Myanmar Monk and Monastery
every Myanmar Buddhist, the Three gems, or the three objects for special
veneration and respect, are the Buddha, the awaken one, the Dhama, Buddha’s
Law or teaching and the Sanga, Priesthood or monk.
Hpone-kyi or Monks are dedicated to the service of the Buddha, and they role
the most important part of the propagation of Buddhism. After the pass of
the Gaw-ta-ma-Buddha, since the time of no palm-leaf inscriptions and papers
were invented, the successive monks have achieved the propagation of
Buddhism through recitations or narrations.
Not only do hpongyis occupy a dominant and special position in the Buddhist
scheme of things, but to them is also entrusted the entire education of a
certain percent of the male population. The influence of hpongyis, therefore
on the lives of the Myanmar people is indeed considerable. Before the
introduction of the present system of education into Myanmar, there must
have been, on the lowest computation, 60 percent of Buddhist boys receiving
free education in hpongyi kyaungs both as lay pupils or as koyins (i.e.,
novices). No fees were charged and poorer boys were even given food and
clothing. In return the boys rendered a few personal services to the master
A Hpongyi Kyaung (Monastery)
village tracts one or two kyaungs (monasteries) would minister to the
religious and educational needs of a large village or a group of small
villages. The number of hpongyis residing in a kyaung would depend upon the
size of the building, but no overcrowding was noticeable. The presiding
hpongyi would have a room to himself opening out into a large central open
hall, while the other priests would occupy the remaining rooms. Each hpongyi
has allotted to him a small space and a hall with a window at the head of
his bed, and all his worldly possessions would consist of a box, generally a
wooden one, for storing his yellow robes, and a mat and a pillow and a
blanket. Hpongyis are not permitted to handle money. To each priest are
attached pupils from one to three in number and also a few koyin, i.e. young
novices in yellow robes who occupy a position somewhere between that of lay
pupil and that of a fully ordained priest. Pupil koyins attached to each
hpongyi are taught individually by the hpongyi himself. There are no classes
and no yearly examination. A boy can join a Hpongyi Kyaung at any time of
the year and no school leaving certificates are required to be produced.
Each boy forges ahead in his lessons as far as his capacity or industry will
in a kyaung has to get up very early in the morning. At about 5 a.m. along
piece of wood about 4 feet in length and six inches in diameter, suspended
between two posts is beaten with a wooden mallet announcing that it is time
for everybody to get up. Pupils and koyins will cook one or two pots of
boiled rice to be served at dawn to priests in small plates. Hpongyis, it
must be mentioned, have been on a fast and not taken any food since twelve
noon of the previous day. After partaking of this boiled rice, priests,
except those who are very aged or sick and the head priest, would go out to
the town or to the village to receive food provided by devotees, each
carrying a bowl, or sometimes with a pupil carrying a bowl following him.
Socially or generally, we can differentiate three social status;
2.Middle class people, and
For the first class people, they can invite the Buddhist monks to their
house to serve of alms food. This type of Dhana (Sanskrit) meaning charity
can be done ceremonially or daily devotional acts.
For the middle class people, they can not invite the monks to their home to
serve of alms food, but they can able to send the alms food to
Hphone-kyi-kyanug, the monastery.
For the last clsass people, neither they invite the monks not send the alms
food to the monastery. So, they can have change to offer the alms food while
Hpone-kyi, the monks are going round for alms food. The monks since the
Buddha’s time consider that to go round for alms food is a loving kindness
or great compassion to the poor people who can gain the meritorious deeds.
It is a lovely tradition of Myanmar people to offer the food to the monks
unless they have nothing to eat for themselves.
It is customary for each Myanmar household to keep apart some rice and curry
to be offered to hpongyis who come along every morning with their bowls, the
quantity and quality depending on its "Well-to-do-ness." Hpongyis would stop
in front of a house and receive a spoonful of rice and sometimes a bowl of
curry. He goes from house to house in this manner until a sufficient
quantity of rice and 4 or 5 dishes of curry have been collected before
returning to the kyaung between 8 or 9 a.m.
Those boys who stay behind will clean and sweep the halls and also the
grounds around their kyaung. In a portion of the central hall specially
reserved for the purpose, is kept an image of the Buddha. The face of the
image is wiped with a clean towel and freshly plucked flowers placed before
it in small lacquer trays. The boys will carry water from the wells - there
is a well for each Kyaung - for filling drinking pots and also for the head
priest and wash their master's robes and their own cloths. Some would read
their lessons aloud, while others would indulge in a game of marbles, or of
gonnyyin (round seeds about two inches in diameter and one quarter of an
inch thick) projected forward by turning them round with the index or middle
finger, the object being to hit a marked seed about 12 feet away), or other
simple games. When hpongyis come back from their receiving rounds between 8
and 9 a.m. the boys take over the bowls and commence the preparations for
serving the only meal of the day.
No Meal after 12 noon
few minutes rest, hpongyis go to the well for their morning bath - to draw
water for one's master is an act of merit and there is no lack of volunteers
among the boys for this task. Hpongyis sit down to their meal in groups of 5
to 10 in a large open passage. All the curries and rice brought by the
priests forming a particular group are placed on a round wooden or lacquer
table and the hpongyis take their meals sitting round the table on the
floor. The best curries are offered to the presiding hpongyi who ordinarily
has a small table to himself. After the hpongyis have had their repast,
koyions boys sit down to what is left. The place is then cleaned. Bowls and
plates are washed and arranged on a rack ready to be taken round again on
the following morning.
About half an hour or so before noon all the priests, including the head
priest sit down to tea - tea without milk or sugar, but served with jaggery,
slices of coconut or sweets. After the tea hpongyis retire to their rooms or
halls - a few to have a short siesta and the rest either to teach their
pupils, both boys and koyins, or to read Pali texts as a preparation for the
day's lecture. Each boy is taught separately either by the master or by
elder pupils. Pali stanzas and passages are learnt by heart and after a boy
can repeat from memory. his master explains the meaning to him. As a hpongyi
has not more than 2 or 3 pupils, each boy gets individual attention, which
would be impossible in a big class. There is a wholesome atmosphere of
intimacy and understanding between the teacher and the taught.
is obligatory for a Buddhist boy to become a koyin once in his life time and
to remain as such for some months. Before the time when necessity for
getting employment induced parents to send their boys to English or lay
school, a boy would spend at least three months as koyin, but such a thing
would now mean loss of one year and missing of one's class promotion.
Present day parents have, therefore, to be content with sending their boys
to hpongyi kyaungs for only a few days during holidays. A Buddhist who has
not been a koyin or donned the yellow robe is looked upon as one who has
missed the most essential privilege of his existence in this world. Some
koyins, after acquiring what is considered to be sufficient education for
the secular world, leave the kyaungs, while others, become attached to the
simple religious life, and stay on in the yellow robe to become ordained
priest at the age of 19. The ordination ceremony has to be performed in a
specially consecrated building known as a "Thein" and lasts for four to five
hours. A hpongyi, however, can "come back" to the world at any time he
chooses. There is no such thing as a vow for life-long priesthood.
Charity of Learning
Of all charities, the charity of learning is the noblest. A hpongyi renowned
for his learning will give free lectures to all and sundry. Young priests in
search of knowledge from all parts of the country will crowd around his
lectures. The teaching in a hpongyi kyaung is mainly religious, even social
ethics, philosophy and literature taught therein are derived from religious
texts, and sometimes over crusted with legends and fables.
Boys do not have to buy books or pencils. Lessons are written on long
rectangular boards about one-third of an inch thick covered with a thin
layer of paste of powdered charcoal and rice gruel. Each boy has one such
board of his own. These boards are erased every day and prepared for the
next day's lessons.
They pass on from one lesson to another and from one text to the next when
the teacher is satisfied that the first has been mastered. Competitions in
calligraphy and memorizing are held quite frequently. No tangible prizes are
awarded; however, the winner has a free ride on the back of the loser round
the kyaung to the simple enjoyment of the spectators. No ill-feeling is
About 4 p.m. the hpongyis come out and take a stroll round the kyaung for
exercise or pay visits to their friends in other kyaungs. Then there is
another bath after which they congregate in the prayer hall to worship the
Buddha and say their prayers and light candles. Beads are counted before
retiring for the night.
The boys play chinlon or leap frog before dinner, which they have to cook
themselves. It is very plain affair - rice, dried fish and vegetable soup.
The boys also have to say their prayers every evening and repeat aloud the
passages they have learnt by heart in the course of the day.
A library is kept in the central hall, consisting of square shaped wooden
almirahs, some richly carved and gilt, others covered with mosaic work, in
which are kept bundles of palm leaf texts neatly wrapped up and piled.
Before the commencement and after the end of the Buddhist Lent, lasting from
3 to 4 months, during which as a rule hpongyis do not travel, koyins are
allowed to put on lay gala clothes for a few days and pay short visits to
their parents and relatives and to join in the customary festivities.
Hsi-la-shin (Nun, Buddhist Nun)
in Myanmar, female are also getting same level status like the male.
Not only men can be the hpongyis (monks), but also women can be Hsi-la-shin
(nuns). Of course, there are some difference rules and regulations, or
disciplines and discourses for the nuns who are having less disciplines than
the monk. They also have the shelter, the nunnery like the Hpongyi Kyaung
(monastery) provided by the wealthy donors or the common charity of the
What is more difference is that the monks go round for alms food every day,
but the nuns only go round for alms food on the two pre-Sabbath days.
Whatever the different disciplines and discourses, the nuns also dedicated
to the service of the Buddha, and the Government held the annual examination
for all monks and nuns, and the out standings are always awarded with