A few further considerations.
Certainly it has been said in other threads that it is better to approach ordination gently,
not to rush into it. It is easy to become a monk, but hard to remain one. It is particularly
easy in Sri Lanka, and other places in Asia, where the Anagarika-concept introduced by the
Ajahn Chah-"school" is not practized; that practice gives people time to adjust to the new
life-circumstances without putting on them obligations and demands they might have
idealized or unrealistically fantasized about. In Sri Lanka you can be a samanera on the day
of your arrival, if you want. But that would be foolish. It is not less foolish, though, if you
postpone it for a few weeks only.
These obligations and demands can become particularly heavy in a totally foreign culture
and environment like Sri Lanka. Several things add to the pressure you put yourself in. The
first and probably most important is the visa-situation. Unlike withThailand where you can
just do an easy visa-run to a neighbouring country, Sri Lanka as an Island doesn't give that
opportunity. India is close, yes, Chennai/Madras just an hour's flight away, but getting an
Indian visa more than once isn't easy anymore. A better option would be Malaysia where you
get an automatic 3-month visa-on-arrival, and have an inexpensive flight with Air Asia from
Colombo to Kuala Lumpur (costs like a little more than US $100, around the same as a
flight to nearby Madras. The other option, Bangkok, a bit more expensive if by direct-
flight, yet also cheap if via KL and from there by train, but also easy visa-wise).
So even with the relative luxury of a 3-month visa for Sri Lanka, your time to find the place
to ordain would be narrowed down to a little more than two months, because you need to
apply for the new visa in the remaining weeks. That means, as a new arrival who is not
familiar with culture, customs, places, monasteries, climate, food, transportation you come
under immense pressure due to this limitation of time.
Now it will be good for you to know that a visa can be extended for lay-Buddhists staying
in a respected institution (respected by the Government that is). This is a process that
involves runnig from pillar to post, if you have to do it yourself: a support letter from the
institution or meditation center is required, then the signature of an official monk of the
area, plus filing the whole thing with the Buddhist adminstration of the Government, and
then hoping the docs are forwarded in time to the visa-granting office, which means this is
a time- and nerve-consuming process.
Fortunately, large monasteries like Na Uyana handle this for you. But even with them you
have to initiate the process early on. That means you don't have a passport for a while, and
are technically in difficulty for that time if you wish to look at other places meanwhile. But
you can do it anyhow.
I was there when the civil war was still raging with bombs still being placed on buses, so
buses were checked at check-posts and people frisked. The one time it happened to me I
had no other identification than an airline-mileage card (I did not want to hand over my
credit-card for fear they might keep it), and I passed with that. So it should be easy now
that there are no check-points anymore.
In your situation I would keep an open time-window that you give yourself to check out
places and get accustomed. You need more than just a few weeks time to know which
place is good for you. Therefore my advice: Remain a lay-person for several extensions of
visas, and even keep the option open to look at places other than Sri Lanka, which means,
take enough money to pay for flights and stays on the way.
Once you are ordained you can't handle money anymore, so it is hard to travel, even on
very short trips, like on a bus-ride. Even though Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country, it is rare
that someone approaches you (a monk) to ask if you require assistance. Even if you have a dayaka or
kappiya (person assisting a monk with things he can't do by himself), you need to be aware
that people in these countries can be extremely unreliable. Asians often don't have this kind
of sense of urgency that westerners have when it comes to giving a promise or accepting a duty toward
Another important aspect of life in Sri Lanka is the food-situation. Obviously as someone
willing to ordain you are aware that you will live by whatever you get. Initially this might not
be much of a problem, except that you might get frequent stomach-upsets and diarrhea, because Sri Lankan
food tends to consist of a lot of carbo-hydrates with very little veggie-curries which are very hot.
They also serve a lot of what they call chutneys (but not the kind that you might know from
Northern India, yet more similar to the ones of Southern India, but still different, basically
just coconut plus red or green chili, often raw). Too much chili can cause a problem for the stomach. Most
Sinhalese are vegetarians, and since milk is not as abundantly available as in India for
instance, and even grains other than rice is rare (wheat needs to be imported) you'll have a
hard time to get enough protein.
This may seem a trifle for someone with an idealized fantasy of ordaining in his mind. But it
can have dire consequences for someone with a different body-type accustomed to other
nutrients. Malnutrition will become a normal reality for you. Again, Na Uyana has the
advantage of large quantities of food being prepared there. In fact, donors are wait-listed
to come and cook for the monks; whole villages make it their pride to be listed to come
for one day in a year and cook food for the monks. So a daily changing crowd of people
prepare the dana there. Which does not mean the food is particularly rich, but certainly
The situation at Ven. Pemasiri's place Siemantipala Meditation Center is similar, only there one person is cooking plus some pindapata dana is offered to lay-people. Monks do go for pindapata, which they don't do at Na Uyana, except the older ones staying up in the hills far from the new monks. (Na Uyana is that
The conclusion from this is: It is important to look at how a place where you might ordain is
supported. If you know monks and their preoccupation, you will have noticed that in the
long run food becomes the major concern for them. (When I was kappiya at a monastery in Europe, I overheard one monk present there informing another who was to come later, about my skills: "He knows how to cook!".
It is not my intention to discourage anyone reading this, but just to give my point of view
gathered from my definitely limited and biased conclusions from my experience there, providing a possibility for reality check for those who might not know what they are heading into.
May you be happy with your worthy intentions.