Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.

Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Beneath the Wheel » Thu Aug 18, 2011 3:33 pm

Hello all -

I am wondering if there is a rough standard of knowledge that is required or expected before someone seeks ordination.

Is most of a monk's training in Dhamma undertaken after ordination, or does the formal/self study need to begin far before one takes the robes?

I ask this from a western perspective, and with the expectation that I may consider ordination in the next 3-4 years. I have a good grasp of the basic structure of Buddhism, but as far as terminology/Pali/Sutta knowledge goes, I am obviously far behind many of the very educated posters here.

So I ask, would that preclude me from ordaining? It seems like some of the posters here have an immense knowledge of the Dhamma, and I am wondering if that is the standard by which I should be measuring myself.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby David2 » Thu Aug 18, 2011 3:42 pm

There are people who can tell you more about that topic than me.. but as far as I know you don't need to have much theoretical knowledge when you ordain..

Most important is that you are confident that you can keep to proper practise, that's for instance meditation and keeping to the precepts.
So I guess it would be very good if you knew all the monks' precepts before ordaining.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby ground » Fri Aug 19, 2011 3:05 am

Beneath the Wheel wrote:So I ask, would that preclude me from ordaining? It seems like some of the posters here have an immense knowledge of the Dhamma, and I am wondering if that is the standard by which I should be measuring myself.


Don't confuse worldly education and ordination. I would say that a strong desire to renounce is required for ordination and any "knowledge" that fosters this desire is conducive.


Kind regards
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Beneath the Wheel » Fri Aug 19, 2011 6:35 am

Thanks for your input. I'm also interested if any posters here who have ordained can weigh in on how their training progressed after ordination.

Are there sutta study classes? Pali instruction? I imagined monastic life to include something akin to "formal" education in Dhamma, but I realize now that may not be the case.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Aug 19, 2011 6:57 am

Beneath the Wheel wrote:I imagined monastic life to include something akin to "formal" education in Dhamma, but I realize now that may not be the case.
The operative words here are "I imagined." There can be a lot of fantasy surrounding what it will be like and what to expect, all of which can bump up harshly against the realities of life in another culture.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby daverupa » Fri Aug 19, 2011 12:48 pm

tiltbillings wrote:life in another culture.


One of the better simple descriptions of monastic life.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby appicchato » Fri Aug 19, 2011 3:00 pm

Like everything else in life...it's relative...to who you are, and where you are...

Since your asking from a Western perspective (if you mean Western oriented temples) I would venture to say that yes, there is, since most require lengthy periods of residence (or association) to meet some set of (Western oriented) requirements...

'Level of knowledge' is a relative term in itself...knowing what, and what not, to do (how one carries one's self) as well as when, can be (relatively speaking) as important as what one has tucked in upstairs...

In the Orient, no...
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Beneath the Wheel » Fri Aug 19, 2011 3:12 pm

Thank you all for your replies. I'm sure this varies greatly from one monastery to the next as well. Very interesting.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Bankei » Sat Oct 29, 2011 6:46 am

In general in Thailand no knowledge is necessary. All that is required in the memorisation of the Pali.

After ordaining there is also generally no education formally anyway. It is up to yourself to learn what you want to or need to - such as memorising certain chants. Some Wats have formal programs where you can learn Pali and/or the Thai version of Buddhism but these are optional - especially for a foreigner.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby JackV » Wed Nov 23, 2011 7:08 pm

I am curious about this as well. However my query is to do with the level of meditation experience one requires in advance of ordaining.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Bankei » Thu Nov 24, 2011 12:53 pm

JackV wrote:I am curious about this as well. However my query is to do with the level of meditation experience one requires in advance of ordaining.


None what so ever.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Nov 24, 2011 6:39 pm

From what I've observed knowledge is not important at all. What is more important in terms of prerequisites is teachability, etiquete, deportment, adaptability, and the ability to let go and submit to the training.
"Whenever we feel that we are definitely right, so much so that we refuse to open up to anything or anybody else, right there we are wrong. It becomes wrong view. When suffering arises, where does it arise from? The cause is wrong view, the fruit of that being suffering. If it was right view it wouldn't cause suffering." - Ajahn Chah
"Remember you dont meditate to get anything, but to get rid of things. We do it, not with desire, but with letting go. If you want anything, you wont find it." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Ytrog » Fri Nov 25, 2011 4:42 am

Goofaholix wrote:From what I've observed knowledge is not important at all. What is more important in terms of prerequisites is teachability, etiquete, deportment, adaptability, and the ability to let go and submit to the training.

I agree, but getting along with the monks in the particular monastery would also be nice. They have to decide that they see you fit to ordain and live amongst them.
Suffering is asking from life what it can never give you.


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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby makarasilapin » Fri Nov 25, 2011 6:17 pm

i had been thinking of ordaining for about 3 years prior to last month and visited, and lived at, quite a few monasteries around the world. my advice, if you are thinking of ordaining, would be to take a look at some more controversial aspects of Buddhism, ie. some of the suttas (check out some of the cosmological suttas in the Digha Nikaya). the suttas play an enormous role in the Orthodox Theravada Buddhism. also, check out some of the current Theravada teachers out there instead of relying solely on scripture or the teachings of the deceased. i now only respect one active teacher, after having respected many. this will help narrow down which monasteries you would pursue ordination at. this is also a very important consideration: the monastery. typically, you're going to be living at one location for up to seven years and have little to no influence on daily routine PLUS you'll be living in close contact with other monks and/or layman, and we all know how it feels to be living with people you dislike.

i am fiercely independent and very much dislike double-standards. unfortunately, you're never going to have much independence if you're ordaining in the West (although i've heard of a place in Austin, Texas with opportunity for lots of seclusion, even as a monk) and, in my experience, the Ajahn Chah lineage is rife with double-standards. people may try to convince you that "it is all a part of the training" which is utter BS - your happiness should steadily increase, people should treat you kindly and with respect no matter your monastic "rank", and your meditation should improve through the direct teachings of the abbot, not a tape recorder playing other monastic's dhamma talks, dead or alive.

lastly, consider your family's emotions, no matter how you feel about their emotions...i caused more distress for my mom with my "good intentions" of ordaining than i ever have, or quite possibly ever will...
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Beneath the Wheel » Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:53 pm

Interesting, thanks for your response.

What is it about the "controversial" suttas you think warrants a closer look? Do you feel that a prospective monastic has to come to terms with them as literal truths in terms of cosmology? I have an idea of what suttas you may be referring to, and I'm wondering if you feel that all supernatural claims in the suttas (psychic powers,etc) need to be taken at face value before ordaining.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby appicchato » Fri Nov 25, 2011 8:14 pm

...check out some of the current Theravada teachers out there instead of relying solely on scripture or the teachings of the deceased...


If asked, I would advise the opposite...
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Beneath the Wheel » Fri Nov 25, 2011 9:24 pm

makarasilapin wrote: in my experience, the Ajahn Chah lineage is rife with double-standards..


As this is the lineage I am most inclined toward, do you have any examples you'd wish to share?


appicchato wrote:
If asked, I would advise the opposite...


That seems sensible to me as well. I like to stick to the basics, and look for teachers who reflect that.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby makarasilapin » Sat Nov 26, 2011 12:11 am

i don't think i should have to mention this but a Theravada Buddhist is an Orthodox Buddhist - they rely on the Pali Canon for direction. if you interpret some of the suttas as allegorical, or as later additions that cannot be directly linked to Buddha, then who is to say what is allegorical and not allegorical, or who is to say when this sutta was added or when that sutta was added? if you start interpreting the Pali Canon they way you see fit then the Pali Canon loses some of its authority, doesn't it?

for example, the Aggunna Sutta basically says that humans devolved from devas and that they began to develop sex organs after eating too much rice. clearly, this isn't true - but if you interpret it as allegory then what else in the Buddha's teachings is allegory? i forget the sutta's name, but it is found in the Majjihme Nikaya where Ananda tells the story of Buddha's birth. Ananda says the Buddha was born bloodless, and was immediately walking and talking, and Buddha confirms this. again, clearly this isn't possible. if you interpret it as allegory, what else is allegorical and what is truth? why should we believe that devas and the realm of Four Kings even exist? because Luang Por Maha Boowa says so? because Luang Por Mun supposedly visited deva realms and gave dhamma talks to them? Because Buddha supposedly said so?

if you come to the point where you start interpreting some of the teachings as allegorical then it opens up a whole can of worms. say, if devas don't exist, then what was LP Maha Boowa talking about? could have LP MB and LP Mun been deluded into believing something that doesn't exist? why not?

also, with regards to my comment about finding a current teacher. you're going to be living under the direction and constant attention of a teacher. if you have questions, he will be providing the answers. you're not always going to be able to rely on dead teachings. wouldn't you rather find this teacher that embodies the teachings alive and able to teach you rather than by reading a book?

i won't identify any teachers applicable to my double-standard comment.
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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Nov 26, 2011 1:18 am

Perhaps go and ask potential preceptors...

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Re: Level of knowledge required for ordination?

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Nov 26, 2011 1:42 am

makarasilapin wrote:if you interpret it as allegory, what else is allegorical and what is truth?
Yes, and this the same question Christians struggle with in terms of their Bible.

Also, an allegory is one way of expressing truth.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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