“Pha Khao” – the White Recluse: Origins and Integration of Ordination in a Forest Monastery in the School of Venerable Man Bhuridatto


  • Preecha Tiwattanon Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University
  • Sompornnuch Tansrisook Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University


White Recluse; Chee-Pa-Khaw; Buddhist Ordination; Forest Monastery


Background and objectives (s) : “Pha Khao” – the White Recluse – is a religious lifestyle of people in the Indo-Chinese Peninsula that appears in historical evidence and legends. This lifestyle has been incorporated into the preparation for ordination in forest monasteries in the Dhammayutika and Mahanikaya sects, of which the abbots are the pupils of Venerable Man Bhūridatto. The research for this article aimed to analyze the history and religious ideas of the White Recluse wearing white or undyed clothes in Thai culture and the integration of the White Recluse lifestyle into the ordination in the forest monastery school headed by Venerable Man Bhūridatto, which later became the tradition in northeastern forest monasteries.

Methodology: This was documentary research analyzing the idea of the White Recluse focusing on words and references to the White Recluse and similar ideas in historical evidence and Thai legends. The results of the study were analyzed with respect to the preparation of ordination from the biography of Venerable Man and some analytical studies regarding him.

Main result: It was found that the White Recluse might have origins in both Brahminism- Hinduism and Buddhism. In Brahmanism-Hinduism, white clothes are the costume for a Brahmin who acquires religious knowledge of scriptures and rituals. The white color is a symbol of purity. It was, therefore, the color worn by other pious people in ancient India, including by Buddhist laypeople. In Thai culture, the wearing of white garments symbolizes adherence to a religious lifestyle, often characterized by a focus on spiritual fulfillment and celibacy, thereby reflecting a commitment to values beyond mere sensational gratification. They have their head shaved or unshaved, and either stay in a place or wander. Their religious belief is unidentifiable. They can be Buddhist laypeople who take care of a stupa or monastery; service the monks and assist with the rituals; observe precepts and practice meditation at a monastery; or in preparation for ordination during pre-ordination ceremonies in Lanna and Northeastern Khmer culture. The pious life of the White Recluse has been applied in the pre-ordination period in the forest monasteries of the Dhammayuttika and Mahanikaya sects. As tradition has it, the practice of being a White Recluse before the ordination was developed in Wat Bavornnivetviharn. It is also said that Venerable Man Bhūridatto began the tradition after he was asked to be a teacher for some newly ordained monks for the first time. During the pre-ordination period, a man who wants to become a monk is required to wear a white robe and live a monastic life under the guidance of his teacher for a couple of months. Living such a life, he can pay full attention to get used to the religious lifestyle. If he abandons the ordination, this will not affect the monkhood.

Relevance to Thai Studies: The research for this article explored the origin of the White Recluse lifestyle in religious culture of Thai. As history and legend have it, the White Recluse, in the context of Buddhism, syncretized by Brahmanism-Hinduism and animism, is a person who possesses qualities that transcend those of ordinary householders. In contemporary times, wearing white clothes is emblematic of a commitment to religious knowledge and morality, evolving into a religious lifestyle observed on various occasions.
Conclusion: The White Recluse lifestyle during the pre-ordination period represents an integration of cultural and religious traditions in Thai culture. Wearing a white robe symbolizes a commitment to a spiritual life that transcends the ordinary, expressing the wearer's sincere intention to embark on a religious journey. This choice of attire serves as a visual reminder, encouraging the individual to remain mindful of their purpose and make persistent efforts to attain their spiritual goals.


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How to Cite

Tiwattanon, P., & Tansrisook, S. . (2024). “Pha Khao” – the White Recluse: Origins and Integration of Ordination in a Forest Monastery in the School of Venerable Man Bhuridatto. Journal of Thai Studies, 20(1), 1–28. Retrieved from https://so04.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/TSDJ/article/view/260631



Research article