The Sangha World in Thailand consists of about 200,000 monks and 85,000 novices at most times of the year. However, these numbers increase during the Buddhist ‘lent’ to 300,000 and 100,000 novices. Young boys may become novices at any age, but a man cannot become a monk until he reaches the age of twenty. He can then remain a monk for as long as he wishes, even for just one day. Three months is more usual, although some choose to remain in monkhood for the rest of their lives.
There are over 29,000 temples in Thailand and the daily routine of the monks in all of them is pretty much the same.
4.00 am – The monks wake up and meditate for one hour, followed by one hour of chanting.
6.00 am – The monks walk barefoot around the neighbourhood while the local people make merit by offering them food.
8.00 am – Returning to the temple, the monks sit together to eat breakfast, then make a blessing for world peace.
Before 12.00 noon – Some monks choose to eat a light lunch at this time. This is the last solid food they are allowed to consume until sunrise the following morning.
1.00 pm – Classes in Buddhist teaching begin. Some monks may attend school outside the temple.
6.00 pm – A two-hour session of meditation and prayer begins.
8.00 pm – The monks retire to do homework.
Besides these duties, all monks are given specific roles to play in the day-to-day running and maintenance of the temple and its surroundings.
After being in the monkhood for several years and demonstrating extreme dedication to both social work and spiritual study, a monk can be promoted gradually until he reaches the Sangha Supreme Council, the governing body presided over by the Supreme Patriach.
All monks must follow 227 strict precepts or rules of conduct, many of which concern his relations with members of the opposite sex. When a monk is ordained he is said to be reborn into a new life and the past no longer counts – not even if he was married. Women are, of course, forbidden to touch monks and should not even stay alone in the same room as a monk. If a woman wishes to offer an object to a monk, it must pass through a third medium, such as a piece of cloth. In fact, monks always carry a piece of cloth for this purpose. The monk will lay the cloth on the ground or table, holding on to one end. The woman places the offering on the cloth and the monk then draws it away.
Thai monks can be seen wearing various shades of robes, from dark brown to the familiar brilliant saffron. There are no rules, but the darker shades are preferred by monks in the Dharmmayuth sect and Thu-dong or forest monks.