By Kapila Abhayawansa –
Every phenomenon in the world can be looked at both positively and negatively. Child ordination too has no exception. Sharmini Serasinghe looking at the child ordination through a mother’s eye has seen completely the negative aspect of it, as she expressed in her letter appeared in the Colombo Telegraph. We cannot condemn her ideas for she presented them through an emotionally constituted state of mind. Emotion is not a trustworthy means to arrive at a truth involved in something. Emotions lead to the prejudices. Truth should be found out by means of impartiality. I am not going to deny the negative aspect of the issue of child ordination as revealed by Sharmini. What I am trying to say is that we must examine both the aspects, compare them and decide whether it is good or bad.
Child ordination in Sri Lanka is not a Mahawamsa– based Buddhist practice. It is reported that a seven years old Sāmanera known as Ngrodha was responsible for the King Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism. It is coming through the history of the Buddha-sāsana starting from the time of the Buddha. One of the stories related to Ven. Sariputta says that advice given by a seven year old Samanera respectfully accepted by Ven Sariputta. There is the rule in vinaya-pitaka which enable monks to ordain even a child. Therefore there is no objection from Buddhist Vinaya for child ordination. For the same reason it is in practice in all Buddhist traditions. In every country where Buddhism became the traditional practice child ordination has been a common occurrence.
The concept of child ordination in my opinion, involves some moral questions. There are two parties concerned in the child ordination namely, parent, and the monk to be teacher or guardian. Moral question on the part of parent is that whether the donation of a child by parent is good or bad. On the part of the monk who is assigned to ordain the child a question arises as to whether it is good or bad for him to ordain a child who has no idea of what is going to happen to him in his life even though parents have given permission.. Both questions really refer to a moral conflict in moral philosophy. In such a case, we can argue in favor of both the aspect of the question. Therefore, looking at the one side only of the equation cannot come to a decision.
When we look at the negative aspect of the donation of the child by the parents one can argue as Sharmani did it, it is not ethically correct to commit a child, to a life-long sentence of deprivation that he never chose for himself, viz from married life, family life, celibacy and a whole host of other taboos, at an age when he cannot understand the high price, he has been called upon to pay. For Sharmini this is not only a child abuse but also a violation of a human right.
When someone looks at the positive aspect of it, he may argue that though the child does not know the gravity of the situation, it is ethically good that the parent donate the child with the intention that the child becoming a monk works for his own spiritual benefit and for the welfare of many. Parents really donate a child to be a monk seeking qualitatively high position of the life of the child which cannot achieve allowing him to lead a normal household life.
Somewhat similar situation can be found when the parent leaves their children in school’s boarding houses. The child of course likes to live in association with his parent having their affection. When the parent leaves him alone in the boarding house he suffers a lot. Parent also does not do that happily. But they have grate expectation about the future life of the child.
. When there are two consequences of the same act it becomes a moral conflict. In such a situation what we have to make a choice. According to the ethical pluralists, there is no purely rational measure to ascertain which is preferable. Hence moral decisions often require radical preferences with no rational calculus to determine which alternative to be selected. On the contrary, some moral philosophers denying the pluralistic view are of the view that values are indeed commensurable as they can be compared by their varying contribution towards the human good. Buddhism also can be categorized into that group.
Once, Prince Abhaya came to the Buddha and asked the following question from him:
“Lord, would the Tathagata say words that are un-endearing & disagreeable to others?”
The Buddha replied: “Prince, there is no categorical yes-or-no answer to that.”
The Buddha wanted Prince Abhaya to understand the circumstances in which he would make a statement that may be disagreeable to the recipient. With this intention the Buddha followed up with a counter question, as follows:
“What do you think, prince: If this young boy, through your own negligence or that of the nurse, were to take a stick or a piece of gravel into its mouth, what would you do?
Prince Abhaya explained: “I would take it out, lord. If I couldn’t get it out right away, then holding its head in my left hand and crooking a finger of my right, I would take it out, even if it meant drawing blood. Why is that? Because, I have sympathy for the young boy.”
Then the Buddha said: “In the same way, prince: In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but un-endearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.
In this episode what is important for us is the state of mind that Prince Abhaya had when he was confronted with the problem of his baby son. Similarly, a parent would have the same motive when he/she donates a child for ordination. As Mahendra Silva pointed out in his article in CT no parent would donate a child for ordination without the consent of the child. In many cases in Sri Lanka parents donate their children when they are forced by the children’s desire to be a monk. On the part of the monk, he also ordains the child with a high moral expectation that the child after becoming a monk he would lead a good moral life and in the future he would take the responsibility of protecting the Sāsana, After entering to the Order when newly ordained monk get used to it he would not feel that he is facing a life-long sentence of deprivation, because the Buddhist Order is not a prison. According to the Buddha’s advice the teacher must have the fatherly affection to his pupils and pupils also must behave as the sons to their teacher.
However, when we consider from the point of view of the Order, ordination of the teenagers is more profitable than that of the elders. Buddha was always concerned with the esteem in which the public held his monastic organization. Such a consideration was vital for its existence and prosperity. In this respect, monk should be endowed with not only Buddhist religious values and qualities but also with the moral manners (Abhisamacarika) which lead to create confidence for those who do not have faith (appasannānam vā pasādāya) and to develop the faith of those who have already faith on Buddhism (pasannānam vā bhiyobhāvāya). Those moral manners can be more easily practiced and get used to them by those who ordain in early ages rather than by those who get ordained in later ages of the life.
All these are valid so long as monks earnestly engage in Buddhist practices. But, in the presence of the evolving deterioration in Buddhist Sangha in Sri Lanka I too have to agree with Sarmini in some respect. Today, majority of the monks in Sri Lanka is no different from the lay people in their life style except in their dress. They do not pay their due concern towards their pupil monks. It is the duty of the monk who is the teacher to his pupil monks to train them in Buddhist monastic discipline. Even before the ordination, a child has to undergo certain practices to get the qualification for the ordination for considerable time under tutelage. Presently it seems that the monks do not give due training to the children who come to the temple for the ordination. Within two three months’ time they are promoted to monk- hood.
Immediately after the ordination without letting them stay under their teacher they are sent to the Pirivena. In the Pirivena education system there is no way to ensure monastic behavior of the young monks. Some directors and the principals of the pirivenas require only the number of the students to increase the grant money from the government available according to the number of the students. After the pirivena education they are admitted to the universities. There they flock together without due direction and behave on their own accord. They do not have any respect to the robe that they are wearing. It is only a dress for them. The respect to the robe (sivura) is only in the mind of the lay people. In this situation, it is not surprising that there arise among them different form of thugs in the names of senā, balaya, rāvaya, urumaya and so on. When there is no respect to the robe received from the Buddha how can there be a respect to the Order. Without respect to the Oder or Buddha Sāsana how can they clime that they are taking the step to protect the Buddha-sāsana. They really implement their hidden agenda in the guise of protecting Sāsana. Under such a situation parents have to think twice before they donate their children to the Sasana.
It is important to mention that there are monks in Sri Lanka who live with shame and fear for the wrong doings and lead a praiseworthy life which is beneficial to them and to others equally. But, unfortunately they too do not come forward to take the necessary action against the miscreants who make the irreparable damage to the Sāsana, when there are enough provisions granted by the Buddha to flush away such impurities from the Sāsana.