Theravada Buddhism is the main religion is Southeast Asia and embedded into the historical, social and political life of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. It is expected that young boys and men be ordained, usually before the age of 20 or before being married. It is regarded as a way for him to repay his parents by making merit through ordination.
The Sangha (Buddhist monastic life) is a rite of passage into manhood for boys in Southeast Asia. Buddhist parents see it as their duty and privilege to let their sons be ordained as monks and immerse themselves in Buddhist teachings.
The ceremony into monkhood can be very colorful and elaborate. The boy is dressed in rich clothing, paraded around town and accompanied with much music and fanfare surrounded by family, relatives and friends.
The length of the ordination is up to the individual, ranging from one week to several years. Most boys become ordained during Buddhist Lent (which corresponds during the rainy season from July to October), however there are no restrictions on when to be ordained. If he so chooses, the boy may also be ordained more than once.
When entering monastic life, monks are expected to obey a set of rules defined by the Vinaya Buddhist scripture. Novice monks follow ten rules or precepts while a fully ordained monk must follow a complicated set of 227 precepts. Monks must also give up all materialistic possessions and is only allowed to have three robes, a girdle, a bowl for receiving alms, a needle, a razor and a water strainer.
The monk’s day start at a very early time, usually waking up at 4am. After a shower, the monks will don their robes, which can be quite tricky for new monks. The robes are supposed to emulate Buddha’s humble attire and separation from the material world. After chanting Buddhist texts at around 5am, these boys and men will set out for their alms walk an hour later. The most senior monk leads the line, while the rest follows. This is a time where normal people can earn merit by offering food to the monks.
After the alms walk, the monks return to the temple for breakfast. Since monks cannot refuse food from people during their alms walk, they are allowed to eat whatever they have been offered, including meat. After breakfast, the monks usually perform chores like sweeping the monastery floor or doing their laundry. Others might go and privately practice their meditation. Meditating is an important spiritual tradition in Buddhism because it is seen as an important step to enlightenment. Monks also use meditation to free their minds from negative thoughts and feelings.
At around 11am, monks have their lunch. Monks are not allowed to consume food in the afternoon or store it for later use. After lunch, monks will disperse out to different activities. Some may be involved in community affairs such as the blessing of new homes and businesses while others may teach or study Buddhist texts. Young monks from underprivileged families will attend monastery sponsored schools for the rest of the afternoon.
Buddhism is a big part of many people’s lives in Southeast Asia. A lot of what you will see and discover in the region, whether it’d be historical buildings, people and their customs, are influenced by this religion. You can experience the beautiful and colorful region with our Southeast Asia Discovery tour. Great for first time visitors, this detailed tour is an 18 day trip of awe and discovery. Marvel at glittering temples and ancient ruins while also experiencing the evergreen landscape and the people’s cultures. If you are interested in mediation, why not try our Meditation Training – Phuket day trip? You will learn about traditional techniques used for centuries in Thailand Buddhist meditation at several temples in the island. You can also contact us if you have any questions or would like to tweak or combine our tours to suit your needs.
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