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Buddhist Monks and Novices Are Prohibited From Studying Non-Dhamma Subjects

  • Ordered by the Supreme Sangha Council, Thai monks can no longer sit for a recruitment examination in organisations other than those related to Buddhist affairs e.g. Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, nor can they accept a scholarship, local and international, for courses not related to Buddhism. However, computer and information technology courses and those relating to religious promotion are the exception fields of study in which the monks are allowed to enroll. Any monks violating the order will be expelled from the temple—a harsh penalty similar to excommunication that could lead to the end of their religious commitments.

    It is believed that such a move is aimed at forcing the monks to concentrate on learning the dhamma so as to achieve monastic purity. Yet, studying non-dhamma fields is not harmful. Some subjects, such as understanding comparative religions and other social fields, can help broaden a monk's perspective. Such knowledge, when applied to dhamma, can nurture a well-rounded outlook that can complement their role as spiritual leaders.


    Right to Education of Thai Buddhist Monks

    King Rama V reformed the education system of the monks and novices. He supported monks and novices to study both Phra Pariyatti Dhamma and modern advanced education at the same time. He established Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University in 2432 B.E. and Mahamakut Buddhist University in 2436 B.E. However, not until 2512 B.E. did the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand give an order to endorse both universities as monastic universities. On 21 September 2540 B.E., the government, with the approval of the parliament, gave Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University and Mahamakut Buddhist University the status of public universities funded by the Thai government. The universities offered courses from bachelor’s degree to Ph.D. for both monks and laypeople. The courses are offered in Thai as well as in English.

    Nowadays, Thai monastic education has changed significantly. By including modern education, the current monastic education system is different from the traditional monastic education system since the traditional one only focuses on the aspect of dhamma and Bali language. However, the current one provides education on common Phra Pariyatti Dhamma and higher education and above. The intention of the alteration is for monks to acquire complete knowledge from many aspects including propagating Buddhism for foreigners.


    Thai Monk’s Recruitment Examination

    In the light of the recent order issued by Supreme Sangha Council, many questions are raised regarding the extent of Thai monk’s freedom in participating in the recruitment examination. There has been issuance of a clear scope of examination Thai monks could take, still, Thai monks have several times been regulated of their freedom in any recruitment examination due to the limitation of right to education of Thai monks.

    Presumably, the boundary of Thai monk’s freedom of recruitment examination could be referred to any subject that is affiliated with religious promotion. For subjects not in the scope of religious promotion, Thai monks are prohibited from taking them. Another similar portrayal of restriction to Thai monk’s freedom in education and examination to the recent one was when the Office of Basic Education Commission announced the enforcement of an order issued by the Sangha Supreme Council in B.E. 2538 (1995). This limited Thai monk and novice’s chance in training, enrolling, or taking examinations in courses studied by commoners or non-dharma fields.

    The current law gives the Sangha Supreme Council full power to govern Buddhist affairs, including the power to issue regulations and orders without contradicting the law and the Buddhist Discipline. The recent order made in early October 2021 even implemented more stressful restrictions; monks and novices are forbidden to take recruitment examinations for working in a government agency, except for working in the reserved Buddhist organization as stated in this order.

    The main reason behind this manipulative order is derived from the viewpoint of the Buddhist field itself. According to Phra Rajapariyatmolee, the restrictive order on monk and novice’s freedom of education and examination is considered an efficient one. The restrictions are meant to forbid the monks and novices from becoming overly passionate and distracted in their profession which violates the principles of dharma practice. More importantly, another reason is to prevent the inappropriateness of learning with commoners. Phra Rajapariyatmolee saw that the order did not deprive any human rights at all by saying that “In case of any monks and novices’ disagreement with this order, it is better that they leave the Buddhist field and study on their own.” 

    It can be concluded that freedom of Thai monks and novices are still limited by the freedom of education not only by the law but also the viewpoint of the person in the Buddhist field as well which is considered to be outdated while the society is constantly becoming more developed and oriented.


    Interview Session

    Do you agree with article 4 under the order of the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand in B.E. 2564 (คำสั่งมหาเถรสมาคม 2564)? 

    Monk master: In the past, there was an order written by the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand, which was enforced in B.E. 2534 (1991). The central dilemma was that the monk and neophyte could not study the program to make a career, including medical study, because the monk and neophyte could not act as a layman (laity). Thus, recently in B.E. 2564 (2021), the previous order was amended and later enforced to resolve such a dispute.

    Nowadays, the monks should genuinely gain additional knowledge other than the Buddhism study to continuously adapt to civilized society. Succinctly, Article 4 of this order prohibits monk or neophyte from studying some layman fields of study (วิชาคฤหัสถ์) such as political science and law unless they chose to study those fields in Monastic University (มหาลัยสงฆ์). Monk master gave his opinion on that issue that if we read this order superficially without any Buddhism background, it could be construed that this order of 2564 infringes the right to education of the monk and neophyte. Nevertheless, he adds that if we read article 4 thoroughly, this provision also permits the monks to study technological fields, including other areas specified by the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand. At this moment, this order merely stated the extensive scope of article 4 that it still requires more explanation and secondary law for making it more definite in practice. If the order had the purpose of infringing the right to education, there would be no article 4 of the order at the beginning.

    Moreover, article 4 of this order clearly left the space for interpretation of the term “in accordance with the order of the clergy” except for the examination regarding the competition. Conversely, if there is no secondary law or order enforced, the Monk Master indicated that article 4 of this order subsequently infringes the right to education of the monk and neophyte. Therefore, we could not conclude by now that article 4 violates the right to education of the monk, depending on additional information.

    From the previous viewpoint, what is the reason that the “some layman field of study” is
    limited to only Monastic University?

    Monk master: Until now, there has been no law prohibiting monks and neophytes from studying at Layman University. However, according to the latest order, some fields of study are still limited, primarily legal studies and political science. In Monk master’s opinion, those studies are still limited to monks and neophytes because the monk must fundamentally study Buddhism, and those studies truly relate to layman aspects that may be contrary to the way of life of the monk. Nonetheless, in today's society, the monk should also study other fields to maintain or spread religion and not be taken advantage of by others. Furthermore, the monk should not lead other persons about politics, which are not related to Buddhist principles that are based on neutrality. Another reason is that whenever people say something, there are always disadvantageous people. There are many people who try to connect Buddhism with politics for their advantage.

    Besides, Monastic University has already opened its own name study program consisting of
    four fields of study, which mostly covers all field of study programs provided by Layman
    University, including political science, law, and communication. However, Monk Master adds
    that there is still a need to check on other regulations or secondary law/documents in
    conjunction with article 4 of the order of Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand B.E. 2564.
    Thus, this is to affirm the consistency and clarity of practice and regulation for the monk and
    neophyte.


    Citation

    Limited, B. P. P. C., 'Don't limit monks' (16 October 2021), accessed 25 October 2021, from https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/2198651/dont-limit-monks.

    สมศักดิ์ บุญปู่, 'การพัฒนาการศึกษาคณะสงฆ์ไทย' (23 ธันวาคม 2558) สืบค้นเมื่อ 25 ตุลาคม 2564, จาก https://www.mcu.ac.th/article/detail/14295.

    สำนักงานคณะกรรมการสิทธิมนุษยชนเเห่งชาติ'พระราชปริยัติโมลีแจงมติมส ห้าม'ภิกษุ-เณร'เรียนวิชาชีพ' (14 ตุลาคม 2558) สืบค้นเมื่อ 25 ตุลาคม 2564 ,จาก https://www.nhrc.or.th/News/Humanrights-News/%E0%B8%9E%E0%B8%A3%E0%
    Matichon Online, 'ทนายดัง ค้านคำ สั่งมหาเถรสมาคม ชี้ปิดกัน้ การศึกษา
    พระสงฆ์ ไม่เป็นไปตามธรรมวินัย-ขัด รธน,' (9 ตุลาคม 2564) สืบค้นเมื่อ 25 ตุลาคม 2564 ,จาก


    Contributors

    Chuthathip Pichadul
    Isara Santipong
    Nathat Chongcharoenpanich
    Nitchamon Arunsuwangorn

    Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash

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