Photo: Courtesy of Deepak Chopra
After a few days of this hardship, I moved to the Forest Monastery, Chiang Khong, where I was to be officially ordained.
Joy's brother Jate, a young man of 36 years, decided at the last moment that he would ordain with me. The second monastery under the guidance of the Venerable Abbott Arjarn Ekachai was more comfortable than the previous one in that we had running water.
The ordainment ceremony required us to memorize some of the teachings of Buddha and chant them in Pali. Pali is a Sanskrit derivative language and was indeed the language spoken at the time of the Buddha. Surprisingly, I did not find it difficult to memorize the verses I was asked to recite for the ordainment.
The ordainment ceremony began at 6 a.m. at the Forest Monastery, Chiang Kong. About 1,000 villagers from 13 neighboring villages showed up to witness it.
After a lot of chanting and instructions by Venerable Arjarn Ekachai and another senior monk on the responsibilities of an ordained monk, including following the five precepts, understanding the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path to Enlightenment, we also had to undergo a head-shaving ceremony. I did not realize that the shaving would include my eyebrows. But by this time, I had let go of all attachments for the time being and decided to surrender to the whole process. My son Gotham was there to witness and film the ceremony as Jate and I went through the process.
After the head-shaving ceremony, the villagers lined up one by one to tie threads around our wrists. This was symbolic and meant that the villagers and monks had embraced us as their family. This part of the ceremony took two hours, and Jate and I sat crossed-legged on the floor for it.
After the thread ceremony, all the villagers were fed food that had been cooked by volunteers. All this took us to about noon, after which Jate and I mounted two elephants as part of a parade to the Buddhist temple, where the ordainment and wearing of the monks robes was to take place. The parade was very festive with drumming and chanting, and the villagers were all dressed in colorful celebratory outfits.
We dismounted our elephants upon reaching the temple where the actual ordainment ceremony began. This lasted five hours, with Jate and I reciting our Buddhist chants to prove we'd done our "homework."
Finally, we were asked to give up our clothes and exchange them for the monks robes. As Jate and I walked out of the temple at about 5:30 p.m. with our begging bowls and in monk robes, all of the villagers prostrated themselves at our feet with reverence and made offerings and filled up our begging bowls. We were now ordained.
Life as a monk