Buddhist Monks Aim for Nirvana
Buddhism states that there is a path to happiness and the Buddha can
lead you there. Buddhist monks of all different orders are trying to reach
happiness, or Nirvana. There may be some differences between the sects but
the core beliefs surround the Buddha’s teachings and practices. An ordained
monk or nun lives a special life. Some last a lifetime while others only
for a brief time, however both experiences are moving.
Tibetan Buddhist monks take there vows for life. When becoming a
Buddhist monk it is very important that you do not rush into taking your
vows. Time must be taken to fully understand the advantages and
disadvantages of becoming a Buddhist monk. Currently there are monasteries
that allow you to live the life of a Buddhist monk for a few days, weeks or
months in order to make the correct decision. The Tibetan tradition does
not encourage those who take the vows to give them back and return to a
secular lifestyle. As long as a monk asks permission he is able to freely
leave the order.
Theravadin Buddhist countries, like Thailand, believe that every man
must have served as a monk at one point in his life. These monks are
referred to as “short-term” monks. The period that they are actually monks
may range from a few days to as long as a few months. This short-term
service is seen as primarily a teaching tool. Living even a short period
of time as a monk is believed to prepare the individual for life as a
layman, householder and family head. Also this practice helps the
individual earn merit with his family and especially his parents. Many
people in these countries still chose to remain a monk for their lifetime.
Before making any final decisions on becoming either a short-term
monk or a lifetime monk the fundamental teachings of the Buddha must be
thoroughly understood. These teachings include the Four Noble Truths, the
Eightfold Path, and the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Normally this
involves a number of years of study and practice with the help of a
teacher. This teacher will be your guide and sponsor. With your teacher
you will learn how to live your everyday life according to the Buddhist
teachings and practices. During this time you may live in a monastery to
fully understand and appreciate this lifestyle.
Once you have made the decision to lead a monk’s life, you must
approach the abbot or his secretary for an interview. You are then
accepted as a naga. Then are given training in the rules, daily chanting,
and the ordination procedure. The length of training before ordination can
be one month or less, the abbot might expect an applicant to spend at least
9 months as a layman and novice before higher ordination. During this
period the layman wears a white robe and learns eight precepts. Novice
monks wear the orange robes and are given ten precepts to follow along with
seventy-five training rules. There are certain requirements that must be
met in order to be ordained. The novice must be at least twenty years old,
free of debt, free of any government or military duties and they must have
the consent of their immediate family. The ordination ceremony uses the
Pali language and the novice must memorize the lines. The novice must also
memorize the 227 rules of discipline, called the Patimokkha, that the monks
Originally the Buddha did not allow woman to become nuns.Then
Buddha received many requests from woman to allow them to become nuns. He
reconsidered his position and decided to allow woman in to the order. The
first woman accepted as a nun was Paccabadi Gotami, the Buddha’s
stepmother, who was ordained by the Buddha himself. In establishing the
Bhikkhuni Sangha, or nuns, the Buddha added that any other ordinations
should be held with a fully ordained bhikkhuni present as a witness.
Since the time of Buddha there have always been nuns ordained into
the order. In more recent years the number of woman becoming nuns became
smaller and smaller. There came a point were there were no longer any fully
ordained nuns in the world. Without these fully ordained nuns there cannot
be any present at the ordination of new nuns, this prohibits any new nuns
from becoming fully ordained themselves. Buddhist woman today can live in
the order as an eight or ten precept novice but can never be fully
Monks fall into two categories, the forest monk and the temple monk.
The least common is the forest monk, he lives a solitary, hermetic state
removed from monastic or lay society. Most Buddhist monks are temple
monks. The temple monks live in a monastic community on temple grounds.
Each monk regardless of lifestyle is in continuous pursuit of enlightenment
The temple monks are more involved in some lay community affairs than
the forest monks are. Temple monks will participate in Buddhist holy day
ceremonies, blessing new homes and businesses as well as funeral and
cremation rites. Temple monks are also the teachers of novice monks, short-
term monks and lay persons. Temple monks live in small huts called a
khuti. The huts are plainly furnished with a table and a chair. The monk
sleeps on a low, narrow bed, with a hard mattress. The monks are also
allowed to keep books and texts. The forest monk can be found sleeping
under a tent on a mat with no other material comforts.
Buddhist monks are truly extraordinary individuals. Not only have
they left their families and careers but they live a purely ascetic life.
Monks live a chaste, poor life with few possessions. Monks possessions are
collected from offerings that are given to them by their family or
community. People can only offer the monks items that are considered
essential for the monk’s life. There are a total of eight necessary items
included in a Buddhist monk’s garments and utensils, as passed down from
The first garment piece is the Jeeworn or Mantle Robe. In ancient
days monks would collect pieces of cloth from graveyards. Several
different pieces had to be sewn together in one piece to form the robe.
These dyes would turn the fabric into a brownish-yellow color. As more and
more men became followers, Lord Buddha rejected any patched-together
Jeeworn because it was not neat. The Buddha asked his cousin Ananda to
create a neat design for the Jeeworn. Monks today still follow this neat
design of the single piece Jeeworn. Their Jeeworn must cover their entire
body when outside of the temple. However, when the monks are in their
temple they leave the right shoulder uncovered.
The second piece is the Sabong or skirt. This is a simple, unadorned
skirt. The size of this Sabong is much smaller than the size of the
Jeeworn. The Sabong is regarded as the most important garment of Buddhist
monks because it must be worn 24 hours a day. The third piece is the
Prakod or cotton belt. This is a wide and thick belt. The primary purpose
of the Prakod is to secure the Sabong. The fourth item completes the
necessary items of the monks’ garments. The Sangkati or shoulder scarf is
a long thick piece of fabric. The scarf is worn simply draped over the
shoulder. The scarf is meant to serve the monks as a multipurpose cloth.
Some of the uses for the scarf range from a blanket or a pillow to a wash
cloth and napkin.
The monks’ next four necessary items are there only other
possessions. The first item is a Bart or an alms bowl and its lid. The
Bart is used when the monk goes collecting offerings of food to eat. Monks
also need to keep a Meedgoan or razor with them. In order to show their
rejection of ego and vanity monks are supposed to shave their head, and
sometimes eyebrows, once a month. The shaving must be done one day before
the middle of the lunar month.
The Khem and Dai or needle and thread are also essential to a monk.
Having these two items allow the monks to patch any tears or holes that may
damage their garments. Lastly, monks must have a Grabog Grong-Naam or
water strainer. Monks believe that they must refrain from killing or
hurting any animals and human beings. Therefore, the water-strainer
assures that the drinking water is freed of all dirt and insects. Today
there are several modern items that can be included here. These items are a
blanket, a pillow, a hat, an umbrella, sandals, a palm fan, a bag and
A day in the life of a monk is simple and beautiful. Monks wake up
when the temple gongs are sounded in the early hours of the morning. After
they wash and dress they meditate until it is light enough to go around and
collect the alms offering. When a monk goes on his rounds he accepts
whatever foods are placed in his alms bowl. He never asks for anything,
accepting what is offered, standing silently, with eyes lowered, until
after the offering is made, when he may chant a brief blessing for the
donor. When they return to their huts they can eat their meal. This meal is
usually their only one for the day. Some monks eat a second meal but no
monks are allowed to eat after noon. The rest of their day is spent
meditating, reading, studying, and can sometimes include a nap. In the
evening they attend the twilight ceremonial chanting. At night the monks
sleeps for six sometimes four hours.
Meditation is a conscious effort to change how the mind works. The
Pali word for meditation is bhavana, meaning to grow or to develop.
Meditation is very important because although we may want to make changes
in our lives, it is not easy to have control of our thoughts and actions.
Meditation develops awareness and the energy needed to change our old ways
and prepare for the right path. There are many types of meditation, the
Buddha taught a number of ways to meditate and particular ways to deal with
specific problems. The most common are Mindfulness or Insight Meditation,
called Vipassana, and Loving-kindness Meditation, called Samatha.
The Pali word Nibbana is formed of Ni and Vana. Ni is a negative
article and vana means desire. The ultimate goal of all Buddhists is to end
the cycle of life and death, of reincarnation, by enlightenment and
reaching nirvana or nibbana. Nirvana is not a place where we go; it is a
state of mind and being. Nirvana can be reached here on earth as the Buddha
has. The Buddha said that “Nirvana is the highest happiness”.
All Buddhist are living for Nirvana. The simple life facilitates the
process. Meditations and ascetic living allow the mind to focus on its path
and state of being. The Buddha ordained woman and there were many nuns for
years, the teachings of the Buddha however prevents any future woman from
being ordained. Buddhism may be all over the world and have different
practices, but the Buddha is always the center and happiness is always
everyone ultimate goal.
1. Bechert, Heinz. The World of Buddhism : Buddhist monks and nuns in
society and culture, New York : Thames and Hudson, 1984.
2. Della Santina, Peter. The tree of enlightenment : an introduction to
the major traditions of Buddhism , Taipei, Taiwan: Reprinted and
donated for free distribution by the Corporate Body of the Buddha
Educational Foundation, 1997.
3. Lopez, Donald S. The story of Buddhism : a concise guide to its
history and teachings , San Francisco, California: Harper San
4. Novick, Rebecca McClen. Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism , Freedom,
California: Crossing Press, 1999.
5. Prebish, Charles S. The A to Z of Buddhism , Lanham, Maryland:
Scarecrow Press, 2001.
6. Saddhatissa, H. Buddhist ethics; essence of Buddhism , New York, G.
7. Schumann, Hans Wolfgang. Buddhism; an outline of its teachings and
schools , Wheaton, Ill., Theosophical Pub. House, 1973.
8. Trainor, Kevin. Buddhism : the illustrated guide , New York : Oxford
University Press, 2001.