”. It’s the best we have as a quick translation. But it doesn’t work very well.

In the Christian context, when you are ordained to do something it means that you have been given the power and permission to perform some action officially. For example you are ordained to perform the sacraments or to preach. In Buddhism there are no sacraments or official sanctions on preaching (doctrinally speaking).

Instead what you have is a two part process. The first is called pabbajja. This is often what is translated as “going forth”, which itself is an odd term. But it means that you have taken on the 10 precepts and plan to live the life of a monastic.

The next step is called upasampada, often translated as “high ordination.” But this is only about group membership and being personally governed by the rules of that group. It has nothing to do with the permission to preach or to perform any rituals.

So when you understand this it is clear why lay ordination does not exist. Even if a lay person decides to keep the ten precepts (which there are examples of) they are not taking up the signs, role, or lifestyle of a monastic. And they have not joined a group.

Hope that makes sense.