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Friday, 01 January 2016

Nirvana’s Horizon: Discovering the Soul of the Golden Land as a Buddhist Monk in Myanmar - Page 5

Written by Kevin Dimetres
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“Oh! Well… Okay, okay,” he responded in an amused manner with a Cheshire-cat grin, “You have to be monk first to know everything for Buddhism.”

“Yes, I know, I know,” I said sheepishly while nodding my head.  “I just want to learn…  Anything… Everything. I seek knowledge.”

I knew not whether his previous comment was a question or an answer. 

Dahmapalla spoke with the other monks in their native tongue.  A round of smiles and head nodding ensued.

“Okay, good! You like Buddhism. You want Buddha knowledge, I give you knowledge. As a monk. But first we give you robe and cut hair. Tomorrow.  After English class. Very good.  Okay, okay.”

Wait… What?

Did I just agree to become a Buddhist monk?

Overwhelmed, I tried to wrap my head around the moment- this was beyond my wildest dreams or expectations.  Thoughts collided at every angle, from the benign (what about my hair?) to the substantial (will I have to be a monk forever?).  Part of me felt a sliver of guilt; am I worthy of such a privilege?  As much as I wanted to learn about Buddhism firsthand, I did not want to disrespect the monastery with any type of disingenuous cultural tourism. On the flip side of that coin, part of me was stunned with excitement; as an anthropological enthusiast, the chance to experience the world from an entirely new perspective made me feel as giddy as a child on Christmas morning.  A flurry of emotions was subdued by a clear sense of the moment.

Deep down, I just knew.  

I had traveled halfway around the world, inexplicably found myself in a Buddhist monastery surrounded by burgundy-robed Buddhist monks, with the opportunity to become a monk myself and learn firsthand about Buddhist culture and philosophies from the spiritual heart of Myanmar.  I had wanted to experience something original, and the universe had presented me with the opportunity.  What was I supposed to do, back out now?

Traveling is not a spectator sport; I had to go all in. 


My ordination ceremony took place the following day. First, my head and beard were shaved completely.  A younger monk-in-training, the same young gentleman who also served as the monastery’s cook,  used soap, water, and a box of single-blade razors to remove all of the hair from my head.  The novice monks were speechless with awe, as I’m not sure they had seen a bearded foreigner with a freshly shaved, shiny head.  I shaved my face with an ever-growing audience of curious monks; it was the first clean shave that I had had in five years.  


Wearing my longyi and a white T-shirt, I returned to the bhikkhu’s quarters, where I knelt before Dahmapalla and bowed three times as a sign of respect.  Repeating after Dahmapalla, I recited a passage known as the Three Refuges, which is a formal request for ordination.  He then placed my robes in between us, and I proceeded to recite the Ten Precepts- rules which guide Theravada Buddhist monk’s behavior, such as abstaining from harming life, abstaining from taking what is not given, and abstaining from the use of intoxicants, amongst others.  Lastly, I requested that Dahmapalla be my Preceptor, or spiritual guide.  He then handed me my very own burgundy robe, alms bowl, and prayer beads.  Finally, I was given my Buddhist name- Teelahwontay.

(Page 5 of 7)
Last modified on Tuesday, 05 January 2016

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