From layman to monk for two weeks

Ordination is for life, says Soma Thera
Not everyone shares the sentiments of Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi Thera, the Director of the Buddhist Cultural Centre and on whose directive that the programme was begun.

Ven Gangodawila Soma Thera disputes the idea. "Lord Buddha never asked that such a programme be put into practice. In fact it is documented that when King Kosol once inquired as to why "temporary ordination" was not a part of Buddhism as it is was in other religions of the time Lord Buddha is to have said that in Buddhism taking up robes was something that one was to do for life.

“ It is a case of forsaking all worldly pleasures and not doing so with the intention of ever going back to it."

By Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne
Three hundred. There are more steps to be conquered to reach the office. Ring ring. I reach back and knock the phone off guiltily. For the sound seems to have disturbed the stillness. The faint rustle of leaves provides the only background noise.

The Dekanduwela Meditation centre is built encircling a rock. Situated in a little known corner of Horana, the Centre has been in existence for the past 11 years. It’s a spiritual retreat for all those who wish to meditate in quiet surroundings. No one has been informed of our visit, as the center functions to its own time. There are no newspapers strewn around the office, and no television exists to provide an insight to life outside.

Laymen in search of monkhood. Pic by: M. A. Pushpa Kumara

The Dekanduwela Meditation Centre comes under the purview of the Buddhist Cultural Centre in Dehiwela. Up until last month, the existence of the center was little known except amongst "Yogi Circles". On December 15, 13 laymen were ordained at a ceremony headed by the Chief Sangha Nayake of Singapore and Malaysia, Ven. Kirinde Dhammananda Nayake Thera, and the Head of the Sri Kalyani Dharma Maha Sangha Sabha Ven. Bellana Sri Gunawimala Thera to mark the inaugural practice of "Temporary Ordainment" in this country. Temporary Ordination has been a part and parcel of life in South Eastern Countries for a number of years. It is said that in Thailand the King cannot be crowned unless he has at some point of his life been temporarily ordained. In such countries, this training is vital even when on the job market and on the search for a suitable partner in life.

The practice of temporary ordination was introduced to Sri Lanka a few years back by the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo. But it never caught on as a part of our everyday lives. So why re-introduce it once again? "It is felt that firstly most temples in Sri Lanka are suffering from a dearth of Buddhist monks. Through this programme we hope to address this issue. Secondly Temporary Ordination is already in practice in other Theravada Buddhist countries in the world. It can change one's perspective in life. It creates somewhat of an ideal human being. We feel that by introducing this we will create a new interest in Buddha and his Teachings whilst also helping mould the type of individual that society will benefit from," says Ven Ohumiye Sumanasara Thera, the Head of the Dekanduwela Meditation Centre.

The Temporary Ordination Programme is open to all Buddhist males between 16 and 40. The regimen requires that they spend two weeks at the Centre, meditating and following a previously established syllabus and timetable. Why a period of two weeks? "This is our initial group and the minimum time requirement to complete our syllabus is two weeks. It is only according to the feedback of this group that we will be able to increase the time period. Another reason is that laymen find it difficult to get away from work or from their studies for a period longer than two weeks."

The syllabus includes an introduction to Buddhism and other practices which one could benefit from when leading the life of a laymen.

The entrance requirements are minimal but it is only after an intensive interview that the final fifteen are chosen. "Our limited resources do not permit us to encourage more than 15 participants at a time. An application form has to be obtained, filled out and posted to the Buddhist Cultural Centre. One's basic educational qualifications and other information are then perused. By doing so we can ensure that the right people are selected," adds Ehalahewese Dhammika Thera, a resident monk at the Meditation Centre.

No one is permitted to bring along any of their personal belongings. The Meditation Centre provides the robes and all other necessities while the alms are provided by nearby villagers and others who have visited the meditation Centre during its eleven years of existence. A library is available to all to peruse through volumes of work on Buddhism.

When we visited the Meditation Centre last week, the programme was nearing its end. And we were asked not to disturb any of the temporarily ordained monks until the afternoon - this is their hour of an hour of rest and relaxation.

Each day at the centre begins at 5:00 a.m. From there onwards, the priests are required to follow a set schedule. Everything is done as a group, from walking to the "Bana Shalawa" or settling down for meditation. The day ends at 10.00 p.m. The monk's relatives and friends are not permitted to visit them, as that would hamper the programme, by bringing in the mundane concerns of the outside world to the haven of the Meditation Centre.

"What we require is that one must be completely at ease in mind, body and spirit. That is why we do not encourage anyone to visit these monks during the period of ordination."

How have the monks found the programme? "I needed to get away from everything and find myself," says Pasyale Naradha Thera, a First year student at the Arts Faculty of the Sri Jayawardhenepura University. Having completed the required two weeks Naradha Thera has opted to stay on for an additional two weeks to meditate further. "I was always unable to control my temper and I could never focus on one thing completely at a time. I believe that following this programme has changed all that."

"I needed to get away from society," says Mathugama Sujatha Thera, a Third Year Management Student at the Sri Jayawardhenepura University. "We possess people of great intelligence in this country. But even in place where the cream of society meets, a range of problems arises. Being a resident here for a period of two weeks and following the programme has given me great spiritual relief."

For Bope Channa Thera from Pannipitiya this opportunity was a dream come true. "From the time of my early childhood I always wanted to study Buddhism in a temple. In fact I had prepared my passport and obtained my Visa to travel to Thailand and follow the programme there. I had also contacted the Buddhist Cultural Centre there. But when I heard of this programme I decided to come here instead." Channa Thera who is twenty-one years of age has made a firm decision to stay on at the Centre for life.

Will the public lose its respect for Buddhist Monks through such programmes as these monks disrobe after just a period of two weeks? "I disagree," adds Dhammika Thera. "The problem lies in the fact that the relationship between the Village and the Temple is not what it was fifty years ago. We believe that all those who complete the Temporary Ordination programme will have the ability to go back into their societies to combat that problem. For their knowledge of Buddhism will then be adequate to do so."

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