Sunday, November 16, 2014

Meetings with Monks

For me, traveling in Southeast Asia was a time of many firsts: It was the first time I accepted an invitation from complete strangers to eat a meal at their house, the first time I rode a motorbike, the first (and last) time I took a 24 hour bus journey... the list goes on and on.

It was also the first time I saw a monk which, I quickly realized, is a very common sight in this part of the world. During the time I spent in Southeast Asia (particularly in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar) I met and befriended many monks who, in addition to being some of the kindest and most genuine people I've ever come across, were absolutely fascinating to talk to. I often asked them questions and ended up learning quite a bit about how they live.

Making my offering of Goldfish crackers to a monk in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Here are a few of the things I learned during my various meetings with monks:*

• They live very simply and do not receive any kind of income; they survive solely off donations and offerings from people who use their 'services', which can include performing blessings, teaching and spiritual counselling

• They take vows of celibacy, and females should never touch male monks (though I'm not sure the same applies to males touching female monks)

• They live communally in temples or pagodas

• They are required to shave their heads and wear robes, usually in orange or red for males and pink for females

• If there is ever a situation where non-monks are eating with monks, the latter eats first

• It's not only for adults, children can also be 'monks in training'

• For some, being a monk is something they may try for a year or so, while others remain monks for their whole lives (I met an elderly man who had been a monk for over 70 years!)

• They are not allowed to drive vehicles, however they can use mobile phones and computers

Learning about and befriending monks was without a doubt one of my favourite parts of traveling in Southeast Asia, and is one of the things that I miss most.

* Just as there are different types of Buddhism, there are different types of monks, so the rules I mentioned may not apply to every single monk. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, this is just some of what I learned while speaking with monks during my travels!

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