History, Vision, Community, and Theravada Buddhism
The experience of ordination begins when one hears the Dhamma for the first time in such a way that one understands the benefits one could gain from becoming a monk or nun. This experience continues when one meets monastics and learns the Buddha’s teaching from people who are practicing it directly.
The Buddha’s path of liberation is a gradual one, and so too is the path of ordination at Bhavana. Bhante G believes that it is important for people to experience living in a monastic setting for some time before taking on the robes. So the first experience one has of ordination is that of a lay person living in a monastery under the eight monastery precepts. In many ways these are the core of monastic training, excluding only the prohibition against money. Having the opportunity to work with these precepts as a lay person is quite precious as one can see the benefits of following them directly. An when you live in a community where you have to be the one handling money, you begin to see the disadvantages of that very quickly as well!
This time living in a monastery gives the opportunity for the person interested in ordination the experience of being removed from the world, but involved in it none the less. This is a very good way to see what matters more, what matters less. If one decides that the path of training the mind matters more, and the ways of the world matter less, then moving on in the ordination process may be the next step.
After living as a lay person in the monastery for at least one year, the person seeking ordination may request the anagarika precepts from the abbot. These are the same lay monastery precepts, but followed more closely. At this point the candidate will wear white clothing full time. Education in the core principals of the monastic rules he will be expected to eventually follow will begin as well.
The next step in the process is novice ordination. This is the official beginning of renunciate life. The most important additional training precept taken at this point is that of not using money. Not using money is the distinctive sign that one has cut off ties with the world, being dependent on lay people for all of ones needs and living happily with what is offered. Novices wear robes and dress like fully ordained monastics. A six-year commitment to the training begins where one must be at all times dependent on a senior monastic.
After a year of life as a novice, when the senior monastic feels the candidate is ready, he may request high ordination, the official joining of the order of monks. This involves taking on the complete set of training rules laid down by the Buddha.
NOTE: Bhante Gunaratana continues to support the ordination of women. However, due to numerous difficulties has decided not to undertake the responsibility of ordaining women at the Bhavana Society Forest Monastery. Information for women on Bhikkhuni ordination can be found on the website of Dhammadharini: Women Upholding the Dhamma.
The Ordination Process
for becoming a monk at the Bhavana Society
The decision to renounce the world and become a homeless monastic is a very serious one. The monastic life does not suit everyone, and not everyone is suited to a life that is both communal and isolated, bounded by many precepts, and which renounces the pleasures and activities of worldly life.
For this reason, ordination as a monk at the Bhavana Society is accomplished in a long series of steps. At each point, either the Society or the person aspiring to ordination may decide that the process should go no further. Because of this, those who have decided to begin the process are strongly urged not to cut all of their worldly ties, not to sell all of their belongings, and so on until they are close to the step of novice ordination. Bhante Gunaratana has also decided on an age requirement — those interested in ordaining should be between 25 to 35 years of age.
The steps are as follows:
1. Attend a number of retreats at the Bhavana Society including at least one long retreat.
2. Apply for residency, be accepted and complete a minimum six months to one year period of residency following the steps given on the residency application on the visit page.
3. If, after a period of residency your desire to ordain is still strong, and the head monk agrees, you can request to take the Anagaraka precepts and begin to wear white clothes. The Anagarika precepts are the same as those followed by all residents when they stay at the monastery.
4. If the head monk is willing to consider you as a candidate for ordination, he will specify a waiting period before you may take novice vows. This period varies from person to person and is usually six months to a year. During this period you must remain in residence at the Bhavana Society, participating fully in the life of the center including full work responsibilities, retreats, and Pali and sutta studies. When the head monk determines that you are ready, you will be given the novice ordination.
5. If you successfully complete your time as a novice (usually one year) you will be eligible for full ordination. NOTE: Because of current demographics, the Bhavana Society is only able to give full ordination to men. The continuity of the nuns’ ordination in southeast Asia was lost centuries ago and was only reinstated in 1996 at Sarnath, India. At this ceremony eleven selected Sinhalese Dasa Sil Mata nuns were ordained fully as bhikkhunis by a group of Theravada monks together with a quorum of Korean nuns. Thus for the first time after about 980 years the Theravada Bhikkhuni Order was revived in India.
Information for women on Bhikkhuni ordination can be found on the website of Dhammadharini: Women Upholding the Dhamma.