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Wanna be a monk in Laos?… Don’t answer just yet.

“The monk life is very hard.  I spent 6 years as a monk and I am thankful to grow up in the monastery, but I couldn’t wait to leave!” cajoled my  24-year-old Laotian tour agent.

You didn’t enjoy it or have fun?  I asked.

 ” It’s not that it was bad. There are many boys there with you. You sleep together, eat together, work together and play, so you’re not alone. It was also easy for my family, because my family is poor and the monks raise us and school us. But there are many things you can’t do… a long list…” the jovial agent continued.

– You didn’t want to continue being a monk?

I wanted to get out and live life!  I like very much what I do now. I enjoy meeting people and taking them around, trekking and showing them my home and where my family lives. My youngest brother is living at the monastery now ,” he said laughing at his siblings demise.

 

This made me wonder… Should you be a monk in Laos?

 

What makes living in a monastery  challenging for young boys that some don’t want to continue?

Well, apparently, there are 10 rules in the monastery, which goes something like this:

NO…

•      Singing songs (* chanting is not considered a “song”)
•      Playing sports
•      Touching a person of the opposite sex
•      Lying
•      Stealing
•      Killing or committing murder (hence, partially why monks receive food alms vs cook; they cannot participate in the killing of things)
•      Sex
•      Drugs
•      Eating after 6pm (* monks take only 2 meals a day– breakfast and lunch)

Okay, I couldn’t remember #10 but you get the drift.

working monks

 

In Laos, male children are often sent to the temple at an early age.

Unlike Thailand or Cambodia, where many  monks you see tend to be young adult or older males, in Laos, many orange-robes are worn by boys around the age of 14-16. According to Big Brother Mouse, (a well-run NGO, which supports Laotian youth and education through book donations and publications) over half of Laos’ population of 6 million are under the age of 21. Another astounding fact is that 80% of the population lives in rural conditions. Aside from locals living in tourist populated cities like Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Vang Vieng, most Laotians actually don’t earn an income, but instead, live off of rice, farmed vegetation and chickens.

According to a monk teen I spoke to, a 35,000 to 50,000 kip (approximately $5-6 ) is often paid annually as normal tuition for schooling in public schools. This is considered expensive. Many Laotian families live in small towns and villages, where either, very little money/income is earned. Many families live off of trade and natural resources. For a Laotian family, sending a son off to the temple is less mouth to feed and the boys get room, board and a decent education.

 

Why do monks receive alms?

In Luang Prabang, you’ll see it the procession of robes and alms bowls entering the main street at the crack of dawn. For Buddhist monks, receiving food alms is a daily ritual. Each monk walks barefoot with only a bowl to collect food in. Part of the tradition of collecting alms is that monks cannot kill or harm live things such as animals for their food; however, they can receive it from someone else.

Perhaps we sin so they can be saints.

When back at the temple, they share the food. Monks can only eat twice a day. Once in the morning and then around lunch.

 What do you think? Could you live the life of a Laotian monk?

 

Other monk stories:

< Should you be a monk in Laos?

When Tibetan monks get downright passionate! (India)

Finding my Inner Buddha at Templestay (Day 1) (Korea)

My Accidental Overnight stay at a Buddhist temple (Korea)

I’m visiting who… the Karmapa?  (India)

24 Comments

  1. Naomi says:

    Admittedly, when I first heard about this I thought it sounded so strange to be a monk just for a few years…I always thought of it as a lifetime commitment like in the West. Guess it’s done differently for a number of Buddhist countries 😉

    • @Naomi: Interesting that you say that, Naomi! I used to have the very same image about monks. But in Asia and developing countries, it’s seeming that boys enter for a variety of reasons.

  2. Jessica says:

    Interesting post! Our tour guide in Luang Prabang had also been a monk when he was younger, and he said that he learned English while living in the monastery. It sounded like a challenging life, but he was grateful for all the opportunities that opened up for him.

    • @Jessica: I’m sure it does give them a lot of opportunities. I feel English must be part of the Buddhist monk curriculum… ha ha… Almost all the countries I’v e crossed them in, they’re looking for ways to practice their English.

  3. Jarmo says:

    No way I could live as a monk 😉 I could do maybe a week out of curiosity, but that’s it 😉 … After that I’d be breaking at least 8 of the 10 rules 😉

  4. Furio says:

    Nope, you didn’t convince me to become a monk haha
    Nice photos ; )

  5. Jen says:

    Yes, Third Eye is about the experience of the author’s account during his time in the monastery. It’s a very quick and easy read. He also goes into the mind set of a monk, which is quite fascinating.

  6. twitter_JanetBrent says:

    This is really interesting..
    You typically think of monks as so enlightened and taking the personal choice to go down the spiritual path but when you look at it from this angle–simply as a means for survival–it’s humbling. So parents send their kids off as if it were like a boarding school.. Their sense of freedom is lost. This could be explored further!

    I lived in a monastery for about 6 months and I saw the politics and how much of an illusion my view of monks previously were. I now see them as normal people.. not necessarily more “enlightened” than me. Far from it.

    • @JanetBrent: Wow, 6 months in a monastery. I’m certain there must be politics and all the little games that go on in small community groups. But yes, I think we all have a pseudo-romantic idea of monks, which may not always be accurate in some cases. A Thai friend told me that in Thailand, when boys reach a certain age, they are given a choice of where they want to serve– in the military …or at a monastery.

  7. Interesting post, Christine. From reading this, and my mere overnight templestay at a Buddhist temple in Seoul, I know that I could never be happy living as a monk, (or nun, since I’m a woman,) because I’ve experienced so much freedom in my life. At the Korean temple, I had a fantastic experience, but I feel like a longer stay would begin to feel like prison. Maybe not, though. It would be quite the challenge!

  8. I have a different experience. After living in Siem Reap (Cambodia) for the past 2 months, I made friends with some Buddhist monks. I spoke to them a lot and they told me most of the monks choose to be a monk because as they say “Life is easier. I don’t have to work. I get all stuff for free”. It sounds terrible, but it’s something true. Moreover, the monks I met, told me they often break the rules when living in the monastery. They eat lots of sweets after 12pm when they are not allowed to have a meal after their lunch, they date local girls or foreigners and cheat. I am not saying it applies to all of them. This is what I found out. I wanted to donate some monks and pay for their university, but after what I have heard, somehow I don’t feel like doing it now. Great post though. 🙂

    • @Agness: ha ha… I have no doubt that stuff must happen too. I totally get how disillusioning it can feel. Maybe you can donate in Laos! 😉 Thanks for sharing your insight and experience. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experience with monks (read here)!

      I expect ‘boys will be boys’ and in most cases,I initially assumed your sentiment– that monk life is easier. I never questioned it until I met that chap I came across. For him, he was putting his education to entrepreneurial use. He was working as a tour agent and had his own trekking business, so he was doing well financially. His old monk life wasn’t as dazzling to him but a bit of a chore, because now he could live freely (probably more openly too).

      Laos was the first country I’ve seen a majority of young boys & teens over older males. Until then, in Thailand, India, South Korea, Cambodia I’ve seen mostly young adult men and the older generations in the robes and out and about. It was also the first country where i visibly saw a lot of doing hefty temple chores (like some of the photos I’ve shown- climbing trees and chopping wood, shoveling stones…). I’d never seen monks doing so much work & those little ones definitely weren’t wearing smiles. I was wondering if maybe Laos, because it’s more rural than Thailand and Cambodia, isn’t as luxurious but more laborous? That was my guess anyways. In Laos, only city folk have a monetary income, so the gifts can’t be as great as their SEA brothers.

      Much to wonder about! Thanks so much for sharing. =-)

  9. Jen says:

    OH man…I don’t know if I can NOT eat after 6PM. That’s a toughie for me. I find it interesting the whole monk lifestyle. I used to love reading “The Third Eye” by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa. I can’t find my copy…which reminds me I gotta buy it on amazon. I hope you are having a great time on scouting on those “secret” locations.

    • @Jen: Haven’t read that book, The Third Eye… sounds like it could be interesting. Take it was written by a Tibetan monk? Is it about their lifestyle?

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