Monks of Burma by David Lazar
Myanmar (Burma) is the most religious Buddhist country in the world – with the highest proportion of monks and nuns in the population, and somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of people practicing Buddhism. The ultimate goal of a Buddhist is the attainment of Nirvana, a state of enlightenment where all desire and suffering have been eliminated. The belief is that suffering is caused by desire, and suffering can only end when desire is eliminated. Monks are able to become closer than anyone else to understanding enlightenment through meditation and true mental discipline. Buddhism is based upon the importance of love, tolerance and compassion, and devout Buddhists strive to make merit through charitable and honourable actions.
Every Burmese Buddhist 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. By age 20, he is no longer considered a novice, and as Buddhism has a strong emphasis on individual achievement, a monk is free to leave or return to the monastery as he chooses.
The initiation ceremony to become a novice monk is considered to be the most important part of a male’s life, and is highly auspicious for his family. Many from poorer or more rural backgrounds take up the chance to do this as it also means a free education for their child, with guaranteed shelter, food and clothing provided for. The novice monks all grow up together from a young age 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.
The monks of Myanmar wear red/maroon coloured robes, unlike monks in other Buddhist countries in South East Asia who usually wear saffron coloured robes. The monks shave each others hair off their heads with a razor very frequently to help him lose the vanity associated with hair (eg. combing and styling) as this is an unproductive thought. They start their day by waking up at 5am in the morning, and form a line at the entrance of their monastery and begin the morning collection for alms and food. Shop and house owners have rice, curry, fruit, money or some other donation ready to give to the monks as they come around with their collection bowls, and it is considered important and good fortune for a Buddhist citizen to give to the monks every morning. Monks take two meals in the day – breakfast and lunch. No more meals are consumed after this until the following morning when the monks return for the morning collections.
The rest of their day is filled by learning and reciting prayers, teachings and sessions with elder monks to help understand the philosophies behind the lessons and teachings of the Buddha. There are monasteries which are also part of large schools for general education, and sometimes monks mix in with other children and students to attend these schools. For the novice monk, there is also plenty of time in the day for playing games, and it is common to see groups of monks playing physical outdoor games as well as skill and precision based board games.
About David Lazar :
David Lazar is a photographer from Brisbane,Australia, who is primarily a musician (pianist and film composer). He took up photography in 2005, after travelling extensively, and has received acclaim and notice through his galleries displayed on the pbase web site.
David’s more recent accolades include finalist in the Lonely Planet Photo Competition in 2010 and finalist in Asia Geographic ‘Poetry in Motion’ Competition 2010. David primarily enjoys expressive people shots and encompassing the subject’s natural environment within the frame.
David first ventured to Myanmar in January 2010, and returned again in 2011, after being drawn into beauty of the country and the generosity and peacefulness of the people. He travelled with an ambition to explore and learn about the country, and to capture portraits of the people of Myanmar, as well as monks in their every day life. Seeking out monasteries and temples in various cities and towns in Myanmar he has built a stunning photographic portfolio of portraits and daily life you now see here. David’s time with the younger and more curious novice monks tended to present a more playful element to his photography and hence he has captured these moments alongside the meditative and contemplative characteristics, which are fundamental to Buddhism.
You may view more of David’s work in other destinations via pbase and more on the Burma assignment in our gallery below.
View full computer screen images of David’s work in our Portfolio site.
A photo essay on the monks of Burma by photographer David Lazar