Part Two of Hannah Busby’s “Best of Burma” blog .
Seeing monks as they receive alms
With almost 90% of Burma’s population being practicing Buddhists, the rites of passage and traditions of Theravada Buddhism continue to thrive and are visible for all to see. One of the most apparent beliefs is the high regard in which monks are held. It is common practice for boys to be ordained in to the monastic order as a novice – a rite of passage that not only accrues merit for his parents but also enables him to become a man. Many boys will only join the order for a few weeks, while others will stay for the duration of their schooling, and others will become fully-fledged monks and continue to practice within the order for the rest of their lives.
Each morning, it is possible to see monks carrying out their daily ritual of collecting alms. This gives normal people an opportunity to give generously, an act that illustrates respect and also helps obtain merit. It is considered such an important part of everyday life that some neighbourhoods set up their own almsgiving stations, which they take turns to man. The monks collect the food before returning to their monasteries, sharing the food and eating. This all takes place in the morning, as monks are not allowed to eat after noon.
On two occasions I visited monasteries as the monks were lining up to eat. The first of these visits was an unscheduled stop. Our tour leader wanted to show us one of the monasteries where he had spent some time as a monk (he had joined the monastic order 4 times, the longest of which was for 2 weeks). This was a great opportunity, as he was able to show us around and introduce us to the head abbot. The second occasion was to Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura, not far from Mandalay. This is one of the largest monasteries in the country and is much more regimented compared to the one we visited in Rangoon. Here we watched as people offered alms to the thousands of monks and novices that all file into the dining room to eat. For the people who organise the food, this is a great privilege. For the tourists who come to watch, it is a sight to behold, partly due to the visual impact of seeing so many people in matching saffron robes, and partly due to the tremendous discipline apparent here.
Cox & Kings offers tailor-made holidays to Burma.