Entering the holy path

The Malwatta Maha Viharaya Upasampada (Higher Ordination) of samanera (student) monks commenced with Vesak Poya on May 12 and concluded on Poson Poya, which fell on June 11.

Explaining the vinaya rules that should be followed by a samanera before he seeks Upasampada and the ceremony itself, Ven. Niyangoda Dharma Kirthi Sri Sangharakshita Vijithasiri Anunayaka Maha Thera said that the first Upasampada was at the Malwatu Maha Viharaya on Esala Poya in 1753. This came at a time when there were no Upasampada Theras in Sri Lanka and Welivita Saranankara Sangharaja Thera had requested the King of Kandy, Kirthi Sri Rajasinha to invite a Maha Thera from Siam (now Thailand) to revive Upasampada. The King of Siam sent a delegation of twenty, headed by Upali Maha Thera to Sri Lanka, and so the ceremony was held.

During the Buddha’s time there were eight ways in which Upasampada was conducted, the Anunayake stated. Of these, the first was Ehi Bhikkhu Upasampada where the Buddha Himself conferred higher ordination. At present only the eighth, which is Gnattichatutthasamupasampada is followed.

A samanera has to study at least for seven years in a pirivena (a school for student monks) or under a Thera in his temple before he is ready for higher ordination. He may even have more than one teacher. But at the time of Upasampada, he can have only one Upadyaya to direct him.

The samanera with his two Karmacharyas Pix by Udumbara Udugama

The Bana Potha, the Buddha Dhamma, the Dhammapada and Gatha have to be memorised, as he will be tested on these at the time of his Upasampada. He has to learn the Sasanika Charithra, the Sampradayika Charithra and the Sathara Sanwara Seelaya, stated the Anunayake Thera.

An Upadyaya (teacher) and two Karmacharyas (they recite the Karma Vakya) are necessary to conduct an Upasampada. The samanera has the choice of selecting them. To qualify for higher ordination, a samanera has to complete 20 years of age. If he is short of a few months, it is permitted to add up to six months of his life as a foetus in his mother’s womb to make up 20 years.

When a samanera is ready for higher ordination, he first informs the Maha Thera in the district where he lives, who then informs the Secretary of the Sangha Sabha at the Malwatte Viharaya by letter. The samanera is then requested to send in his documents such as birth certificate, the name of his teacher, name of his father, where he studied, etc. If the documents are in order, he is given a date for his Upasampada.

On the appointed day, the samanera comes to the Malwatte Maha Vihara with his parents, relatives and people from his village. He then offers a sheaf of betel wrapped in a silk handkerchief to his Upadyaya. Thereafter he offers a Dakum Vattiya (a tray with betel leaves, milk, sugar and other such items) to the Maha Nayake Thera, Anunayaka Thera and a few selected Maha Theras in the Malwatte temple.

In the morning, the Anunayake Maha Thera tests the samanera’s knowledge of the Dhamma at length. In the afternoon he is taken to the Poyage by two Karmacharyas, who conduct the ceremony. At this stage the samanera is dressed in a thuppottiya (the dress worn by the Kandyan Nilames or Chieftains, but without the jacket). He is then considered a lay person. He has neither a name as a layman nor as an ordained monk. Therefore he is known as Naga.

At this stage in the presence of the Upadyaya, as a layman he repeats pansil, the five precepts. The Upadyaya gives him the paatra (begging bowl), depata sivura, thanipota sivura and andanaya (robes), which he wears and returns to the Seema Malaka (the consecrated area where the Upasampada is conducted). Again he goes up to the Upadyaya, who ordains and makes him a monk by reciting the dasa sil (ten precepts).

In a loud voice, the Karmacharyas question the samanera in the presence of the Sangha Sabha, which has to consist of ten or more Maha Theras. If the Sangha Sabha approves the Upasampada, the Karmacharyas repeat the acceptance three times and the samanera receives higher ordination. There is an Anusasana by the Upadyaya, and the Maha Theras chant pirith to complete the ceremony in the Poyage.

The Wahala Naga arriving at the Malwatte Maha Viharaya Poyage

Proceeding to the Secretariat which is near the Poyage, his details are entered in the Sadgeethi Pathraya or Upasampada Kendraya (a register), that he has to sign. The name of the seema where it was performed, date, names of the Upadyaya and Karmacharyas and the new name given to the Thera are entered.

The Anunayaka Thera said that an Upadyaya must always be a Maha Thera, who has completed ten years of his own Upasampada (higher ordination). Upasampada can be conducted in the Jala Seema (Udakukkepa), surrounded by water or Baddha Seema, in a building. At Malwatte and Asgiriya Maha Vihara, the Siyam or Shiyamopali Nikaya (Sect) conducts it in the Buddha Seema. The word Shiyamopali is a combination of the words Siam and Upali to honour the country and the Maha Thera who came to Sri Lanka to revive Upasampada (Higher Ordination).

There is no fixed time of the year for this ceremony, but the Malwatte Maha Viharaya conducts it from Vesak to Poson (May to June), since after that the Sangha has to retreat for the Vas Season (rainy season).

From Vesak to Poson, there were five Poya days and on such days, a selected samanera is named Wahala Naga, who in addition to the thuppottiya, wears a crown similar to the one worn by the King of Siam. The Diyawadana Nilame or the Karya Karawana Korala (officer next to the Diyawadana Nilame) places this crown on the head of the Wahala Naga at the Dalada Maligawa. This is a tradition continued from the time of the King, who sponsored a samanera’s education, robes and all other costs in connection with the ceremony. At present, the Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa sponsors the Wahala Naga. He is conducted in a colourful perahera (procession) on an elephant from the Dalada Maligawa to the Malwattu Maha Viharaya for his Upasampada. The Maha Nayake Thera is the Upadyaya for the Wahala Naga.

Last Sunday, June 11, at the conclusion of the Upasampada for this year, the Secretary of the Sangha Karaka Sabha stated that 172 samaneras received Higher Ordination.


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