Last Updated on July 30, 2021 by Christine Kaaloa
“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:
• Singing songs (* chanting is not considered a “song”)
• Playing sports
• Touching a person of the opposite sex
• Killing or committing murder (hence, partially why monks receive food alms vs cook; they cannot participate in the killing of things)
• Eating after 6pm (* monks take only 2 meals a day– breakfast and lunch)
Okay, I couldn’t remember #10 but you get the drift.
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:
Staying at a Haeinsa temple (Korea)
Visiting the Holy Karmapa? (India)