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A Buddhist's Life

  Buddhism plays an influential part in the life of most Myanmar people from the cradle to the grave. A Buddhist child may wake up each day to the sound of his parents or grandparents at prayer at the break of day, offering a meal to the Buddha through His image, reciting scriptures in His honour and sharing merits. The mother may cook rice and other dishes first thing in the morning to offer to the monks on their alms rounds. Long lines of monks in yellowish brown robes, holding their alms bowls and keeping their heads bowed, humbly receive whatever food is offered for their sustenance in order that they may help lay people on their way to Nibbana (Nirvana).

In the evening, children must pay respects to the Triple Gems, or the Buddhist Trinity, as well as to their parents according to the teachings of the Buddha.

A Myanmar boy will become a novice during the school holidays for periods ranging from a week or longer when he reaches his teens, or sometimes earlier. He will have his hair shaved, wear a robe, and stay in a monastery learning as much scripture as he can. Parents and grandparents take pride in sponsoring the novitiation ceremony for their children, normally associated with a feast. Many girls, too, will join meditation centres or have their hair shaved and become young nuns in a nunnery during their school holidays.

When the boy comes of age and gets married, a feast may again be held for the monks as a meritorious deed. Another feast for the monks may be held each time a new-born child is named or on any special occasion, be it social or religious. As the person gets older, he may spend most of his time reading religious books, listening to sermons, keeping fast on Sabbath days, joining meditation centres or doing the practice at home, to make the most of his life. And when he finally dies, there will be many offerings, including meals, made to the monks who in turn recite scriptures in a solemn ceremony meant to help the deceased on his way to another existence.

In a Buddhist home, there is always a shrine or an altar either in the front living room or upstairs if the home has two storeys. The shrine, in which a Buddha image is kept, may be on a shelf high up on a wall or on top of a tall cupboard. This is usually the family's own Buddha image handed down from earlier generations, which may be made of wood, marble or bronze. A wooden image is usually gilded with gold leaf or gold paint. There may also be photos of famous Buddha images or of highly revered monks kept in the shrine. When entering the shrine room, footwear must be removed as a token of respect. Holy water in little cups and food for one meal are offered every day in living memory of the Buddha. Flowers in vases and lit candles or electric lights are also offered to the Buddha.