Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Theravada ordination happens in two stages: (1) novice ordination, (2) higher ordination. Most typically novice ordination is undertaken by youngsters under the age of 20 and full ordination occurs at the age of 20. However after the age of 20 (like me) both can happen in quick succession, at least in the Burmese connection.
Novice ordination involves shaving the head, donning the robes and taking the refuges and ten precepts. It requires only one monk to perform. Since full ordination for nuns died out in Theravada countries, novice ordination is the only option available for nuns in Burma, at any age. At the last minute it was decided that I should take novice ordination on the day before my full ordination was scheduled, in order to simplify a very busy March 10. A small ceremony was planned with Wendy and Aung Ko or our itinerant group in attendence along with two donors and U Lokanattha (from Jamaica), and with U Ariyadhamma giving the Precepts. We went outside to a large community outdoor bathing facility, basically a well-like structure common in Burma, where I got my hair wet and let U Loka shave my head. Of course, I have been shaving my head since April, 2003, when I ordained in Zen, but I had let my hair, or what was left of it, grow for about 3 weeks for just this occassion. The procedure attracted many curious Burmese of all ages, who were of course quite familiar with the procedure, but not so much with the nationality of the main participant. Back inside U Loka helped me put on the lower and upper robes in a side room after U Ariya had ceremonially offered them to me. In the main room the refuges and Precepts were administered in Pali. Tradition requires that this be pronounced precisely. Luckily I and a few others had been studying Pali with Bhante Sumedha back in Austin, but still U Ariya had to correct me a few times, then made me say them in Burmese pronunciation of Pali to boot.
After novice ordination we reported to Sitagu Sayadaw, who would be my preceptor the next day, with me sporting my new burgundy outfit, just like U's Loka and Ariya, as well as Sayadaw. At this time Sayadaw came up with my name as follows: He asked me how long I had been thinking about this reordination. I answered, "For about four years." Then he said, "Usually if someone has a little name they do great things. If they have a big name they do little things." Then he pondered and came up with "Cindita," pronounced "Chin Dee Teh" in regular Pali or "Say Dee Tuh" in Burmese Pali. He says this means, "Great Thinker," sub subsequent research indicates that it means "One who has thought it through." So now approprate things to call me are: "U Cindita" or "Ashin Cindita" (both common forms in Burma), or Bhante Cindita or Venerable Cindita (which mean the same thing), or "Cindita Bhikkhu" or "Hey you, with the peculiar garb." My kids have permission to call me either "Daddy Cindita" or "Ol' Cindita."
I felt like Lawrence of Arabia that evening, testing out my new clothing, except tht mine is much more primative, much like waring a beach blanket in public ... all the time ... forever. Apparently such fasteners as buttons, straps, zippers and velcro just didn't exist at the time of the Buddha, so the outfit stays on more by willpower. In the evening a Burmese family came to the room I share with Aung Ko and immeditately did full prostrations when I walked in. I discovered what it feels like to be a Buddha statue: just plaster but the recipient of so much reverence.
Full ordination involves acceptance into a sangha, a group of at least five monks. (In Theravada "sangha" always specifically refers to a monastic community), after examination of qualifications, and then instruction in the basic parameters of one's vows. One's "instructor" does most of the talking and presents the candidate to the preceptor and sangha. The candidate takes on a set of 227 vows, though only the first four, those that can get you permanently kicked out of the sangha, are explicitly mentioned. My higher ordination was at 7 AM, March 10. Many people had mentioned that this timing was auspicious: It was a full-moon day; it was Sitigu Sayadaw's birthday, and it was the first ordination held in the newly built and magnificent conference center and ordination hall at SIBA. Sitagu Sayadaw acted as preceptor, Ashin Ariyadhamma as instructor, a group of about 110 monks including the students of SIBA as the sangha, and Cinitita in the role of "The Candidate." Also about 30 lay people were present, including all of the Americans and the Burmese in our pilgimage group. I hope that pictures will be availalble on or through this blog after my fell pilgims return Austin on March 20.