Five - Going Forth

Ajahn Ñāniko

Five - Going Forth

One of the services that a Buddhist training monastery provides for the world is the opportunity to renounce the world. In Pāli this is known as pabbajjā, or going forth. In a traditional Buddhist culture like Thailand, there are several reasons why one would leave the household life to spend time as a monastic, such as to make merit for one’s parents, to honor a deceased relative or friend, to study and gain a knowledge of the Buddhist scriptures, or for a young man, to be fit for marriage. But sometimes the aspiration is deeper, and one goes forth out of strong faith in the efficacy of the eightfold path and the possibility of liberation from all suffering. It may happen that one finds no satisfaction in living a secular life and sets out to seek some other way.

At Abhayagiri, the anagārika ordination is a preliminary step before one takes the pabbajjā, the ordination as a sāmaṇera. After wearing white as an anagārika for about one year, one may request this going forth, take the ten precepts, wear the brown robes of a bhikkhu, and receive a new name. For example, on May 6th, Anagārika Josh underwent the pabbajjā and received the ordained name of Yasa, after an early disciple in the Buddha’s dispensation:

There was a clansman named Yasa. He was a rich merchant’s son and delicately brought up. He had three palaces, one for the winter, one for the summer, and one for the rains… Now while Yasa was amusing himself, enjoying the five kinds of sensual pleasures with which he was furnished, he fell asleep, though it was still early; and his attendants fell asleep too. But an all-night lamp was burning; and when Yasa woke up early, he saw his attendants sleeping… It seemed like a charnel ground. When he saw it, when its squalor squarely struck him, he was sick at heart, and he exclaimed, “It is fearful, it is horrible!”

Then he put on his gold slippers and went to the door of his house… went to the city gate… walked to the Deer Park at Isipatana. Now the occasion was one on which the Blessed One had risen early in the night towards dawn and was pacing up and down in the open. When he saw Yasa coming in the distance, he left his walk and sat down on a seat made ready for him. When Yasa was not far from the Blessed One, he exclaimed, “It is fearful, it is horrible!”

Then the Blessed One said, “This is not fearful, this is not horrible. Come, Yasa, sit down. I shall teach you the Dhamma.”

He thought, “This is not fearful, it seems, this is not horrible,” and he was happy and hopeful. He took off his gold slippers and went to where the Blessed One was. After paying homage to the Blessed One, Yasa sat to one side. When he had done so, the Blessed One gave him progressive instruction, that is to say, talk on giving, on virtue, on the heavens; he explained the dangers, the vanity and defilement in sensual pleasures and the blessings in renunciation. When the Blessed One saw that Yasa’s mind was ready, receptive, free from hindrance, eager and trustful, he expounded to him the teaching peculiar to the Buddhas: Suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. Just as a clean cloth with all marks removed would take dye evenly, so too while Yasa sat there the spotless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma arose in him: All that is subject to arising is subject to cessation.” - Maha Vagga I.7

That same evening, Aaron Remington and Dave Getzshman went forth as anagārikas. Dave had served the last two winter retreats at Abhayagiri and stayed on both to help look after the monastery during the coronavirus pandemic and to take on the whites. Aaron, the former Ṭhitābho Bhikkhu, returned with the intention to re-ordain.

The ordination of these two anagārika candidates and one sāmaṇera candidate took place on Visākhā Pūja, the full moon of May, which commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and final passing away. One perception that can be brought to mind on this day is the perception of forest. The Buddha was born in a forest, reached awakening in a forest, and passed away in a forest. For anyone who goes forth into any level of ordination, they train in developing a taste for living in the forest, in a small hut with few personal possessions. As time goes on and a practitioner becomes steeped in this perception of forest with its fresh air and birdsong, the hot and chattering mind can start to become cool and quiet.

That is not to say that living in the forest among the fresh air and birdsong is easy. Without distractions, as our mind starts focusing inward, it can fan the smouldering embers of the past or set its hope on attaining something in the future. Sitting in a little hut in a beautiful location can be a lot of suffering. But when we catch ourselves with mindfulness, we can come back to the present, neither too internally nor externally focused. With mindfulness, the perception of forest can be re-established and a feeling of tranquility can arise.

Whether one is living in the monastery as a guest or taking on the anagārika training, one is taking on the eight precepts, which form the core of morality and renunciation of sensual pleasures. When one takes the pabbajjā, one determines to follow the ten precepts. However, in reality the ten precepts only add one additional precept to the eight precepts, the precept of not receiving or using money. The seventh of the eight precepts (refraining from entertainment, beautification, and adornment) is split into two separate precepts, thus the total of ten. The precept of giving up money means that one has an alms bowl and becomes fully dependent on the lay community for support. There is a Thai idiom which plays on the Thai word for alms bowl, “baht” being the same as the word for the Thai currency unit, “baht”: “When you ordain and give up the use of money, you only need one baht. This one baht will be your life’s support for as long as you are ordained.”