A Mandalay Monastery
Myanmar is the most devout Buddhist country in the world, with around 80 to 90 percent of the population practicing Buddhism. In Myanmar, this is predominantly of the Theravada tradition. Preserving and disseminating Buddha’s teaching are around half a million monks and 75,000 nuns residing in the countless monasteries across the country.
All Buddhist men in Myanmar are expected to serve as a monk at some point in their lives. Males from as young as seven years old will enter a monastery and begin to learn about monastic life. Some will stay for just a few days, while others remain for life.
Only a few days earlier I’d been lucky enough to witness a Shinbyu ceremony, celebrating the ordination of young village boys into their first monastic experience. And now I was about to witness part of the daily ritual of novice monks at a monastery in the suburbs of Mandalay.
Becoming a Buddhist monk requires you to follow the Vinaya, a code of conduct, or a set of over 200 rules laid down by Buddha. These include;
“Not to spend the night far from one of his three robes”
“Not to touch a woman”
“Not to consume solid foods between noon and the following dawn”
Arriving at the Mandalay monastery around 10am I was in time to witness this school of monks preparing for lunch. According to the Vinaya, in particular the last of the rules listed above, monks cannot eat solid food after noon each day. Lunchtime therefore takes on a great significance as it is the monk’s final meal of the day.
Breakfast would have been around 5am. An hour earlier they would have risen for prayers and to prepare for their early morning meal. After breakfast, they would continue to pray and go about their schooling. Lunchtime is normally around 10:30am.
The money for each day’s lunch comes from donations. The donor and their family will often attend the lunch on the day of their donation and serve the monks.
A Humbling Experience
I felt very privileged to be allowed into their environment to witness a ritual that has occurred every day in a form like this for millennia. Watching these novice monks going about their daily business in the calm and serene setting of this Mandalay monastery on a beautiful sunny morning was not only educational but quite humbling; the younger children played, some sat quietly and read, while the older boys went about their chores of washing robes, sweeping the grounds and setting the dining hall for lunch.
Then, as a gong is sounded, the monks lined up quietly and orderly ready for lunch. Each with their alms bowl in hand. A small group of novice nuns joined the end of the queue. They all then slowly progressed through the line to the dining hall, where they would sit and eat together in silence. A lunchtime ritual on repeat.
Ageing Traveller Wisdom 🙂
We all lead different lives. Some more different than others. Devoting yourself entirely to a belief is an extreme – a huge commitment, giving up your worldly possessions and abstaining from certain pleasures. But perhaps we should all give it a try. I’m sure it would change our perspective on things, make us see the world differently. You never know… we might actually enjoy the path to enlightenment.
Top Image: Monks waiting in line at the Mandalay Monastery