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Monks and Nuns

Early every morning all over Thailand,  bald-headed monks with their saffron yellow cowl move silently from house to house according to a fixed tradition to beg for food for the day. It appears the roles are switched as the one who offers food is thankful to the one who accepts it and not the one who begs  is thankful that he received something. This is because of kharma and a person can acquire merits especially by giving food to a monk.
After returning to the Wat the monks take their first meal together in silence at about 11 am. This is the second and last meal of the day - they are not allowed to eat between noon and the following morning, only to drink. This practice is only followed by the Mahanikai Order. However, in the smaller and stricter Thammayut Order founded by King Mongkut, the monks only eat once a day.

The main part of the day is spend in a fixed routine consisting of meditation, prayers and ceremonies. In addition , many of them have to accomplish worldly obligations as well  as to hold classes for primary schools.
In order to be trained in abstinence, self discipline and meditation, every Thai man  traditionally becomes a monk (bikkhu) for normally three months, once in his life. They usually stay in the monastery to prepare for the important steps in life. For example, entering in professional life or marriage. By joining the community of monks (sangha), everybody has to submit to the traditional law regarding life in a monastery. Altogether there are 227 rules in the list of  vinaya to obey which are recited to all  monks twice a month.
Among them there is  poverty, chastity and also a peaceful attitude; furthermore there are rules concerning life outside  the monastic settings such as not to kill any life, not to steal, not to lie, not to commit  adultery and not to consume drinks which intoxicate. It is possible to leave the monastery , even before the agreed time.
A monk always stands above a layperson. He belongs to the Buddhist elite - for Thai people it is normal. Foreigners usually have different beliefs and limited knowledge often misunderstand this culture.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of certain things when meeting a monk, so that he does not feel embarrassed.

- As a respected person you have to let the monk always go first. People give him way on the road, especially in the morning when he is begging for food; here you should not talk to him either.
- If you are invited for food and there are monks as well, you should only start eating when the monks have finished already.
- It should be always paid attention to the fact that you sit as much as possible in a lower position than the monk does, which will not be so easy for tall people.
- Offerings for monks should cover the items of “daily needs”. It is not appropriate to give stimulants such as cigarettes or alcohol. Any amount of money has to be given to the monastic donation box.
- Women are a big problem for every monk. Even he can see them everywhere, they do not really exist in his world. They are absolutely taboo for him and every contact has to be avoided. That is the reason why women are not allowed to touch a monk, not even his clothes. This alone would involve a lengthy cleaning ritual. Therefore, if there is any possibility, monks sit while traveling in the bus in the back row, because here it is the least danger to be accidentally touched by a female person.
Naturally, it is not all gold that shines - the same with monks. Especially those monks with “temporary contracts” have difficulties in switching from old habits to the monastic life style with its strict rules.
Sometimes it was the family who was pushing hard and not their own conviction to change jeans for a cowl (f. ex. once we have observed two monks in a bus while they were enjoying a smoke and looking at a sex & crime magazine).
Occasionally there is a monk wearing headphones or there are posters of pop stars in the accommodation of young novices - these are visible signs for a more relaxed attitude towards the monkhood.

Times are changing - still the vast majority of monks keep the vow of Vinaya. In this way, even a senior consultant of a clinic in Bangkok renounces income and career because of his studies of Pali texts.
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