On Feb 7th, 2001 I took my original ordination with The Most Venerable Pa-Auk Saydawgyi. It was the happiest days of my life and the most important one besides successfully being born as a human and surviving any serious death or injuries. Although there was a small hiccup, it has been 19 years total. I had just finished arranging my residential visa that was said could not be changed from a tourist visa without leaving the country. Since it was a Buddhist country and my desire to ordain was really strong, something worked out. After that, I was free to ordain any single day I chose. When Pa-Auk Sayadawgyi asked me which day I wanted to ordain, I told him that the full moon day would best. He said, “Awe.. that is a very busy day, we cannot do that day.” Not knowing what was really going on that day, I said, “Please?” and Sayadawgyi said that he would try to see what could be done. He rarely says, “no” and that is why he is so well loved.
I ordained as a novice monk early in the morning on February 7th 2001 (like 4:30 am). After about 12 hours, I then ordained in the main meditation hall which is also a Sima (ordination hall). It is very rare for ordinations to take place there and mine was one of them. Because there was a tight schedule, I ended up ordaining right before the Patimokkha (recitation of the 227 monk rules) on the full moon in February which is also called the Mahadana day.
The Mahadana Day or (Great Giving Day) is when all of the special monks from all over Myanmar and world come for an annual meeting. Because everyone is in one place, they chose that day to give donation to all the monks. In other words, all the great monks were at my ordination. At that time, Pa-Auk main monastery (out of maybe 4 branches) usually had around 120 monks. On that day, the number grew to 198. I know this because it says that on my original ordination certificate. Today, there are many branches (I forget but I think it is over 60 in Myanmar plus 25 abroad). The Mawlamyine branch monastery now boasts 600+ monks normally and 1200 during the Mahadana day. That is just monks. There is a floating population of 1200 residents most of the time. Today is my English calendar anniversary and tomorrow, on the full moon will my “moon anniversary.” The full moon day tomorrow is also the Mahadana Day of 2020.
During this special day, we get rice sacks and fill them up with laundry detergent, bath soap, razors, robes and other things. The sacks get filled mostly with bathroom stuff, but sometimes a special gift get slipped in, like a flask or flashlight (torch). Four years ago, one sack was not enough and now we got issued 3 sacks! The times have changed as the Pa-Auk Monasteries get more well known.
After I ordained, I remember the words that Saydawgyi said to me. “Now go sit in the back of the room at the end of the line. You are now the youngest monk in the monastery.” After that, a single monk recited the patimokkha by memory over the loudspeaker. I have done this twice now and I am scheduled for this New Moon of this coming March. I hope I will be ready. I’m still refreshing the chant in my mind after not practicing for two years.
Life in the monastery is much easier than living in Hawai’i, but I do miss it dearly. It was very rewarding to walk around town and share Theravada Buddhism with people who had never seen it before. It was a great experiment to prove that Theravada could exist and survive anywhere with monks following the rules and not using money. However, in Myanmar, I get hot, full and nutritious meals everyday at dawn and 10:30 AM and I have plenty of time for meditation and study. Currently, I do about 6 hours per day of meditation, with additional study and dhamma work outside. The PTS page was quite popular and had over 3500 (real) page hits and 2500+ clicks for downloading the e-books. I am quite happy that people caught on to my work which I distributed for free. Currently, I am working on some anki projects for learning the Pali Language. One such project is available here.
Next year will bring me 20 years (total). However, since I re-ordained, my official age is 6 rainy seasons less. I’m okay with that because I am not ready to be a Mahathera next year. Today, I am now residing at Pa-Auk’s, “Standing Buddha Monastery” in Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar. I hope for many more years to come.