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Buddhist Monks in Myanmar: Living in an Economy of Generosity


Seeing the monks and nuns and novices in Myanmar was absolutely mesmerizing. Garbed in their traditional robes, they stand out, making it obvious to all, their occupation, beliefs and focus of life. A constant reminder of the pivotal role that Buddhism plays in this remote and somewhat exotic country. In Myanmar the saffron robes of the men and the gentle pink of the women proclaim the priorities.


During my two week visit, I found myself pointing my camera whenever I could at these gentle souls so foreign to my world. Most of the time I asked permission, gesturing at my Nikon  and smiling, nodding my head to ask it it was ok? Often I got curious smiles with at the gentle affirming nod back. Sometimes the zoom lens allowed me to capture the image from afar. I was never turned down.

So, what fascinated me? The practice of gathering breakfast. In the mornings when I had a chance to get out and walk, I’d see the monks with their bowls in hand going from house to house, business to business collecting rice and fruit. This is their only meal for the day and had to be eaten before noon.

It is expected and the people are ready for them. It’s what they do.





Doing a little research, I learned that typically the monks do not speak, even to say thank you. The giving of alms is not thought of as charity. The giving and receiving of alms creates a spiritual connection between the monastic and lay communities.

Lay people have a responsibility to support the monks physically and the monks have a responsibility to support the community spiritually therefore it isn’t called begging.

I also read that Buddhist monks live in an “economy of generosity.” What a lovely way to express the concept.

Here are some more  images from my meandering mornings.



Who would have thought that watching people line up and file into lunch would be interesting? I did that and it was.


At a teaching Monastery in Mandalay. We saw the saffron robed young men line up and quietly file into lunch after a morning of intense study. They were not allowed to look at us. They aren’t expected to go out and to gather food because they are students.






Some of the people who gathered around had donated the day’s meal. Others were family members. I saw a few tourists like us.   The electric sign proclaims the donors of today’s lunch.  It seemed odd to me to see a neon sign in a country where only a third of  the people have access to electricity.


This is the front door to the dining room and scenes of the lunch room.  The novices/monks eat their meal in silence.  The sandals line up outside the door.  Order and quiet are maintained. The mood is spiritual. My guess is that the monks would be shocked by getting a meal at a McDonalds.








Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

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