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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Buddhism in Burma

Theravada Buddhism is recognized as the principal religion of the Burmese people. Theravada is a more orthodox form of Buddhism, adhering strictly to the original Pali. Theravada Buddhism came from India. In Burma, there are about 800,000 monks. Most of these are students and novices who are wearing the Monk's robe only temporarily, nearly all male Burmese devote from a few weeks to several years of their lives to the monkhood. There are no vows such as those of Roman Catholicism. Indeed the (pongyi) monk can leave the order at any time. Nevertheless, about 100,000 have dedicated their entire lives to Buddhism. Once becoming a monk, he must renounce all worldly possessions, and must make his livelihood by begging. I saw them set out two hours before dawn, begging for food from door to door in the neighborhood where I was staying. He does not thank the donor for the food he received, for it's the donor who must be grateful that the monk has given him an opportunity to earn merit by doing a good deed for one in the Buddha's service. The food received at this time is the monk's only meal of the day.

Buddhist monks

This is my third day of visiting around the Rangoon area. The Burmese Government only issues visas to any foreigner who enters their country for a seven day stay. Sally decided to take me to the Golden Schwedagon Pagoda for a visit. As we were approaching the Schwedagon Pagoda I noticed a small group of people, like a procession going to the Schwedagon Pagoda. This group of people was all dressed-up in colorful clothes and waved with colorful banners. Some of them had baskets of fruits, and others of the group were making a lot of noise with drums and other instruments. In the back of the group was a little boy sitting on a horse all dressed-up. He looked like a little angel going to church. The man who held the horse also kept a colorful umbrella above the boy's head. All of this looked so interesting to me that I asked Sally to tell the driver to stop the car so that I could take some pictures of this group. As the people noticed that I wanted to take their group picture they stopped and even moved the horse on the side so that I could get all of them in the picture. I was told by Sally that this procession was called a 'shin-pyu'. A young Burmese begins his novitiate at around the age of nine. All the noise and celebration is in honor of the boy, and bring it to the people's attention around him when he is brought to a 'kyaung' and handed over to the monks, who teach him the basic Pali scripture and the 10 basic Buddhist rules of conduct. For the majority of Burmese, their period of novitiate does not last long. Most have left the monkhood before their 20th birthday, which is the minimum age at which one can become a member of the Sangha and submit oneself to the 227 rules of the order. Those who become ordained have all their hair shaved off their bodies then devote the rest of their lives to meditation, study of the Pali scriptures, and the instruction of the laity.

CONTINUED: The Shwedagon Terrace
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index