It seems reasonably common at Thai monasteries in the West. Men (mostly Thai living here) ordain from time to time at my local monastery, for a week or so. Some before they get married, some when a parent passes away. Some that I’ve spoken too found it a very useful thing to do - they felt that they learned a lot.
Well, sad to say, there was a case…
There was a time in Rajagaha, I believe, when the top doctor, Jīvaka, only had time to treat the royalty and the sangha. So some men ordained just to get medical treatment, then disrobed. Not a good precedent. Also, there was the case of someone ordaining as a “thief of Dhamma” with the intention to learn the teachings and then take them back to their original teacher. Apologies for not having the citations on hand.
There were of course cases of people disrobing, but I don’t recall people ordaining temporarily with good intentions in the time of the Suttas.
From the Western Bhante I know in Thailand I hear it is good for the Thai Buddhism, it gives younger people the chance to experience the monastic life. I personally know Myanmar monks who voluntarily stayed in robes or went back to the robes after their voluntary experience was finished. I’ve heard this both from Thai as well as Burmese monks that often 1 in 10 young people who participate stay in the robes for a longer time. Maybe my percentages are off, lol, I forget, but it is some kind of percentage that is affirmative. I know if I would have had the opportunity to temporarily ordain when I was younger I imagine I would have. Seems like an empowering experience to me. I know some monasteries do this also in Sri Lanka though it is not really part of the culture as far as I can tell.
This. One shouldn’t treat ordination into the Saṅgha as a more involved lay retreat. There have been, however, some cases where people have ordained with the intention of disrobing shortly after and ended up having long monastic lives.
These two situations are within a different context. In contrast to, temporarily ordaining with good intentions, as you said. Still the idea of ordaining with the intention of disrobing isn’t recommended. Better to take the same time and energy you would spend and devote it to bhāvana or study.
I can see how temporary ordination could be appealing to Westerners, especially since Buddhism is not a central aspect of Western culture. A way to see if it’s really right for them, so to speak. Either way, it’s not like anyone has to stay in robes for life—disrobing is always an option.
I know if one Western place that does temporary ordination, but I won’t mention it because I’ve heard bad reports about the teacher and the training there.
In any case, if one is looking to form a stable monastic community, temporary ordination can be disruptive. I believe that’s why Ajahn Chah monasteries tended not to encourage it. And monastic Buddhism in the West is already quite new and fragile.
On a side note, don’t think it’s useful to say temporary ordination wasn’t a thing in the time of the Buddha; a lot of things weren’t standard in the time of the Buddha—from how robes are worn and food is gathered, to how monasteries are run and how ordination is done. Temporary ordination isn’t against the Vinaya, so it’s a worthwhile thing to reflect on.
Whether people look down on it or not is personal taste I suppose.
Erika, I have not heard of a wat that does temporary ordinations in the US, but I could ask around if you or anyone is interested.
I went to a wat in Chiang Mai with the intention to spend part of the rains there, and to do a temporary samanera ordination, if allowed. After a lengthy period of practice in eight precepts, one day after teaching English to a class of Thai and refugee workers the abbot at the wat stopped the truck we were in in the wat, and told me to get out and “go and shave head.” Waiting for me were some monks and people from the wat’s neighborhood that set up chairs for shaving heads for the future novices. I was allowed to then start to prepare for the samanera ordination.
In short, it was one of the best and most important experiences of my life to live as a monastic for a short time in a wat. To practice as a novice, to go on almsrounds, and to really go deeper in terms of practice. With the right intention, and with the right (strict) abbot and atmosphere at the wat, I feel it is a very valuable experience.
You may know this already but in Thailand, many men ordain temporarily in order to show respect and gratitude to their parents, and to also develop merit so that they might be seen by a prospective partner as a good person. I dedicated my training at this time to my parents; my sister told me my mother nearly passed out when she saw my photo in robes on Facebook…
That’s inspiring Michael. Thank you for that. I have considered doing temporary ordination (the Abbot of my local Wat suggests it, only half jokingly, when I do retreats), but I never quite found the time, and the teacher I would have really liked to guide me was injured (and subsequently died) in a car crash.
I know several monks who ordained temporarily as teenagers, and just stayed. One, from Bangladesh, was a teacher here for several years, after spending some time in Sri Lanka, then Bangkok.
Mike, I am sorry for the loss of your teacher. I hope you get the chance to take a run at doing a temporary ordination one day. Myself, I took what I considered a sabbatical from work, and planned everything out for months in advance. It is difficult to take the time away, but in the right circumstances, it’s so very worth it.
The wat I attend in Oregon, USA primarily serves the Thai and Southeast Asian immigrant community in the region. Accordingly, the wat does offer temporary ordination, often when men (mostly Thai and Lao) are undertaking an important life change such as graduating from high school or getting married. I also know of two instances when temporary ordination was offered to Americans of European descent, one of whom eventually ordained full time.
Thank you, I’d be interested if you find yourself able to ask around! Being female, my options might be further limited, but either way the info may help myself or others.
Thank you also for sharing your experience! I have heard a similar story from someone who ordained temporarily in Burma, reporting that it was deeply inspiring/motivational, with long-term benefits to practice. I’ve also been encouraged by one former monk to try it for myself, with the caveat that robes can be ‘sticky’… And I might find myself reluctant to take them off I’d be interested to hear whether you found (find?) yourself tempted toward monasticism as well. But maybe that’s a question for another thread
Ha I can relate! It’s a sight my family is hoping not to see, but one they wouldn’t find all that surprising I think.
Erika, in a perfect world, I’d have stayed in robes. But, I had a job and my children (at university at the time) to return to. Again, in a perfect world, I’d like to serve out my days in robes in Thailand, or at least back to anagarika status, and live and work among the Hill Tribe refugees in northern Thailand. They say the gods laugh at those that make plans, but that’d be one possibility.
There are several different things we may be talking about as temporary ordination:
temp ordination of children,
temp Anagarika homeless status for men or women taking 8 precepts and wearing white clothing and living in the monastery to serve the monastics, but perhaps not shaving their heads,
temp ordination of women shaving their heads, but with a different (higher?) status than an Anagarika, and wearing robes different from monks robes - such as 8 preceptors like Mae Chee of Thailand or Yay Chee of Cambodia or Thilashin of Myanmar, or as 10-precept Dasasilmatas of Sri Lanka,
temp ordination of men or women as 10 precept novices,
temp ordination of men as bhikkhus,
temp ordination of dying adult as a 10-precept novice to live the holy life briefly just before death.
I’ve seen temporary 10 precept [edit: adult] novice ordinations done in the West and have discussed the ramifications with my fellows. There’s no concensus on whether it is skillful or not.
In my opinion, while it would appear to risk diluting the meaning of ordination, the actual impact seems to be usually very positive, like @UpasakaMichael described.
I gave temporary 10 precept novice ordination a couple of years ago to an 8-precept (white-robed) Cambodian nun who would be staying with me for two weeks. I think her getting to wear the same robe as monks checked off a bucket-list item for her. It was a delightful experience for us both, and for supporters of my Vihara.