Ordination of Ong Chin Cheong as a samanera

Venue: SBS
Special Occasion: The ordination of Ong Chin Cheong as a samanera

Ong Chin Cheong has been a postulant in SBS for over a year. This talk is given in conjunction with his ordination as a samanera, after which he will stay on to further his training as a resident Sangha member.

An Historic, Happy Occasion

Today is an historic occasion. The first samanera ordination in SBS has just been completed. It is a happy occasion for all of us here for 2 reasons:

  • It is a boon to the Sasana to have a new member. We hope that here he will receive holistic training in an ancient tradition through a new media.
  • We are happy that Mrs Ong has given her son to the Sasana and has thus become a Sasana heir.

Sasana Heirs

I wrote about Sasana heirs in Sasanarakkha #7. King Asoka, the famous emperor of India was a brutal conqueror who changed radically after meeting an inspiring samanera. He became a righteous king (dhammika raja), advocating non-violence. He contributed requisites and built monasteries and stupas. He also practised religious tolerance and did not use force to convert his subjects to Buddhism.

King Asoka one day approached the Sangha and asked, “Since I’ve given so much support to the Sasana, can I be called a Sasana heir?” When told that he did not qualify, he asked how he could become one. The answer was “Only if one can give up one’s child to the Sasana and allow him to become a monk.”

How does giving one’s child to the Sasana make one an heir? What does one inherit?

We have a present day example in Ven Kumara’s parents. It took some time for him to get his parent’s permission to become a monk. Finally they gave him their blessings and since then they have become more knowledgeable Buddhists, attending retreats and being more involved in temple affairs. When a child has become a monk, his parents will visit the temple more often instead of being just ‘Wesak Day Buddhists’. They will be drawn closer to the Dhamma. In the same way, Mrs Ong is now in closer contact with the Dhamma and probably is doing pindapata correctly for the first time.

Sasana Opportunists

Let’s come back to the story of King Asoka. Because of his lavish support, many people became monks for ignoble and opportunistic reasons. Instead of aspiring for liberation from samsara, they wanted the easy life that King Asoka had, through his generous patronage, made possible for monks.

Even during the Buddha’s time there were already such opportunistic people. A group of 17 young children were sent by their parents to be ordained as monks at a very young age because their parents wanted them to have an easy life without having to learn a skill and work for a living. Thus ‘bogus’ monks, such as we see today in the pasar malam, are not modern innovations.

You Are What You Pronounce

I have chosen the name, Ven Balacitta, for our new samanera. ‘Bala’ means ‘strong’ or ‘powerful’. ‘Citta’ is the mind. But in Pali one has to be careful with the pronunciation, as ‘Bªla’ pronounced with the long ‘ª’ means ‘foolish’ or ‘immature’. As he is learning Pali, I tell him, “You are what you pronounce.”

Although he has a newly shaven head and new robes, it may not make much difference in his lifestyle as he has been living the life of a monastic for more than a year. However, besides the 10 rules of training for a samanera, there are many other rules. He has to learn how to wear the robes, behave like a monk, go for pindapata and so on.

Upholders of the Sasana

Just as there are some who renounce to take advantage of the well-supported circumstances of the Sangha, there are others who do so because of their faith in the Dhamma. Their primary objective is to make use of the opportunity as ‘homeless ones’ to dedicate their lives to the study, practice and propagation of the Dhamma, without the responsibilities of worldly life.

Fundamental Responsibility

The first responsibility of a member of the Sangha is to observe his precepts. Then he has to study the Dhammavinaya. In the time of the Buddha, there were no books so a monastic had to listen to the teacher and memorise the teachings. They were then explained and he had to practise them. Memorising 227 (major) rules (for bhikkhus) is one thing; internalising them is another. That’s why during the Buddha’s time it took 5 years for one to become independent.

There are many study monasteries in Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka where mostly theory is taught. This can produce great scholars, but if one does not put theory into practice, it is not befitting of a member of the Sangha.

One of the primary objectives of SBS is to try to revive this traditional lifestyle of study and practice. Buddhists believe that the amount of merits one makes depends on the virtue of the giver and that of the recipient. Thus if a monk is virtuous and observes his precepts, then the dana given to him will bear great fruits. This is the first and most basic level at which he can repay his supporters.

If he also meditates to attain concentration and insight into the true nature of reality, then the dana given to him will bear even greater fruits.

When one receives, one ought to give something in return. It is the same in the relationship between the Sangha and lay community. Monastics need to study and practice. Lay people give them the support to enable them to do so. In return the Sangha has to give them the opportunity to reap the good fruits of sila, samadhi and pañña.

Thus a monk who has purity of conduct and spiritual attainment has already fulfilled his fundamental responsibility as a member of the Sangha. He can give his supporters the opportunity to accrue merits when they offer dana to him. They will then reap benefits such as prosperity in this life and rebirth as a deva in the next. This is the fundamental duty of a monk.

Additional Responsibilities

In addition to this, he can do more. Looking at the spiritual needs of people as a whole, we realise that besides the importance of having well practised and knowledgeable monks, there is also a high demand for monks to perform rites and rituals. Generally however, practising monks do not like to perform rituals or to do chanting.

As such, we need different types of monks:

  • Those who perform rituals
  • Those who study theory so that when we go astray they possess the knowledge to set things right
  • Those who practise, as they are living embodiments of the Dhamma
  • Those who teach, of which there are 2 types:
    • Those who teach monks
    • Those who teach lay people, again of which there are two types :
      • monks who teach meditation
      • monks who teach people how to apply basic Buddhist principles in daily life.

Conclusion: Buddhism for All

Different people have different inclinations and interests. So we should not be biased and support, for example, only practising monks who stay in the forest. Neither should we support only teaching monks because we feel that practising monks do not contribute to society. We should look at Buddhism from a wide perspective and cover all facets of it. That is why Buddhism is so wonderful. It can be practised at so many levels of spiritual maturity because it appeals to people with different interests.

In SBS we understand this well and aspire to provide holistic training for development based on individual talents and capabilities. Some, after the basic course, may want to go to the forest to practise while some, after a stretch of practice, may want to propagate the teachings. Others may want to do Pali studies to access the original doctrines of Theravada Buddhism. We will give support and guidance to all of them. We welcome people of different inclinations to come and join us so that we can help perpetuate the Buddha’s teachings at all levels of society.

Although we have only one samanera, I feel that on this historic occasion, it is relevant for me to lay the groundwork for all future residents of SBS who wish to participate in our training programme. There are quite a few lined up and I hope to see them in the very near future.

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