What one would do for an education

By Elizabeth W. Wilson

“Becoming a monk is like summer camp for a week, to become a real man,” our Khmer guide told us as we walked up the steps of Angkor Wat.

Our guide, Yut, was born shortly after the Khmer Rouge regime that brutally murdered his grandparents and forced his parents to get married. Our tour guide’s name, in English, is “Justice.”

Yut was from the countryside, and because there were no good schools after the Khmer Rouge, he was sent to Phnom Penh to become a monk.

At age 13 he became a novice and had to follow the 10 Precepts of being a samanera (or novice monk). He had to refrain from killing, stealing, lying, taking intoxicants, singing and dancing and playing music, wearing perfume or cosmetics, sitting on high chairs or sleeping on soft beds, accepting money, lust, and eating after noon. Yut said that although he had fun with the other novices, he dreamed of forbidden dinners every night for his first three months.

Yut explained that today many Cambodian men become monks for the education, but many eventually return to the non-religious life. He explained that although it used to be compulsory for all men to become monks for longer periods of time, now many men become monks only for a short while.

Yut even laughed as he let us speak on the phone to his friend, a monk of 16 years, who is going to stop being a monk this Saturday after receiving a graduate degree in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Because most religious orders rely upon a person feeling called to that vocation, the practicality of becoming a monk to receive an education surprised me. While many children in districts with bad public schools in the United States go to private schools with religious affiliations, few actually join the a religios order.

While I had always understood monastic life as something that builds your faith and spirituality, until today, I had never thought of it as something that builds your resume as well.


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