By Mahendra De Silva –
Sharmini Serasinghe as usual has written a thought provoking and interesting article on child ordination in Sri Lanka. I agree with some of the reasons she gives to explain why it is wrong. I myself was fully against it for a long time until I change my views after speaking to some learned monks on the subject. The purpose of this article is to look it from a different angle and suggest the best possible way this could be accomplish to satisfy everyone, if a child really wants to ordain as a priest at any age.
First of all if we take the 10 training principle Sharmini has provided, I do not think it could do any harm to a child if they decide to accept and follow the precepts.
- I undertake to abstain from harming or taking life
- I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given
- I undertake to abstain from any sexual contact
- I undertake to abstain from false speech
- I undertake to abstain from the use of intoxicants
- I undertake to abstain from taking food after midday
- I undertake to abstain from dancing, singing, music or any kind of entertainment
- I undertake to abstain from the use of garlands, perfumes, unguents and adornments
- I undertake to abstain from using luxurious seats
- I undertake to abstain from accepting and holding money
Sharmini claims that abstaining taking food after midday will harm a growing up kid. But if we see the Samanera monks in temples, most of them appear to be healthy and happy. We hardly see any sign of malnutrition on them. It is a fact that most of the kids (except for the kids living in extreme poverty) eat much more than their requirement. The parents in general provides maximum for their kids and they want them to be happy at any cost. This desire very often spoils our kids. Since there are no restrictions in eating not only kids, even adults overeat and have to face obesity and other health problems. Human body is quite capable of managing with 2 meals if the mind can be trained to accept it and be happy with it. If a Kid could undergo this training happily it is a discipline that would help him throughout his life. It would also be an achievement which even adults find it difficult to practice.
We should not forget that Buddha ordained his own child Rahula at the age of 7. I, myself was confused why he did that for a long time. But now I realized that Buddha did it because he thought that is the best gift that could be given to his Son. As ordinary people we think happiness comes only with pleasure we are craving to enjoy all the time. We believe that, having fun, getting a great job, earning money, getting a partner, children, reputation are the purpose of life and it would give us real happiness in life. But in Buddhism and in reality all these will be impermanent and would lead to increase in suffering. Only way to find real happiness is by developing the mind though the practice of 8 noble paths and understanding 4NT. Sharmini questions how can a child of 7 years understand these concepts even adults do not understand it properly. My answer is that understanding is a gradual process that comes with the practice and discipline and the earlier you start the process easier it would be. Pleasure is like glue that when touched, it will be difficult to come out of it. The more you experience it more you want it. It will be a herculean task or swim against the current if someone wants to get rid of desires after starting to enjoy it. It is always easier to train and discipline as a kid than as an adult. The chances of success are more.
Sharmini is questioning what gives one the right, including parents, to commit these innocent and trusting young, to a life-sentence of deprivation.
As far as I know whenever a kid is ordained it is done with the consent of the kid. It is possible that in addition to the attention and respect a kid may also want to ordain to avoid the misery at home due to the poverty. Someone can argue that child at age seven does not have the capacity to analyze everything to decide what is best for him. I suggest that National Child Protection Agency should involve in this process to investigate the request before ordaining the kid. They should be satisfied that child’s desire is genuine and has not come with outside influence. Then Agency should follow closely and monitor the progress of the ordained Kid. Temples that have Samanera monks should be routinely visited by NCPA officials to ensure that no abuse is taking place. I also believe that Samanera monk should have the freedom to disrobe at any time he feels doing it. NCPA officials should explain these to Samanera monks. The Chief Priest who ordained the monk should agree in writing to that effect.
It is a social problem in Sri Lanka that majority view the disrobed person as an outcast. People do not look favourably on people who have disrobed. I would condemn this attitude more than ordaining kids. Many Buddhist countries in Asia including Thailand, routinely allow parents to ordain their kids in temples for period of time. Some of these kids decide to continue the priesthood. Others go back to normal life after a period. In these counties people regard it as an added qualification if someone has been ordained as a monk even for short time. It shows that person has undergone training and discipline in life. People would have a respect for the person who has sacrificed the lay life even for a short time.
It is cruel for society to have a prejudice against disrobed monks. If we can change this attitude it will create an environment where any priest or Samanera could disrob and start an ordinary life if they no longer able to continue the life as a priest. This change in thinking will encourage parents to ordain their kids for some periods to make them discipline.
We all know the problems of the modern society. Very often both parents go to work. Most of the time kids hang around with their friends or neighbours. If there is no proper supervision, Kids always get attracted to television, video games, violent movies, many electronic devices, bad companies and even to drugs.. We hear horrible stories where mother going abroad and children are abused by drunkard father, relatives or friends. Many kids in our country live in poverty or in troubled homes. Stress and neglect at home take an obvious toll on kids as they grow up. Many decades of research have documented the psychological consequences in adulthood, including struggles with depression and difficulties maintaining relationships. Now studies are finding that a troubled home life has profound effects on neural development. In my view a temple environment is far more desirable for such kids, provided they have a desire to be a monk. We only hear bad stories, but I know there are great devoted Monks who look forward personally the development of the Samanera monks in his charge. These Samanera monks get a balanced education and even have facilities to expand the knowledge on Philosophy and Languages and continue studies in higher levels. Sharmini should know that most of the senior Priests in Vajirarama, including Ven Piyadassi, her favorite monk was ordained when they were kids.
In conclusion I suggest that if parents and kids of any age agree, kids should be allowed to be ordained after a proper investigation by NCPA. Kids who want to ordain should be informed that it is their right to disrob whenever they feel uncomfortable in continuing the priesthood. NCPA should monitor the development of the Samanera monk. If for some reason a Samanera monk decides to leave the priesthood, NCPA should step in to ensure that a smooth transition takes place to normal life. I believe that majority of the kids who are ordained spent a happy priesthood and work honestly and with dedication to attend the purpose of priesthood. We all condemn extremist Buddhist monks and some distorted ways Buddhism is practiced in Sri Lanka. However I believe still there are large number of good Buddhist monks and temples who are doing a noble service by spreading correct message of peace and compassion to the people.