Memos from Asia

Monk and Novice Routine at a Monastery School in Myanmar

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Myanmar, the largest country on the Southeast Asian continent, is known as the Land of Pagoda.

Most of the people living in this country practice Buddhism. Those who enter this country will be welcomed by the peaceful smiles of the locals.

Yangon, Myanmar – FEBRUARY 06, 2016: Traditional Alms giving ceremony of distributing food to buddhist monks on the streets of Yangon , Myanmar

The Land of Monks

In Myanmar, where religious beliefs are strong, it is not surprising that the number of Buddhist monks in the country is very large.

The country itself is still in a state of development. People here are working hard to make ends meet. Some are struggling financially, while others are lacking in many of the necessities of life.

The central city in Myanmar is least developed compare to the neighbor in Southeast Asia. As the number of unemployed and job-seekers increases, many teenage boys choose to leave school, abandon their secular lives, and become Buddhist novices.

This lunch occurs in Mahagandayon Monastery, Mandalay, Myanmar. Over 1,000 monks take it simultaneously. Tourists may participate for a small donation.

Children become novices at a young age. Being in a monastery is safe, and they can be educated. Parents can also rest assured that their sons are in their rightful place under the protection of the Buddha and their merit.

It shall be decided later, when they finish their studies, whether to continue as a monk or to return home to help with the family business.

Myanmar Monastery School

A Monastery School in Myanmar, Photo by Thanakrit Pongpittayut

Monastery schools can be easily found anywhere in Myanmar.

In addition to the standard studies, the monks also learn Pali, an ancient Indian language that is now almost obsolete, in order to inherit Tripitaka.

Some novices enter schools at their hometown monasteries. But most travel far to Yangon and Mandalay to join the famous monasteries because they are more reliable. They will live in a dormitory-like monastery, and are able to return to their home monastery in April for summer holiday every year.

Monk and Novice Routine at School

School mornings start very early every day. There is a standard pattern of life in schools across the country, with some slightly different situations in different regions.

Monks and novices must get up at 4 a.m. to prepare for the morning prayers. There is a short break before walking out to receive the offerings from the villagers around sunrise.

When they comes back, the laymen will help prepare the food and they’ll have breakfast around 7-8am.

Interior view of the monastery school, Photo by Thanakrit Pongpittayut

Learning time begins at 8:00 a.m., with free time before lunch at 10:00 a.m.

At 11 a.m., students gather in the cafeteria for lunch, where everyone takes their lunch in a respectful manner.

This lunch occurs in Mahagandayon Monastery, Mandalay, Myanmar. Over 1,000 monks take it simultaneously. Tourists may participate for a small donation.

In most monasteries, they have to queue up and all receive food from laymen. In some places, special meals are prepared for the monks on holidays from villagers who try to make merit by cooking for them.

Then the afternoon studies continue. It covers the time until 4pm. Before the evening falls, they take a bath and prepare for the evening service at 7 p.m.

Once the prayers are over, they each spend the rest of their time on their own. Some people sleep, and everyone sleeps together on mats with mosquito nets in a large room. Some people stay up late at night reading and reviewing the day’s lessons. If the school is in a suburban or remote area, some sleep listening to dharma radio from a transistor or portable Bluetooth player.

Every full moon is a holiday in the Buddhist calendar. On those days, the monasteries are off. They go out to seek their daily household items. For a short time, they can travel around the pilgrimage site. They also enjoy conversation with the lay people, or spend a peaceful day in their cubicles.

Photo by Thanakrit Pongpittayut

Those with longer hair have to cut their hair on this day.

Myanmar monks and novices don’t cut out the eyebrows. That’s the difference from other Theravada Buddhism countries like Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

Their robe color is crimson. It is a distinctive traditional color for Myanmar monk. They will re-dye and wash their robes every holiday too.

Cultural differences in Buddhism

As is the case in most Myanmar monasteries, one could say that the study of Buddhism here focuses on the Pali language and educates the Tripitaka.

There are several famous monk teachers in Myanmar who have memorized all the syllables of the Parritlipitaka and they are still alive today. Therefore, Myanmar has gained a lot of credibility in this field.

Some monks want to study more meditation, and such monks may consider this to be a waste of time. However, many monks in other countries will hear this and feel that they too have a duty to pass on Buddhism.

Some said that East Asian spread Buddhism to the new world, East mainland Southeast Asian, for keeping the old way of Buddha’s live time, and Myanmar for inheriting Pali language for Tripitaka. They all help each other to preserve their religion and culture since it influences everyday lives for a long time.

Known Place for a Study Monk and Buddhist

Photo by Thanakrit Pongpittayut

At least, many Myanmar parents continue to send their sons to monasteries. It is a very common tradition here that a good person has to become a monk at least once in his life.

After leaving the monastery, they can remain in the monastery and live by helping the monks with their little jobs, and sometimes they go out to work to maintain their financial lives.

In Myanmar, it is said that becoming a monk is very sacred. People love to make merit in every aspect of their lives. Their culture, beliefs, faiths, art, traditions, and famous archaeological sites are carefully preserved and that is what makes Buddhism in Myanmar a wonderful thing that every Buddhist in the world should visit at least once.

Myanmar, Yangon, November 2019, Shwedagon Pagoda, a male Buddhist monk with shaved heads stands in front of the central pagoda.

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