You would see monks in saffron robes in many places where travelling in Thailand.
As monks have to observe 227 precepts which is known as Vinaya, there are many things that if done unknowingly may cause a monk to break his precepts or affect him in practice.
As a tourist visiting the place, you may not be familiar with all the rules but there are some general guidelines which are adopted by Thai people who have high respects for the monastic.
Below is an old poster in a temple which I found to be useful to post here:
1. Ladies please wear appropriate clothing in the temple.
I have often seen female tourists who are asked to put on a sarong or long shawl over their shorts before entering the temple. Please do not take this the wrong way or get offended when you asked to do so. Sometimes you may also need to cover up a spaghetti strap top with a shawl.
Understandably that the weather is hot in Thailand and in order to travel light and easier, shorts is often the popular choice. However, temples are considered sacred place in Thailand.
The proper clothing to wear would be long pants/skirts with a sleeved top.
2. Ladies please keep a short distance away from the monk.
Reason: Monks observe precepts that does not allow any physical contact with ladies. Any physical contact with monks would cause them to break one or more of their precepts. As visitors, we would want to respect the culture and observance- we do not wish for monks to break some rules because of our ignorance.
3. PLEASE approach the monks politely and respectfully.
The usual greeting reserved for our buddies (“Yo”, “How ya doing”, “Bro”, “Hi”) should not be used when greeting a monk. When greeting a monk, put your palms together in a ‘wai’ or traditional greeting gesture. Lower your head a little like how you would pay respect to a venerated person. It is how Thai people usually would greet monks.
4. DO NOT sit above or beside in the monk on the same level.
If you observe, Thai people would generally at a lower level of the monk especially during blessing where the monk is performing blessing service. Ladies are also not supposed to sit next to a monk- normally a monk would get up and walk away if a lady goes and sit on a bench next to him. Do not take it personally as it ties back to the observance.
Similar respect should also be accorded to the Buddhist mae chees or nuns. Except that for Buddhist nuns, they would stay away from contact with guys as contacting with guys would also cause them to break their monastic rules.
Monks and nuns- spiritual practice
Even though I have not been ordained before, but I have traveled to remote parts of Thailand to practice…..together with a number of foreigners from overseas.
Some people may have the misconception that monks and nuns have it easy, that they do not need to work. But I can tell you, it order to be worthy of the offerings and not to incur negative kamma, the monk and nun have to undergo strict practice. The rules (vinaya) that are set up are not to be restrictive but provides a guidelines for their practice.
Even as a meditator, we find it very difficult to watch our minds, to deal with suppressed emotions and fears. And that also we are doing short term. Monks and nuns are in it for long term. It is TOUGH. At work and in lay life, we can do what we want and how we wish. But it is not the same with monks and nuns who have to constant observe and contemplate their behavior.
Of course, there are those who are in the practice for real and those who you may find the behavior questionable.
They may be struggling with some internal battles…which eventually they may breakthrough and achieve profound understanding. Or they may be plainly breaking the rules. But we are not the ones who should judge because some things are not what it seems.