The Making of Monks


The expressions on these young novitiates’ faces somehow tell of how they felt about their life in the monastery

In Myanmar, all boys have to experience “monk-hood” once or several times before they reach the age of 20.  In the course of a year, usually during the celebration of the Thingyan festival, Buddhist communities would organize a lavish ceremony called the Shinbyu or a novitiation ceremony in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism.  This ceremony marks the monastic ordination of a boy into a sāmaṇera (novitiate).  Once novitiated, the boy will leave his home to spend some time in a kyaung (Buddhist monastery) where he will practice the life of a monk and learn the teachings of Buddha, particularly the five Buddhist precepts to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.

Buddhist novitiation

They agreed to pose for my camera but were hesitant to smile

The Shinbyu ceremony followed by novitiation in a monastery can be regarded as a rite of passage or coming of age process observed in other cultures. Buddhists consider this practice as the best religious gift they can give to their son.  The length of monk-hood of a child can vary from a few days to a few weeks or even a few years before a child is expected to decide whether to become a lifelong monk or give up the robe to return to secular life for further studies or to be married.

Buddhist novitiates

After sitting with them on the staircase and showing them their photos, they started to relax and smile…

I have always wanted to witness a Shinbyu ceremony but the timing of my village visits was always off.  Nevertheless, on one brief stop at a village monastery I caught up with some very young novitiates who appear to be on a break from whatever schedules they had with their superior monks. I managed to spend a few minutes “chatting” with them or taking their photos before my convoy had to hit the road again.  My takeaway thought: kids will be kids whether they are in a school or in a monastery.  Thankfully. JP

Buddhist Novitiates

Getting a morning bath with their senior monk

Buddhist Novitiates

Teasing house sparrows with rubber bands. Precept #1 was not yet covered in their lessons.

Buddhist Novitiates

A final pose for my cam. To stay or not to stay in the monastery remains a question to be meditated upon.