Exactly twenty years ago today (February 7, 2001), I followed through with my decision to ordain with lifelong intentions. Although I am only 14 vassa because of a re-ordination ceremony, this day means more to me than my very own birthday. This day was also the day I got my name.
Today, I not only have the monk name Bhikkhu Subhūti, but I also have an actual legal passport name of Bhante Bhikkhu Subhuti as well as other essential ID’s too. I remember when I came to Pa-Auk still dressed in white anagārika robes that I got at Wat Pah Nanachat in Thailand when Myanmar was still an embargo state. There were about 120 monks total at Pa-Auk and just a handful of foreigners. Today, (without a pandemic) that number has grown in Mawlamyine to a rolling average of 600 monks in addition to the monks at 60 or so branch monasteries.
After I changed my tourist visa into a residential visa and sort of getting my parents’ ordination permission in the bag, I was ready to ordain. Sayawdawgyi, who was simply known as Sayadaw then asked me when I wanted to ordain. I replied, “On the Full-Moon Day!”
Sayadaw replied and said, “Awe! That day is very busy.”
For me, it was like a wedding day. I wanted it to be special, so I responded with the magic words that my grandmother taught me, “Please?” and the deal was settled. Little did I know that this was the Pa-Auk Maha-dāna day and also when the annual meeting of teachers occurs. The Full-Moon Day of February is the busiest day for Pa-Auk each year. However, I said the magic words and Sayadaw made the arrangements.
I ordained on the Full-Moon Day of February 7th, 2001. A Bhikkhu ordination is a two step process. The first step was to become a novice monk and then later that day, I would become a full monk. Because it was so busy, the first ordination was arranged at 4:00 am early in the morning at the Alms Giving Hall Buddha. (The Dining Hall did not exist then.) I was ordained along with a Singaporean temporary monk who would stay as a novice monk and then disrobe shortly after. Later that day, I would take on the remainder step of full ordination as a bhikkhu right before the recitation of the monk rules in the main meditation/ordination hall. This was a very rare procedure. Normally ordinations are held in smaller ordination halls. However, there was no other time to do it if it were to be done that particular day. I wanted “special” and I certainly got it! There were 198 bhikkhus that day because there were many visitors including the Pa-Auk teachers who had come for the meeting. It was like a long awaited dream come true. Here is an excerpt from my book Going For Broke that describes how I got my name:
Immediately after my early morning novice ordination, I realized I had no name. “Sayadaw, I have no name!” I desperately told him as he was about to leave the room. He looked at me for a few moments and then asked if I preferred mettā jhāna (samādhi based on loving-kindness). I thought, “Wow! Mettā Jhāna! Surely, since I have just ordained, he knows I do not have the attainment of loving-kindness samādhi. He must be referring to my new name, but Mettā Jhāna is quite a heavy name to have. Nevertheless, I will accept whatever name he gives me.”
“That would be okay,” I answered with the sound of
confusion in my voice. He knew I did not understand his question correctly, so he asked me again, and I replied in the same way. He then told me my new name. My teacher then explained that the original Venerable Subhuti. was most known for being “top-top” in mettā jhāna samādhi! I like my new name, and I hope I can live up to it.
I really love this life and I don’t really see any other life for me. I am sort of like a fish out of water. I am one who has always swum against the stream, looking for a place where I can rest.
And so that is how I got my name and I do try to live up to my name. I have modeled the way I do alms round based on the ancient monk I was named after. He would practice loving-kindness before he received food at each house. Below is a recent post that explains how I practiced in Kaua’i, Hawai’i. I am happy with my life 20 years later in a similar way. I hope this way of life lasts for as long as life itself lasts. So far, so good.
Further Reading: This book below explains the process of how I became a monk. It is a free download. It is a hit or miss book, but the type of people who like this blog usually like this book.