The Monks of Burma

From as young as seven years old, the boys of Myanmar train as novice monks. Growing up together in their ancient monasteries they form a brotherhood of close connections. They eat, pray, become educated, play and live together—for what will become decades as they form a new family that spans many generations.

The traditions of Buddhism are upheld very strongly in Myanmar. Monks pray throughout the day to honour the teachings of Buddha.

The most religious Buddhist country in the world, Myanmar has the highest proportion of monks and nuns, with somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the population practicing Buddhism.

Every Buddhist Burmese boy between the age of 7 and 13 is expected to enter the monastery as a novice monk for a period of a few weeks to several months. He has a choice to return to life outside the monastery at any time, or he can stay on as a monk, if he so chooses.

Many families from poorer or more rural backgrounds take up the chance to send their son to be a monk as it also means a free education.

Mandalay

I took this photo of the young monk below in Mandalay at a boarding school for monks and other students.

Here an older monk from Mandalay smokes in front of his ancient teak monastery. He had just proudly shown me around the inside of the monastery. Not many monks smoke, except in the older generations.

Yangon

I met the monk below in Yangon, who told me that he was 28 years old and has happily lived his life in the monastery since an early age.

A novice monk jumps through the forest close to his monastery.

Below, seven young monks sit on a log nearby their monastery in Yangon. The novice monks all grow up together in their monastery, forming a brotherhood of close connections.

They eat, pray, become educated, play and live together, and for potentially decades they form a new family.

Mrauk-U

A young monk scans the horizon of the former kingdom of Mrauk-U. Countless temples from the 16th century dot the hills. This monk is looking over the once most powerful and important kingdom in which the kings, ministers, and peasants built many pagodas and temples to reflect their Buddhist faith.

A novice monk prays inside the opening of an ancient temple on the top of a hill in Mrauk-U, as the sun starts to set.

Below, another of the novice monks from Mrauk-U shows me that his imagination is in full flight as he engages in some martial arts on a stick of bamboo in front of an ancient temple by his monastery.

This boy was full of energy and wanted to show off his high flying skills for the camera, over and over again.

Amarapura

Two monks from different generations sit together on an ancient stone chair in the grounds of their monastery in Amarapura.

Nyaung Shwe

A novice monk looks out over the scenic countryside from his monastery near Nyaung Shwe in the late afternoon.

While exploring the area around Sittwe, Myanmar, I was lucky to be welcomed into a monastery, and was treated with generous hospitality.

After eating some food with the head abbot monk, I was privileged to witness prayer time when all the monks find a space and sit down to read aloud from their prayer books.

Kyaiktiyo

The Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo is a holy and important site which Buddhists frequent in large numbers. A gold leaf covered boulder precariously balances on the edge of a cliff, and pilgrims come to worship this astonishing defiance of gravity.

It is said that a single hair of the Buddha lies under the rock.

Sagaing

Three playful and energetic novice monks in Sagaing enjoy playing together as they jumped simultaneously into the air through a temple archway. I was exploring a Buddhist temple when I met these monks, who live together in a nearby monastery.

Inle Lake

Novice monks reading in their monastery on Inle Lake.

“The Tree of Life”

Here a novice monk sits on the roots of an ancient tree on a hilltop overlooking a forest. Buddhism is based upon the importance of love, tolerance and compassion, and devout Buddhists strive to make merit through meditation of the mind, as well as through charitable and honourable actions. The old tree roots are growing over a small shrine where objects can be placed as offerings.

Explore more of my work over at davidlazarphoto.com.

PUBLISHED BY

David Lazar

A travel photographer and musician from Brisbane, who loves to capture moments of life, beauty and culture through photography.

davidlazarphoto.com

Itch to explore?

We'll match you with the right local expert