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Why do the young Buddhist monks disrobe after they finish University?

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why do the young Buddhist monks disrobe after they finish University?
Ven. Suriya
B.A (Final Year)
MCU, Chiang Mai Campus, Thailand
I am now a senior student of MCU, studying at international English program with many monk friends from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). Having studied almost four years, I have gained valuable various experiences which are very hard to get in Myanmar. The reason is that none of us are from indifferent cultural monastic life such as different wearing robes, different monastic training or education system and so.

Three generations have already finished before my Burmese eyes.  I see many of my seniors have disrobed after they finished University. It always makes me the question of why. I am from west of Myanmar. Buddhist monks in Myanmar are hardly used to disrobing except monks who were given more pressures by military brutal authorities of Myanmar. Perhaps due to cultural gap, let talk about this later on.  After two months, 40 young Buddhist monks including me will graduate from MCU, Chiang Mai Campus. Nobody can judge how many of us will remain as monk, contributing their spiritual knowledge to their society effectively and keeping on seeking their further higher education in somewhere. But I can imagine how exciting they are now. Perhaps like a released bird from cage. I guess that in the first week of December a friend ofmine and I walked to the University, having conversation about our future plans. On reaching at the University, we sat on the branch; continuing our conversation. Then, I put my very curious question to my friend. What do you think young Buddhists monks disrobe after they finish University? He answered me with laughing. No energy to control “temptation.” And he said to me that I should ask my other class mates. So, I interviewed some of my friends in the class room today, 26,12,2011.

Q:      What do you think young Buddhist monks disrobe after they finish University?
A:      I think they cannot control temptation, explaining six sense organs – ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Suppose that three days a week we go back our temple from Monk Chat around 7.30 pm. On reaching in the front of Night Mark, the place of eating or selling clothes or foods, etc. we see many students from Chiang Mai University, are eating, sitting on the chair, walking along road, and talking happily, while other are selling and buying beautiful clothes. What are we supposed to do with that? We are in the same age of them but keep us separate from them. And many things surrounding us are attractive to us and are likely to be saying that we monks are out of the modern world or that world.

Q:      Do you think they disrobe due to only temptation?
A:      No, they want to help their family. And some follow their friends- old generations.  Many of friends came to study here. When they finish University, they go back to Laos, and disrobe. They do not disrobe in different temple but disrobe in the same temple by group. We see that it looks like very happy. Then, most of them get a job in NGO and earn good salary. Therefore, new generations are very proud of them. Moreover, they can help their families who are supposed to be poor. They are supposed to be clever than other guys in their communities so that they are warmly welcomed by people in that communities.
Q:      Would you like to add something else?
A:      Yes, in my experience, nobody in this world does not like freedom, so as I want to get more freedom as a free citizen, as well as other monks. Whatever I do, and eat and wherever I go, I always have to try to get right intention otherwise I am just like committing commitments. Thus, I do not feel that I am free man even if I am a good citizen of free or democratic Buddhist land.
After we have talked, I was remained with wandering mind, sitting on the branch alone and soon settled off a wandering journey to monks in Myanmar. Many of my friends, having studied only Buddhism under pressure of both strict teachers and brutal law of previous Burmese government, have disrobed due to being cracked down of Saffron Revolution led by Buddhist monks in September,2007 and went to labor in another countries such as Thailand and Malaysia, lacking of human right or labor right. Where are they supposed to use monastic knowledge and education? I assume that they know Buddhism rather than monks who are studying with me in the class, and perhaps realize how to contribute Buddhism to the society.  But Sadly due to being cracked down, they had to disrobe even if they intended to monk forever. In addition to that, they did not have any skills to enter into a practical life. I want to say for certain that they did not have any opportunities to study other subjects or languages except Buddhism. Monks in Myanmar are allowed to study only Buddhism and take compulsory exams. After they have completed particular exams, they can study English but hard to find a place to live. 
Several times I requested some abbots for letting me live at their temples and study English. All rejected me and said that English is just a slave language. If I studied it, I would be a slave too. Anyhow, I tried to find a place to live, working some temple works for a resident abbot.  When I started up leaning English, I have faced so many obstacles but tried to my best to get in MCU where I have been taking several subjects such as contrastive Studies of English and Thai, Seminar in Buddhism in English, independent Study on English, English for Public Relation, Important Places of Religion in Thailand and Dharma Talk and Meditation in English major. I take different subjects in each year.
Compare my Burmese friends (who have already disrobed) with my current friends, class mates who are almost ready to disrobe and contribute their knowledge or experience from University in practical life. My Burmese friends were very unlucky. It is incomparable that putting their efforts into Buddhist studies is much than university student monks, my friends, but result is totally different. My friends in the same class disrobe and have a chance to get a good job because of their skills and they are warmly welcomed by their communities.  My Burmese friends, who have studied only Buddhism under our bad education system, unwillingly disrobed and went to hard labor, being lacking of labor right. If they go back to their communities without money, they will sadly be treated as untouchable caste. Such communities are bitter for my friends. I am also the person who hates such community so much.
(I am really so sorry for my friends who unwillingly disrobed and became hard worker, not smart workers)

Sopheak from Cambodia
We sit very closely in the class room. After the first class, I turned right before him and started up interviewing him.
Q:      Friend, are you sure to disrobe?
A:      Without hesitation, why not? I am 100% sure.  There are so many things that I want to do as layperson. First of all, I want to go out with girlfriend. I became a novice since in my young age. I have sacrificed my entire teenage life time which is supposed to be best of all human. I do not yet have any experience about dating girlfriend. These things are also supposed to become for human being. I am one of those types of human, I somehow should have some.  As the nature of young boy, I think I should have some experiences about dating girlfriend. Thus, I cannot keep myself from entering into practical life.
 Secondly, I intend to earn money on my own. I am sick of being a dependent life. I am here due to my parents. When I am out of here, I should be with them, helping and taking special care of them as much as possible. Perhaps I will be appreciated by people in my community if I earn good salary when I disrobe. They will tell me about my good income and look after my fairly elder parents. But perhaps if I do not have any jobs as lay person, they will tell me as if I am an evil, bringing misfortune into my family.
 Thirdly, I want freedom: freedom of going as I wish freedom of eating more delicious foods that I have never had as monk at day and night whenever I am hungry. Moreover, I want to involve in more social works that I cannot involve as a Buddhist monk in my country. Finally, I wish to have my own family. I love bringing a baby up. Thus, I am expecting to disrobe.
Moving to a next monk, Atisak from Thailand

Q:      Hello friend, are you ok if I interview you why you want to disrobe?
A:      Ohhh, Ok. Nothing is problem.
Q:      Ok. Please tell me why you would like to disrobe.
A:      I am only one son in my family. If I am a monk forever, nobody will take care of my parents so that I want to disrobe. And, my family owns a large farm. I am the only one who should look after both my parents and farm. Additionally, I intend to build guest house. If you visit my province, Mae Hong Son, please visit me. I will be very pleased to see my friends again.
Q:      What you do not like being a monk?
A:       I am very boring of doing same things day to day and also sick of being a city monk. (Monk, wearing saffron robes and living in City, are called City Monk, while other live in the forest, wearing a little dark robe and are called forest monk.)  But the most difficult is that I do not like to go to forest temple. (Laughing)Then, monks are not allowed to work, as well as not getting girlfriend. So, I want to have these things as lay Buddhist boy.

Q:      What do you like being a monk?
A:      I like being a monk because I can get a good education, without being spent more money than lay person. As a Buddhist monk, I can control my temptation or anger which is very hard for everyone.
Q:      Do you think about Buddhism in Thailand will decline if young Thai Buddhist monks disrobe?
A:      No, I do not think Buddhism in Thailand will be declined because young monks disrobe. Disrobing is just a tradition in Thailand. There are many seniors who have completed their PhD in other countries such as India, USA and SriLanKa and they disrobed. Some become university lectures, while other is also teaching to Thai Buddhists and foreigners. That is also propagating Buddhism. Whether or not Buddhism in Thailand will be declined is up to lay Buddhist. If there is no longer Buddhist practitioners, Buddhism will be declined.  There is no discrimination in our Thai society. Suppose that I disrobe and go back to my village. I will be warmly welcomed by my village community because they know I have studied not only Buddhism but other modern education.  And also, they understand that I am not bad atmosphere for my community. I will try to my best to help my community with my spiritual knowledge. For example, young teenage smoke and drink alcohol or bear. I think they do not seem to know bad effects from drinking alcohol, so also not knowing what Buddha taught about drinking. Thus, I will attempt to be the best example of my community.
Q:       Is there anything you want to add?
A:      one more thing that I love being a monk is that we have to cut so much materialism that is caused of distritration of our daily life. If one wants to possess more than he needs, it will make him suffer because he cannot get what he wants.
The last monk I interview with today is PraSompong from Chiang Rai, southern Thailand.
Q:      Hello, Friend Sompong, How are you doing?
A:      I am pretty well. Thanks.
Q:      What is your plan after you finish University?
A:      I want to continue my MA. If I have such a degree, I will have more chances and able to work for my society when I disrobe.
Q:      Oh, you will also disrobe?
A:      Absolutely.
Q:      What is advantage of being monk?
A:      I get a lot of experiences from studying with my international friends, as well as good education. To my knowledge, education is the key to get success in our life. If I get good education, I will have more opportunities of a result, I can look after with my parents rather than other ordinary boys. Moreover, I have started up my aid project to help needy children surrounding my village, as well as to poor people. I am the only one to continue my aid project so I should keep up with my further study. Eventually, I do not need to work on my own, but I have some supporters who really want to help my education.
Q:      Oh, sounds great!!!! By the way, what will your supporters think if you disrobe?
A:      I think they are happy. They understand young Buddhist monks in Thailand, after they have finished their university, usually disrobe. But they still provide us. We should think there are so many social works that we can do as lay Buddhists if we are clever a Buddhist monk, we have to care about whether or not it is suitable for us. Lay Buddhist can do social works that Buddhist monk can do, as well as they can do more social works that Buddhist monks cannot do. Therefore, I have made up with my mind to disrobe or go back into warm heart of my parents.
Q:      What is disadvantage of being a monk?
A:      Traditionally we are restricted from outside world. We do not have freedom as ordinary boys. They can do so many things which I cannot do as a young Buddhist monk. Suppose that they go out with their girlfriends so do I someday.


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