In Bangladesh, a short term monastic experience is highly regarded by every male Buddhist. Some join the monastic order permanently as a result, while others may give up the aspiration of monkhood to fulfill personal obligations.
In 2003, after receiving permission from my parents, I entered into monastic life at the age of 15.
It was on 25 June 2003 that the Venerable Shilananda, who is a relative of my family, conferred on me the status of a novice. The ceremony was held at a holy Buddhist site called Bura Gosai’s Temple in Chittagong.
One of the monks shaved off all my hair to signify the surrender of lay thoughts and practices. White garments were then donned on me to represent purity and goodness. Afterwards my relatives and friends accompanied me to the hall of the shrine and we went through the whole novice initiation program.
My late mother felt keenly the pain of detachment during this ceremony. I still recalled vividly her despondency and grief when I followed the footsteps of my teacher into his temple.
Prior to becoming a novice, I was excited at the prospect of starting a new chapter but, after just a couple of days in the temple, I was homesick and dubious about leaving home for a temple.
The daily routine was very rigid. My day began at 4 am with an hour long meditation practice, followed by 30 minutes of chanting together with other monks. We then have our individual roster duties to clean the temple and the courtyard and this was followed by breakfast. At the end of breakfast which was communal for all monks and novices, we prayed for blessings for world peace.
Our main meal of the day was at noon. In true Theravada tradition, this was the last consumption of solid food until sunrise in the following day.
As I was new to the order, special classes were arranged for me in the afternoon to learn Buddhist teachings including suttas (doctrines) and vinaya (monastic rules). I ended my day with another one and a half hours of meditation and chanting in the evening.
My specially assigned duties were to conduct day to day running and maintenance of the temple building and its surrounding grounds.
Despite my initial unrest, after applying strong dedication to both academic and and spiritual studies, I settled into the routine of a novice life and my mind began to settle.
This was the fulfilment of a personal goal since childhood.
My grandmother Kali Tara Barua has played a significant part in influencing me. We lived in close proximity to the village temple and she would attend morning and evening chanting sessions and always took me with her. The temple abbot, the Venerable Dharmadarshi, taught me recitation of Pali suttas and many religious rites.
These practices included the observation of uposatha – a Buddhist day of religious awareness, to help followers to be more conscious of the eight precepts: abstinence from injuring life, theft, sex, lying, intoxicants, as well as fasting from solid food outside proper hours, and refraining from dancing and singing, wearing garlands and perfumes, and reposing on luxurious sleeping surfaces.
We would increase uposatha to include additional days – on the day of full moon, new moon, quarter moons, and certain additional days in the cultural calendar.
During this time, I was the youngest devotee to be a receiver of the eight precepts in our temple and I also practiced meditation and attend Dhamma talks. At home, I would undertake the adherence to five precepts in front of the image of the Buddha.
All in all, such devotion as a child and teenager guided me towards becoming a novice and a monk at an early age.
Despite my mother’s reluctance for my aspirations to be met, I have persevered and, although it is not ideal that I have yet to receive her wholehearted support, I am pleased that my convictions and determination have not wavered!