The Monk Life Project is a 30 Day Buddhist Monk Ordination Program conducted in the English Language and held at iMonastery, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The project aims to make ordaining as a Buddhist Monk accessible to people from all over the world, with the length chosen to be around the time most people can take holiday off work yet get the most benefit out of their ordination.

A large team of experienced monks supports the program to make the experience as smooth and relaxing as possible, with the teaching and guided meditations entirely in English.

The program has several phases to it as part of a structured course in meditation, the Dhamma course, as well as in the Monk Life and its Precepts and mindful lifestyle. Before the ordination ceremony itself, when the participants become Buddhist Monks, there is about 10 days to prepare for it.

This first phase of training is held this year at Suk Sawang Meditation Retreat Center in the hills of Chiang Mai, a beautifully well kept garden with panoramic views. It deals with how to live together harmoniously including Buddhist culture such as cleanliness and orderliness, learning about Precepts and Vinaya–the rules and behaviours of monks that create purity in body and speech, both of which support the meditation practice, which is both guided and has tutoring sessions in addition to lectures on the principles of meditation practice.

After the first week, the last few days before ordination have an increased focus on rehearsing for the ordination, a beautiful and sacred ancient ceremony which has many steps to it and this September will be held at Wat Baan Kun, Chiang Mai. The most important Precepts of the Monk are taught, and some days wearing the white sarong to practice the correct etiquette of sitting and standing up with it. The meal times are led by a Teaching Monk too; indeed, one learns again how to speak, walk, sit, eat just as if born again, which is indeed what is about to happen.

Shaving the head is a big milestone in this, in a very moving ceremony the day before ordination, with family and friends cutting the hair first followed by a monk shaving the head. This symbolic act of letting go of the worldly life is very emotional and the first big step in renunciation.

The actual ordination day itself begins with circumambulating the Chapel 3 times clockwise, holding 3 Lotus flowers and incense in one’s hands, to the sounds of praise and worship of the Triple Gem: the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

The ordinands will be led through each stage, as they first become novice monks, and then directly afterwards the full ordination in groups of 3, to officially become Buddhist Monks. This is often the most memorable and proudest day in anyone’s life.

Post-ordination the scenery and focus shifts, moving to iMonastery, the International Forest Monastery, in Papae, Chiang Mai, which is perfectly suited for meditation practice.

With the ordination ceremony now done, the Monk Life experience really begins, with the humbling experience of going on alms-round in the simple village nearby, and eating from the bowl. The meditation sessions get longer and start to bear fruit, the Dhamma lectures go deeper and the understanding becomes clearer, the brotherhood strengthens.

The last week of the program returns to Suk Sawang (for this year), with even more emphasis on meditation, with tutoring to help you overcome obstacles, and a look at Buddhism in general as well as the Great Teachers of the lineage. Then finally there is a winding down, cleaning up and closing ceremonies with some Dhamma to help in the laylife of those who will be returning to it.

For those wishing to stay for another month, the next month is very much a pure meditation retreat, to really go deep, though there will still be at least 1 Dhamma talk per day. The opportunity for longer or even life-long ordination is available for the earnest Buddhist Monk, forming part of this new and growing International Sangha.

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