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  • Child Monks

    I recently read "Nujood Aged 10 Divorced" and I was just amazed at the ignorance and brutality of it all. I was thinking it was just a problem that Muslims have until I saw a picture of a Buddhist child monk on a calendar I have.
    I realize that child monks aren't married off, but really it is the same thing. At the age of 4 or 5, are they really able to decide?

    As a western Buddhist, I really am embarrassed about child monks. I am thinking it may be time to protest this act especially since after doing a bit of research I noticed how many cases of abuse there are. It isn't a Catholic problem anymore.

    What can we do?
    What age does the Buddha say that a person can become a monk?

    Thanks,

    Kendra

  • #2
    Dear Kendra,

    That's a very interesting point you are raising. I have been so used to the idea of young novice monks ("child monks"), I have never even considered it may be problematic.

    According to the Buddhist monastic Vinaya (the rules of conduct and procedure for monks ad nuns), a boy (and by extension presumably also a girl, although I am not aware of the existence of young novice girls) may be ordained as a novice monk when he is old enough to scare away crows. This is usually taken to be 7-8 years of age. And you are right, abuse is certainly not unheard of, although I do not know how prevalent it is. Perhaps this would be an interesting area for research.

    Again according to the monastic rules, one may not ordain as a bhikkhu (a fully ordained monk, as opposed to a novice monk) until one is 20 years of age. This rule was laid down because anyone under 20 cannot be expected to have sufficient self-control to live monastic life. But since the novice precepts in most material respects are identical with those of a fully ordained bhikkhu, one may wonder why a young child should be allowed to ordain.

    Further, there is the problem of whether it is right to force anyone into a religion they have not chosen of their own free will. You cannot be expected to know whether you are a Buddhist - let alone whether you want to live monastic life - until you are quite mature (late teens perhaps?). Considering that freedom of religion is considered a basic human right, could it be that ordaining someone at such a tender age even goes against our contemporary standards of ethics?

    In Australia the ordination of young novices is rare, and I believe the same is true of other Western countries. At Bodhinyana Monastery we have never ordained anyone under the age of 20. Nevertheless, it may be appropriate to lay down clear guidelines in this area. In many parts of Asia, however, novice ordination is culturally accepted, and the efforts required to change attitudes would be significant. You have certainly started an interesting debate!

    With metta.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Ajahn Brahmali View Post
      Further, there is the problem of whether it is right to force anyone into a religion they have not chosen of their own free will. You cannot be expected to know whether you are a Buddhist - let alone whether you want to live monastic life - until you are quite mature (late teens perhaps?). Considering that freedom of religion is considered a basic human right, could it be that ordaining someone at such a tender age even goes against our contemporary standards of ethics?
      I'm sure they've already been indoctrinated into being a buddhist by their buddhist parents. So the question is not one of being forced into a religion, but one of being forced into a lifestyle. For example, it is considered socially acceptable to force children into attending school, and this probably extends to forcing children to attend boarding school if that is what the parents desire. I presume it would be considered socially acceptable to use any level of coercion necessary to force a child - including the children of others - to attend school, alternatives like homeschooling notwithstanding.
      Perhaps forcing a child to be a novice monk, could be compared with forcing a child to attend boarding school. Really I think an argument can be made, that if one is ethical, the other is also ethical. Also I believe children are often forced to become novices so that they get the four requisites and an education, in a way which is less burdensome to the parents. I feel this comparison is at least legitimate in cultures where ordination is not considered to be "for life". If the child is free to leave the monastic order when they become a teenager/young adult and interested in girls or a worldly career, then I don't really see what harm has been done (assuming the monastic environment is a wholesome one). If on the other hand they are expected to remain ordained for life, then it could be argued that they miss out on a lot of potential life experience, which could even be harmful to their prospects as a monk (because they are plagued by the "grass is greener on the other side" idea). I confess here to having very little knowledge of how it's actually done in Buddhist countries - particularly the case where children are ordained - but I think even in countries like Sri Lanka where there is the "for life" expectation, the same level of expectation is not put on those who were "ordained for an education".

      That's all regarding coercion. There is also the matter of a child who wants of his own volition to be a novice and live in a monastery. Legally children below the age of consent are not expected to be able to know what is good for them. So actually this factor should be immaterial. Novice ordination is either a "good thing" or "bad thing" and this is independent of the child's desires. This can be compared with school which is reckoned a "good thing" whether a child is very happy to be there, or exceedingly resentful. In practice, in many countries, a child probably gets a better education in a monastery, so for the child who wants to be there, there are very negative points to raise (except perhaps the parents clinginess) . It would be a more interesting question if novices got an inferior education to ordinary children. Anyway in spite of law and other arguments, I think a child's wish to decide his or her direction in life should be respected if it's not a disastrous choice and maybe even then ("better to let people make their own mistakes" principle).

      I think I would have been perfectly happy growing up in a buddhist monastery and I think it would have been most conducive to my final choice of life-career (and I have a very negative view in general towards school!). So I might be a little biased on the matter, but those are just my thoughts on the matter.

      Metta,
      Nandiya.

      Comment


      • #4
        Buddhism had survived for many centuries without the support of a written word. Then The scriptures were burned from time to time. One can argue that the Dhamma is something which exists on its own. But the lineage of Buddhist monks is part of this Dhamma - or rules of reality.

        So the children monks had served a part in this historical journey, not knowing it themselves. I am sure many monks later on, think of their ordination as a wonderful experience. This seems to be part of what Bhante Nadiya is saying here. It is great in pointing to us of the effects of many things we take for granted. Effect of schooling being one.

        Comment


        • #5
          From my personal observations over 40 years of visiting Thailand, as well as being married to a Thai and being interested and reading about traditional customs, I can say the following:-
          In Thailand it is a tradition that all men should if possible be ordained for a period in their life (customarily for one rains retreat - but in practice (these days, if at all) often only a day or so).
          Also if a close relative dies, quite often a boy may spend some time at the temple in honour of (to make merit for) the deceased.
          In addition, traditionally many poor families, especially in rural areas, sent their sons to the temple for an education "free of charge - but the family was expected to provide food,etc., to the temple; as often there were no government schools in the remote areas. These traditions have persisted over the years but it not as common now as schooling is more universally provided by the government.
          I am not aware of any abuses perpetrated, but human nature as it is, it cannot be ruled out.
          This is just a quick observation.
          With metta,
          Bill Prins.

          Comment


          • #6
            hi All,

            Recently it was in the news that a Thai monk was arrested in 'possession' of 9 boys used for sex.

            http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cn...y-in-thailand/

            You don't have to look far to find this either:

            http://survivor-empathy.blogspot.com...-buddhist.html


            The idea of young boys being sent to temples filled with monks who themselves where sent at a young age to temples is just asking for trouble. I have 3 sons and it doesn't take long to overhear them curiously wondering about girls and sex. Add to that the insane repression of women in these cultures, and it is not a nice picture.

            I'm glad to see that Dhammaloka does not follow in thailand's example in many things, this being one of them. IMO, a new Buddhism is needed, and it will come from the West. I think there is so much cultural baggage the the east has to leave behind that I don't hold much hope for the Buddhist 'establishment' there changing.

            Comment

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