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In my philosophical understanding, I follow a path that is similar to achieve similar results, but the mindset is slightly different in order to appeal to a wider variety of people. Previous Previous post: How can we see the small miracles in our life?Next Next post: Write That Story! Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
A person who is ordained in the Buddhist religion is obliged to observe the code of discipline (vinaya)—the two hundred and twenty-seven rules.
Grave offences: if a monk violates these rules, he immediately falls away from the state of being a monk, regardless whether someone else is aware of this offence or not. Moderately serious offences: if a monk transgresses one of these rules, he is still considered a monk, but he must live under probation (parivasa) and perform a penance (manatta).
Minor offences: this group contains many rules, including those having to do with polite decorum and with eating.
In the case of Luang Poo Non (mentioned in the last chapter), he had no intention to transgress a rule.
Although eating food in the evening is a minor offence, the laypeople consider it a very important matter: it is a ‘mundane offence’ (loka-vajja), that is, it is conduct criticized by the general public. It happened one day, however, that I saw these three jump over the monastery fence and take a shortcut leading to the back of the adjoining school. This entry was posted in Life in the Saffron Forest, Moral Conduct and tagged Moral Conduct, Sathienpong Wanapok, Thai Buddhism. Those of you who have lived in the Saffron Forest know that when a person is ordained as a monk, his preceptor bestows on him a new Pali name, which in Thai is called the chaya (from the Pali, meaning ‘shadow’). In the case of novitiate ordination, the serpent, a reptile that renews itself by shedding its skin, is associated primarily with transformation.
During the Lord Buddha’s time, a certain naga or mythological snake, by its magical power turned itself into a man and became by ordination a monk. There are stories of preceptors who have no knowledge of Pali but who became preceptors by chance, through the power of their frequent gifts of shrimp paste and fish sauce to the ruling monk of the district.
When the ordination ceremony is complete the preceptor measures the sun’s shadow (chaya) to determine what time of day it is, because in the olden days there were no clocks and people relied on sundials to tell the time. Generally a chaya is only given to bhikkhus, and not to novices because in the novice ordination there is no formal announcement of the sa?gha. This entry was posted in Life in the Saffron Forest and tagged Ordination, Sathienpong Wanapok, Thai Buddhism.
Four years ago my brother and sister-in-law gave me the book ‘The Golden Bough’ by James Frazer. As a young man I felt a wistful romanticism in regard to ancient cultures—the tribes and ethnic groups whom I felt were much closer to nature than people in today’s society. The feeling of sadness resulted from the observation of how people in the past, the world over, developed rigid belief systems and rituals that were handed down across generations, and, because they became so deeply entrenched, were almost impossible to let go of. Of course the modern age is not without its assumed beliefs and values, which very often go unquestioned. Modern society seems to have swung to an opposite extreme, where anything not immediately visible by way of ‘empirical analysis’ is rejected, discarded, banished.
Another feeling I had while reading this book was a sense of marvel, amazement, and reverence, considering how the Buddha was able to both realize and spread the Dhamma 2,500 years ago in a society that was firmly set in long-standing religious beliefs and customs, many of which were based in wrong view. The Buddha’s release from self-identification (despite the probability that he would get ensnared in more refined notions of self), his revelation that the world functions without a creator deity, and his discovery of the nonself and non-creative Unconditioned count as enormous advancements in human wisdom. Although ‘The Golden Bough’ is somewhat difficult reading due to its density of information, James Frazer was an exceptional scholar and an excellent writer. In Buddhism, it would consist of following in the eightfold path and for my philosophy it would consist of getting rid of the vices and embracing the virtues.

The monks must observe a great number of rules, more than the legal clauses issued by Thailand’s fourteenth prime minister, Thanin Kraivichian. From the instant after the offence, this person becomes a bald-headed rogue wearing a saffron robe. He is penalized and ostracized according to sangha procedures, the details of which I won’t go into here.
If a monk transgresses one of these rules all he needs to do to settle this matter is to confess the offence to another monk and vow not to transgress this rule in the future. If a monk or novice was caught eating food in the evening the punishment imposed would be to carry water, mop the kutis, sweep the monastery courtyard, and to clean the monks’ rooms.
The abbot didn’t cane me on the day of my ordination when I ate a sticky-rice cake because he knew that it was unintentional, that I wasn’t aware that this was an offence. They were acting suspiciously so I adopted the personality of Sherlock Holmes and shadowed them. I had no idea why the new name is referred to as a shadow but this matter was clarified when I asked Luang Por.
One day the naga monk during a deep sleep turned into a naga and was seen by brother monks. Tambiah interprets this legend adapted from the Mahavagga as symbolizing a novice’s renunciation of male virility, which he identifies with the serpent. The time of day is then kept as a record, that a monk of such and such a name was ordained when the shadow had reached a particular point.
But it is strange that at Wat Bahn Huay where I was ordained as a novice Luang Por gave a Pali name to all the novices—I don’t know from where he got this example. I picked it up many times over the past few years, but because of its extremely comprehensive coverage on the customs and beliefs of different cultures, I ended up only skimming through the second half (which in itself comprises 400 pages!).
It is not my intent in this blog to get into a deep comparison between modern society and ancient, tribal cultures.
This rigidity of mind, of being fixed and confined within a specific worldview, is distressing in itself. And there is no shortage of superstition, credulity, and blind belief, not to mention slaughter and oppression. One of the reasons I love about living in Thailand is that ‘the world still teems with those motley beings’—the place is alive with spirits.
Animal sacrifices abounded, performed to appease the gods, and the brahman class was determined to maintain its superiority over other castes, by citing their divine rights and privileges. Some of these paths we have followed a little way; others, if fortune should be kind, the writer and the reader may one day pursue together.
In magic man depends on his own strength to meet the difficulties and dangers that beset him on every side. An example of such an offence is the deliberate emission of semen (which in the ‘massage parlours’ is called ‘going to the royal park’). If someone walked by one had to call out: ‘I ate in the evening!’ The humiliation would last for a long time. And the second (and final) time I ate in the afternoon as a novice I also miraculously escaped from punishment. There was a rumour, however, that these three venerable sirs were regularly sneaking off to eat food in the evenings.
The three hid behind a large bush, proceeded to pull out a packet of sticky rice and pickled fish from their robes, and tucked right in.
This way in the circle of monks when one knows someone else’s Pali name one can determine the day of the week he was born, unless the preceptor unconventionally ignores this convention which doesn’t happen often. The matter was reported to the Buddha, and the naga monk had to relinquish his monkhood for no creature except a human being may be ordained as a monk.

While male sexual virility may characterize the serpent as a mythic archetype, the Mahavagga tale on which it is based suggests a different construction … In short the story illustrates two kinds of transformation: from creature instincts to human behaviour regulated by the Buddhist sasana, and from a lay ethic governed by the norms of sila to the monastic pursuit of nibbanic liberation. This matter only became clear to me when I later went to Bangkok and learned that all of the novices in the Dhammayuttika Nikaya had Pali names. He was very dim-witted and it was extremely difficult for him to memorize any of the chants. But as I read through the detailed descriptions in this book, my predominant emotion was sadness.
But more disturbing is how so many of the rituals required bloodshed and death, by way of animal and human sacrifices.
In comparison, when I visit Europe or North America, I feel a barrenness and sterility—the land has been wiped clean of the mystical and mysterious.
Despite understanding the principles of impermanence and dukkha, the great philosophers before the Buddha were hampered by the belief in a self or soul. He believes in a certain established order of nature on which he can surely count, and which he can manipulate for his own ends.
The Buddha referred to such a person as a ‘shameless ascetic’ (alajji) or a ‘crownless palm.’ He has no chance to prosper in the Buddhist religion. According to the Vinaya this is a minor offence classified as an offence of expiation (pacittiya).
In the North, for example, the laypeople even prepare and offer supper to the monks when they visit their homes in the evening. And if one was a novice, besides the penalties imposed above, one also had to taste the sting of Luang Por’s cane. The naga asked a favor of the Buddha that his name as a naga might be given as namesake to the candidate for monkhood in memory of the fact that it was once a monk.
Originally the term chaya referred both to the time of the ordination’s completion and to the Pali name chosen by the preceptor, but later it referred exclusively to the Pali name. Luang Por must have imitated the Dhammayuttika order and not just in this matter: even the way we wore our robes and the chanting were copied from the Dhammayuttika order. It took him an entire day of struggle in order to memorize the single line of Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa. The world will not turn, the crops not prosper, without a ritual death and resurrection, very often taken literally. Yet before we do so, we may well ask ourselves whether there is not some more general conclusion, some lesson, if possible, of hope and encouragement, to be drawn from the melancholy record of human error and folly which has engaged our attention in this book.
When he discovers his mistake, when he recognises sadly that both the order of nature which he had assumed and the control which he had believed himself to exercise over it were purely imaginary, he ceases to rely on his own intelligence and his own unaided efforts, and throws himself humbly on the mercy of certain great invisible beings behind the veil of nature, to whom he now ascribes all those far-reaching powers which he once arrogated to himself. The monks do not cause a loss of faith in the laypeople; when they have satisfied their hunger they return to the monastery and confess their sins. His Pali name was Tantidhammo, which sounded very similar to Khantidhammo, the Pali name of Tahn Jarat, who was an older monk.
Thus in the acuter minds magic is gradually superseded by religion, which explains the succession of natural phenomena as regulated by the will, the passion, or the caprice of spiritual beings like man in kind, though vastly superior to him in power. When Luang Por called out the name Khantidhammo, Tahn Dtaw would answer, ‘Agato, bhante.’ When Tahn Jarat found out that he had a substitute answering to his name he slept at ease in his kuti and wouldn’t come to chanting very often.

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