Taking the Sramanera/Sramanerika Ordination

A reminder by Lama Sangyay tendzin



The ceremony of ordination as a sramanera or sramanerika (novice) is conducted based on having taken the lay precepts of an upasaka/upasika, and rabjung (renunciation, leaving the householder’s life). 

Then one takes the novice vow of a sramanera/sramanerika. The ceremony consists of preparation, actual practice, and conclusion.

Checking if one is free from obstacles

To take ordination, a person must be free from obstacles preventing ordination. 

If one is free from the obstacles, he or she may receive the vow. 

If not, the vow will not be generated in his or her mind, or if generated, it will not abide in the mind. 

Questions regarding a person’s suitability for ordination are asked in the presence of the ordaining bhikshu. One listens and replies with an undistracted mind the questions regard the following:

  1. One is not a heretic or schismatic;
  2. One is not under 15 years of age;
  3. If one is under 15 years of age, one can scare away crows (i.e. one is big enough to scare away a gathering of big birds);
  4. If able to scare away crows, one is not under seven years old;
  5. One is not a slave;
  6. One is not in financial debt;
  7. One has permission from one’s parents;
  8. If one does not have one’s parents’ permission, one is in distant country (i.e. it takes more than seven days to contact them);
  9. One is not ill (with a physical or mental disability that would interfere with monastic life, study and meditation);
  10. One has not violated a bhikshuni;
  11. One is not living as a thief or spy;
  12. One is not of different views (doubting whether to follow Dharma or not to follow it);
  13. One is not abiding in wrong views (non-Buddhist views);
  14. One is not a hermaphrodite;
  15. One is not a eunuch;
  16. One is not a spirit;
  17. One is not an animal;
  18. One is not involved with a heretic or schismatic;
  19. One has not killed one’s mother;
  20. One has not killed one’s father;
  21. One has not killed an arhat.


  1. One has not caused a schism in the sangha.
  2. One has not maliciously drawn blood from the body of a Buddha.
  3. One has not committed one of the four defeats (parajika).
  4. One is not someone who does not accept the law of cause and effect.
  5. One is not crippled.
  6. One is not an albino.
  7. One is not missing any limbs.
  8. One is not a royal servant or favourite of the king.
  9. One has permission of the king.
  10. If one does not have the permission of the king, one is in a distant 
  11. One is not renowned as a violent robber.
  12. One is not a degraded wrongdoer.
  13. One is not of the cobbler caste.
  14. One is not of the lowest caste (blacksmith, fisherman).
  15. One is not of the lowest caste of worker.
  16. One is not a being other than a human being.
  17. One is not a person from the Northern Continent.
  18. One is not someone who has changed sex three times.
  19. One is not a woman posing as a man or a man posing as a woman.
  20. One is not a tyrant.
  21. One does not resemble a person born from another continent or world.

If a person can reply to each of the questions, “I am not,” he or she is suitable to be ordained.


Taking the Upasaka/Upasika vow

  • This is done in conjunction with taking refuge: 
  • Having prostrated to a representation of the Buddha, regarding it as the actual Buddha, and then to the preceptor, one kneels with one’s hands in prostration mudra at the heart. 
  • The preceptor explains the proper mental attitude for taking refuge (i.e. caution regarding the dangers of cyclic existence and faith/confidence in the Triple Gem). 
  • One recites the refuge after the preceptor, saying that one takes refuge in the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Sangha for as long as one lives. At that time, one also receives the five lay precepts of an upasaka/upasika. Most important is one’s mental attitude, thinking with joy, “I have now received the lay precepts, and this is my preceptor.”


The Rabjung Vow

Leaving the lay life of a householder


This is a prerequisite for novice ordination. 

  • First one requests the ordination and a bhikshu (who has been ordained at least ten years) to be one’s abbot. 
  • A bhikshu other than the abbot asks one to prostrate to all the sangha present and to remove the white clothing of a lay person. 
  • He requests the abbot on one’s behalf to be one’s abbot and to ordain one. From then on, one refers to that person as one’s abbot. (One removes the white clothing of a lay person either by changing from white clothes into monastic robes, or symbolically by wearing and then removing a white kata.). 
  • One takes up the name, dress, signs, and way of thinking of an ordained one. 
  • One should now have 
  • A zen (the upper robe; the chogu is not yet needed); 
  • A shamtab (lower robe);
  • A dingwa (seating cloth);
  • A bowl (with a few seeds or other food in it so it is not empty); and, a water filter. 
    • The bowl and water filter may be borrowed. 
    • The robes must be one’s own.
    • These are all determined by the abbot and oneself. 

Both hold their left hands below each article and right hands above it and do a recitation to determine the article as being one’s object of use.

  • It is explained that the robes are to distinguish one from lay people and members of other sects and to protect one from insects and the elements. One should consider them as being only for these purposes (not for beautifying oneself). 
  • The purpose of the other articles is explained, i.e. :
    • the bowl for eating food, 
    • the “dingwa”to distinguish one as a Buddhist monastic and to protect the community’s property when sitting,
    • the water filter to prevent killing insects when using water. 
  • One is aware that now one is shaving the head and leaving the householder’s life. One’s hair is cut (prior to coming to the ceremony, one’s head is shaved, leaving a small tuft at the crown, which is cut now), after which flowers or rice are thrown to rejoice at one’s leaving the householder’s life.
  • One prostrates to the Buddha and the abbot, and then kneels. 
  • The abbot advises: “It is excellent to be ordained. There is a significant difference between lay and ordained people. 
  • All the Buddhas of the three times become enlightened only based on ordination. There are none who do so from the basis of a lay person. 
  • One accumulates infinitely more positive potential (merit) by taking one step towards the monastery with the thought of ordaining than do the sentient beings of the three worlds by making offerings, even of their spouses and children, for eons. Due to the distractions of lay life, lay people are unable to accomplish very meaningful or helpful things for the future. From this, only future suffering can arise. 
  • Through abandoning these activities and having few possessions, ordained people can cultivate hearing, thinking and meditating. From this, both temporary happiness and ultimate nirvana can be reached. One is following in the footsteps of the Buddha himself.” 
  • While listening to this advice, have a mind of faith and belief in the abbot, seeing him as a wise parent and oneself as the son or daughter.
  • Upon taking “rabjung”, one abandons the signs (dress, hair, etc.) and name of lay life. One takes the name given by the abbot.

From now on, one should keep the discipline, wear only the monastic robes, abandon lay clothes, respect the abbot, not wear white or black clothes, fringes, sleeves, ornaments, or jewels, and not have long hair. One should eat at correct times and see the abbot as a parent (and the abbot should regard one as if one were his own child, i.e. the abbot helps to raise the disciple to become strong and healthy in the Dharma and as a member of the sangha.)

As the Buddha said:

For some, ethical discipline is joy;

For some, ethical discipline is misery.

Possessing the ethical discipline is joy;

Transgressing the ethical discipline is misery.