I recently had the opportunity to spend a morning with the monks of Myanmar and, as you would imagine, it was an unforgettable experience.
Spending a morning with the monks of Myanmar is a must when traveling through the Golden Land.
For all the high-resolution photos from this part of my journey: Click Here
Well, it’s good to be back folks! I’ve been away for awhile handling a few things (parenthood, that sorta thing), however I’m back and hoping to be posting quite regularly from now on. I actually had these photos loaded up and ready to post (you can check out the full high-res gallery on Facebook here) however I just never had the opportunity and then, of course, completely forgot about them after I flew out to Vietnam and then on to Israel. But I digress…
The morning started with a ride out to the junior monks’ monastery at around 7:15am. As a quick lesson in Myanmar Buddhism – Southeast Asia’s second-largest country is about 90%-plus Buddhist and they practice a very ancient form of the faith called Theravada. This type of Buddhism is a bit different than the more familiar Tibetan Buddhism most commonly depicted in Western movies and film. The primary focus of Theravada Buddhism is on practicing strict personal meditation and finding the monastic path to Enlightenment. This branch of Buddhism uses the oldest recorded teachings of the Buddha and is found throughout Thailand and Sri Lanka with its total number of followers estimated at over 100 million. In Myanmar, monks are venerated and given the title of “U”, as in “U Phil” if I were a monk. They are treated with the utmost respect and live solely off alms and donations from the community. OK, now that you’re familiar with Myanmar Buddhism, back to the story….
So it’s pouring rain all morning and when I arrive at the monastery everyone is taking cover and enjoying the cool, brisk air – a rarity in Myanmar. The break in the humidity and punishing heat was a great respite for the junior monks who live here at the compound. The monastery, located just north/northeast of Yangon’s largest lake, Inya Lake, has around 60 novice monks. Every morning before they set out for their alms collecting, they usually get their laundry and places sorted for the day. Myanmar monks have a custom of not eating food or drinking water after 12pm noon so they are on a different schedule than most of us, as you can imagine.
The purpose of this visit was to film a TV show for Israeli television on the history of sport around the world. Serving as a bit of a guide/translator, my role was support and snapping some photos of the whole process and experience. Accompanied by staff from the Embassy of Israel, we got to take in some local games from the monks and local schoolchildren before the procession. One of the most striking things you’ll notice when visiting the monks is their lack of shoes… and I’m not referring to just being inside buildings as is Asian custom, but the entire procession down the streets are bare-footed occasions. It’s really quite a thing to witness.
The following daily march is actually quite a straightforward process – a lead junior monk walks in the front tolling a bell to alert the neighborhood residents the monks are passing by. The narrow roads of Myanmar are nothing new to those that frequent the country but feel especially claustrophobic when you have about 60 children walking through the street, dozens upon dozens of residents passing them food and charity all while cars and trucks pass in both directions.