SUNDAY, April 14, 2024
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The robes don’t make the monk

The robes don’t make the monk

Re: “Sangha stonewalls calls to defrock Dhammachayo”, Front page, March 7.

My dictionary defines a frock primarily as “a girl’s or woman’s dress”. A tertiary definition describes it as “a wide-sleeved outer garment worn by members of some religious orders”. To my knowledge, the outer garment worn by Thai monks does not have sleeves. It’s more like a big sheet.
To write about “defrocking” a monk is awkward and misleading. It might cause deluded worldlings like me to imagine he wore a girl’s frock before having it unceremoniously stripped from his body.
The word “disrobe” is not much better. That would give us the unseemly image of Phra Dhammachayo, brutally stripped of his garments by an unfeeling authority, standing forlornly in his underwear. (Modesty forbids me to speculate on what manner of undergarments monks wear.)
While I am not familiar with the ritual of “defrocking” or “disrobing” a monk, it sounds from the context as if he removes his monkish garments and resumes wearing the clothes of a layman. That would suggest a cumbersome expression like “disrobe and re-clothe”. Clearly this is unsatisfactory.
What we are talking about here is not so much the monk’s change of clothing, but his exit from monastic life and his return to lay life. This can be encapsulated in the single word “laicisation”. What the authorities want to do is to laicise Phra Dhammachayo, to restore him to the status of a layman.
I commend this term to the attention of The Nation’s wordsmiths and to the world in general, and would note only that if a man is a monk in his heart, he’s a monk forever, and no change of garments or official status can change that.
Ye Olde Pedant

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