The ceremony of ordination as a sramanera or sramanerika
(novice) is conducted on the basis of having taken the lay
precepts of an upasaka/upasika, and rabjung (renunciation,
leaving the householder's life). Then one takes the novice
vow of a sramanera/sramanerika. The ceremony consists of preparation,
actual practice, and conclusion.
Being free from obstacles
To take ordination, a person must be free from obstacles
preventing ordination. If one is free from the obstacles,
he or she may receive the vow. If not, the vow will not be
generated in his or her mind, or if generated, it will not
abide in the mind. Questions regarding a person's suitability
for ordination are asked in the presence of the ordaining
bhikshu. One listens and replies with an undistracted mind.
The questions regard the following:
- One is not a heretic or schismatic.
- One is not under 15 years of age.
- If one is under 15 years of age, one is able to scare
away crows (i.e. one is big enough to scare away a gathering
of big birds.).
- If able to scare away crows, one is not under seven years
- One is not a slave.
- One is not in financial debt.
- One has permission from one's parents.
- If one does not have one's parents' permission, one is
in distant country (i.e. it takes more than seven days to
- One is not ill (with a physical or mental disability
that would interfere with monastic life, study and meditation).
- One has not violated a bhikshuni.
- One is not living as a thief or spy.
- One is not of different views (doubting whether to follow
Dharma or not to follow it).
- One is not abiding in wrong views (non-Buddhist views).
- One is not a hermaphrodite.
- One is not a eunuch.
- One is not a spirit.
- One is not an animal.
- One is not involved with a heretic or schismatic.
- One has not killed one's mother.
- One has not killed one's father.
- One has not killed an arhat.
- One has not caused a schism in the sangha.
- One has not maliciously drawn blood from the body of
- One has not committed one of the four defeats (parajika).
- One is not someone who does not accept the law of cause
- One is not crippled.
- One is not an albino.
- One is not missing any limbs.
- One is not a royal servant or favorite of the king.
- One has permission of the king.
- If one does not have the permission of the king, one
is in a distant country.
- One is not renowned as a violent robber.
- One is not a degraded wrongdoer.
- One is not of the cobbler caste.
- One is not of the lowest caste (blacksmith, fisherman).
- One is not of the lowest caste of worker.
- One is not a being other than a human being.
- One is not a person from the Northern Continent.
- One is not someone who has changed sex three times.
- One is not a woman posing as a man or a man posing as
- One is not a tyrant.
- One does not resemble a person born from another continent
If a person is able to reply to each of the questions, "I
am not," he or she is suitable to be ordained.
Taking the upasaka/upasika vow
This is done in conjunction with taking refuge. Having prostrated
to a representation of the Buddha, regarding it as the actual
Buddha, and then to the preceptor, one kneels with one's hands
in prostration mudra at the heart. The preceptor explains
the proper mental attitude for taking refuge (i.e. caution
regarding the dangers of cyclic existence and faith/confidence
in the Triple Gem). One recites the refuge after the preceptor,
saying that one takes refuge in the Buddhas, the Dharma, and
the Sangha for as long as one lives. At that time, one also
receives the five lay precepts of an upasaka/upasika. Most
important is one's mental attitude, thinking with joy, "I
have now received the lay precepts, and this is my preceptor."
Rabjung (leaving the lay life of a householder)
This is a prerequisite for novice ordination. First one requests
the ordination and a bhikshu (who has been ordained at least
ten years) to be one's abbot. A bhikshu other than the abbot
asks one to prostrate to all the sangha present and to remove
the white clothing of a lay person. He requests the abbot
on one's behalf to be one's abbot and to ordain one. From
then on, one refers to that person as one's abbot. (One removes
the white clothing of a lay person either by changing from
white clothes into monastic robes, or symbolically by wearing
and then removing a white kata.). One takes up the name, dress,
signs, and way of thinking of an ordained one. One should
now have a zen (upper robe; the chogu is not yet needed),
shamtab (lower robe), dingwa (seating cloth), bowl (with a
few seeds or other food in it so it is not empty), and water
filter (The bowl and water filter may be borrowed. The robes
must be one's own.). These are all determined by the abbot
and oneself. Both hold their left hands below each article
and right hands above it, and do a recitation to determine
the article as being one's object of use. It is explained
that the robes are to distinguish one from lay people and
members of other sects and to protect one from insects and
the elements. One should consider them as being only for these
purposes (not for beautifying oneself). The purpose of the
other articles is explained, i.e. the bowl for eating food,
the dingwa to distinguish one as a Buddhist monastic and to
protect the community's property when sitting, the water filter
to prevent killing insects when using water. One is aware
that now one is shaving the head and leaving the householder's
life. One's hair is cut (prior to coming to the ceremony,
one's head is shaved, leaving a small tuft at the crown, which
is cut now), after which flowers or rice are thrown to rejoice
at one's leaving the householder's life.
One prostrates to the Buddha and the abbot, and then kneels.
The abbot advises: "It is excellent to be ordained. There
is a great difference between lay and ordained people. All
the Buddhas of the three times become enlightened only on
the basis of ordination. There are none who do so from the
basis of a lay person. One accumulates infinitely more positive
potential (merit) by taking one step towards the monastery
with the thought of ordaining than do the sentient beings
of the three worlds by making offerings, even of their spouses
and children, for eons. Due to the distractions of lay life,
lay people are unable to accomplish very meaningful or helpful
things for the future. From this, only future suffering can
arise. Through abandoning these activities and having few
possessions, ordained people can cultivate hearing, thinking
and meditating. From this, both temporary happiness and ultimate
nirvana can be reached. One is following in the footsteps
of the Buddha himself." While listening to this advice,
have a mind of faith and belief in the abbot, seeing him as
a wise parent and oneself as the son or daughter.
Upon taking rabjung, one abandons the signs (dress, hair,
etc.) and name of lay life. One takes the name given by the
The actual recitation involves first taking refuge. Then,
one recites "Following the matchless lion of the Shakyas,
from now until I die, I take up the signs and clothes of an
ordained one and abandon those of a lay person." Most
important is to feel strongly in one's mind that one has received
the rabjung ordination.
From now on, one should keep the discipline, wear only the
monastic robes, abandon lay clothes, respect the abbot, not
wear white or black clothes, fringes, sleeves, ornaments,
or jewels, and not have long hair. One should eat at correct
times and see the abbot as a parent (and the abbot should
regard one as if one were his own child, i.e. the abbot helps
to raise the disciple to become strong and healthy in the
Dharma and as a member of the sangha.)
Taking the sramanera/sramanerika vow
Here one requires a chogu (yellow patched robe). One should
be free from the four obstacles:
- Incorrect place, i.e. the Three Jewels should be there.
- Incorrect lineage, i.e. one should not have wrong views
such as not believing in karma, etc.
- Incorrect marks, i.e. one should wear ordained clothing.
- Incorrect thought, i.e. abandon thinking:
- I will take the vow only for a few months or years,
but not for my life;
- I will keep the precepts only in one place, but not
- I will keep the precepts in conducive circumstances,
but not in bad circumstances;
- I will keep some precepts, but not all of them;
- I will keep them when I am with certain people, but
not with others.
The abbot explains the proper motivation, which is the determination
to become free from cyclic existence: "Cyclic existence
is completely unsatisfactory. Any realm one is born into,
any companions one has, any possessions one obtains are unsatisfactory
and do not bring lasting happiness. Therefore, develop the
determination to become free from cyclic existence and to
attain liberation. The method to do this is to take refuge
in the Triple Gem and to take and keep the precepts."
It is very important to have this attitude; otherwise, it
is difficult for the vow to arise.
The vow is then taken by repeating verses after the abbot.
At the end, one thinks strongly that one has received the
vow in one's mind and rejoices.
A bhikshu, who acts as the lopon (acharya), checks and announces
the exact time of ordination. From this, one will know where
to sit in groups of sangha. One should prostrate and show
respect to those who are older in ordination. One does not
prostrate to those younger or to lay people. There is much
benefit from keeping this practice of order and respect.
Having received the vow, one should now try to live according
to it. As the Buddha said:
For some ethical discipline is joy,
For some ethical discipline is misery.
Possessing the ethical discipline is joy,
Transgressing the ethical discipline is misery.
Then repeat some words after the abbot promising to keep
the discipline of the ten precepts (the four root and six
secondary precepts) just as the arhats of the past have done.
The sangha present then say prayers of auspiciousness and
throw flowers or rice. Finish by prostrating to the abbot
and all the bhikshus present.