Myanmar’s monastic life


Siddhartha Gautama gained enlightenment whilst sitting under a bodhi tree in northern India 2500 years ago. This tree in Yangon is allegedly a cutting from that original tree. I am slightly skeptical although there are 2000 year old trees in the garden of getheseme so maybe…

Buddha gained enlightenment the Middle Way and chose to return to his body in order to teach that path to others. He formed sangha or groups of disciples and this monastic class continues to be revered today. Monks are not allowed to have any possessions except their robes, sandals, a cup and an alms bowl.

Anyone can join a monastery and be a monk at any time in their lives and in fact it is expected that you will do this at least once for 11 days. Young boys may stay for a couple of years learning Buddha’s teaching before returning to civilian life and jobs. These are called temporary monks.


Monks are responsible for washing their own robes – seen here in the monastery in Mandaly hanging out to dry but monks are not allowed to cook anything and rely on donations for their food.

Monks rise at 5am and pray/chant together for an hour before having a simple breakfast. Then they take their alms bowls put into the community. Giving to a monk or to the monastery is one of the deeds which can gain you the highest merit. The monks return for lunch at 10.30 am. They are then not allowed to eat anything at all after mid day.


In this monastery there are 1000 monks and they line up to process into lunch. Tourists are allowed to watch (as long as we stayed on the kerb and didn’t touch them)



The donors of the meal are publicised and they are permitted into the compound.

Novices wear white robes and seemed very young to me!


After lunch the monks study Buddhist scriptures which are in the ancient Pali language (a bit like Latin to us) monks have to sit exams to qualify to become a permanent monk.


In Myanmar society there is equality between the genders except In religion. Buddhist philosophy says that only men can gain enlightenment and enlightenment only comes to Buddhist monks. So as a woman you can be a good Buddhist and hope that in the next life you will be born a Buddhist man! The women accept this world view as it does not stop them from achieving in other spheres of life.

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