Novice Monk in Myanmar: A way of life to photograph
“A Monk life is dedicated for
Peace of Mind,
Power of Calmness
It is not easy to become a monk, but it is not difficult to follow their footsteps…”
Novice Monks in Myanmar – a typical day
This term samanera (samaneri – feminine form) means novice monks who has accepted the ten precepts of Buddhism and is looking forward to be a part of the community (sangha) of monks (bhikkhu) or nuns (bhikkhuni).
Life of a novice monk is tough. They have to wake up early in the morning around 4.30 including weekends. After completing their morning ablution and bath, they head for the morning prayers. After the Morning Prayer, they are out on the streets barefoot to collect alms for the monastery. Collection of alms continues for 1 to 2 hours in the morning. Very young monks spend less time and cover nearby towns and villages whereas the teenage monks go to far off villages. In Buddhist religion the way of attaining moksha (enlightenment) is through dana (giving).
Once the monks return from their alms collection they have a light quick breakfast. After breakfast there is lot of teaching and learning activities. For monks the main meal time is 11.30 am. This is the time when the monks have their heavy meal of the day. They little novice monks will not have anything to eat till next day morning. One of the biggest challenges for the growing boys is the daily fasting from noon until dawn. The afternoon is spent to more learning and prayers. Each novice monks has a saffron or wine colored tunic robe, and a lacquer bowl for alms; nuns wear pink robes.
The monks and nuns have to do their own cleaning and washing of dishes and clothes. The novice monks and nuns do have lot of opportunity to play and enjoy life. They can be seen playing football with their little robes. Watching of television is also a good way of entertainment for the monks and nuns.
Buddhism in Myanmar
Buddhism is practiced by 90% of the country’s population. Like many other South-East Asian countries, Myanmar also follows Theravada Buddhism. This branch of Buddhism is very old and follows rigorous observance of monastic code. In Theravada Buddhism one can attain moksha (liberation) through positive merits and prayers. Leading the life of a monk is one such positive merit.
Myanmar has 500,000 monks and nuns out of its total population of 53 million. The Myanmar oral tradition speaks of four visits of the Buddha to the region. The history of Buddhism in Myanmar probably extends more than two thousand years. King Ashoka sent two bhikkhus, Sona and Uttara from India around 228 BC with other monks and sacred texts. Theravada Buddhism was implanted at Bagan for the first time as early as the 11th century by the Bamar king Anawrahta.
Novice Monks in Myanmar
Myanmar is the best place to experience “A Monk’s Life”. You can observe monks at all places in Myanmar; they are visible in public transport, in streets and markets. Unlike other countries novice monks are not always limited to the monasteries. Monks are an integral part of the Burmese society. Visiting a monastery is even more interesting since it gives a chance to have a close glimpse of a monk’s life.
Entering monkhood is a way of religious upbringing for boys in Myanmar. Most of the novice monks spend from few days to a few months of monkhood. Very few choose monkhood as their lifetime commitment. Boys/men are supposed to enter the monkhood twice in their lives, once as a novice aged between 10 and 20, and once as a fully ordained monk any time after their 20th birthday.
Monks hold the greatest status of life and receive huge respect from common people. Novice monks live a very simple, disciplined and restricted life. Buddhist families welcome the monks in their home and offer food. The novice monks go around to houses, shops or market stalls where people wait to put something in their bowl. The offerings range from a cup of rice, some curry, a packet of seasoning, vegetables or fruit, sometimes money, occasionally something like washing powder or razor blades.
Why so many Monks in Myanmar
There are two key reasons why you see so many novice monks in Myanmar. The key reason is that every Buddhist family need to send their son to monastery 2 times in his lifetime. The other reason being that for many poor families sending their sons to monastery are a way out of the poverty. The monastery offers free food, stay and education to all the novice monks and nuns. For poor families this is a good opportunity for their children. Adult men either follow the discipline of monk hood as their way of life or they have nothing to return back to.
For Buddhist monks they are not allowed to ask for anything. They are also not allowed to store food for day when there is no alms. A monk has to go out for begging every morning because it is unfair for people if they are denied a chance to give alms. For some teenager especially from affluent families the life as a monk is very tough. The long hours of hunger are too tough for urban teenagers. For some children and teenager from rural areas the days of monk hood is the best period as they could get a good meal and respect in the society.
It is common for Buddhist families of business to provide generous donation in kind for the novice monks. There are donations of books, copies and writing material. Monasteries also receive donations of material required in daily lives like flip-flops, washing powder etc.
Photography of Monks
Monks are great subject for photography. In Myanmar I met with the most cheerful and simple monks and nuns with their genuine smile. The monks and nuns from young to old have a great charisma and smile, which make great pictures. With the right politeness and etiquette it is easy to get photography permission from a senior monk and nun. Apart from just seeking permission for photography, it is important to learn the history and the present condition of the monastery. This additional knowledge helps to give a story to your picture. I would also like to request all readers to make a generous donation to the monastery.
The innocent expressions of the novice monks and nuns fascinate me as a photographer. It is one of the best places to shoot intimate portraits. Portraits from Myanmar are some of the most recognized global images. Novice monks and nuns are extremely cooperative while taking pictures. You would a happy monk or nun to pose for you. The ready availability of monks and nuns in various locations in Myanmar also helps you to get an additional subject for your background.
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