In the Footsteps of the Buddha - A Burmese Bhikkhu's Journey into Monkhood
by Venerable Eindobhasa
International Buddhist College
Venerable Eindobhasa, a bhikkhu from Myanmar, welcomes your feedback. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
'Why did you choose to be a Buddhist monk or a novice?' This is a question I was asked many times. It is also a question I often ask myself. Yet I don't really know why. I knew I was willing to become a Samanera (novice) like my friends, with whom I was studying at the monastery. Perhaps it was due to my past kamma. Perhaps in my past lives, I had entreated to become a monk in the future lives.
I was born into a poor peasant family in a small village where there was no government school. In the village, we depended on the monastery for our education. I thought that I was unlucky to be born into a family in the countryside where I could not receive modern education. On the other hand, I felt that I was very lucky because I was born into a Buddhist family, and I had a golden chance to become a Buddhist monk. I also had a chance to learn what the Buddha taught in the monastery school. We received basic education on writing , reading and mathematics, and the Buddha's Teachings at the monastic school. We were taught the Five Precepts (Pancasila), Buddhawon (the brief history of the Lord Buddha), Lokaniti (a book of aphorisms pertaining to ethics), Paritta (protective chants), Mangalasutta and Ratanasutta and others. After spending two years in the monastic school, I wished to become a Samanera. Yet I was not aware of the reason why I wished to become one. My abbot knew about me and my intention. He called me in and asked if I really wanted to be a novice, I happily gave him the positive answer. But he did not let me join the novice life immediately. I did not know why. He may be observing and assessing me to see if I was suitable to be a novice or if I really wanted to be one.
Two months later, the abbot called my parents and talked to them about me. He also asked permission from them to novitiate me. However, they did not permit him for they themselves wanted to celebrate the novitiation ceremony. In Arakan, there is a tradition that all parents have to sponsor and support the ordination of their sons as samanera or bhikkhu at least once in their life. It is thus necessary for parents to save and put away money to support such event when the time comes. My parents also wished to do so. But they had difficulties finding enough money to pay for the food to be provided at such an event.
On hearing that my parents declined to give permission for me to be novitiated, I was angry and demonstrated it to them by refusing to return home for dinner. They did not know that I felt angry with them. They waited for me to return home for dinner. But they did not see me. When the time I usually came home passed, they inquired from other students with whom I lived in the monastery. They explained to my parents. When they realized what happened, they immediately came to the monastery. They asked for me to take some food and not to behave like that, and they also promised to arrange for me to be novitiated the following year. But I did not agree with them. I responded to them, "If you do not allow me to be novitiated now, I would not come home at all." Because my parents knew that I was really determined, they allowed me to be novitiated as a Samanera that year. Thus, I was novitiated at the age of thirteen at the beginning of the raining season of 1995. My parents were also delighted that they now had a son who was a novice. As a novice, I continued my studies on basic Buddhist Teachings for three years in the monastery school in my native town.
In the waxing day of Waso in 1998, I was sent by my abbot to Okkyaung Pariyattisathondeik to continue my studies on Buddhist Scripture. Okkyaung Pariyattisathondeik is a monastery where all Buddhist monks and novices can study Buddhist Scripture for free. It is situated in Kyaukphru, Arakan State. The class had already started for two months when I got there. There I was surprised to see so many monks and novices studying Buddhist Scripture in one place. I experienced some difficulties with adjustment to the new environment and practice when I first moved there. I had to get used to their teaching methods. The difficult one I first faced was to going on alms round. Why? Because the customary practice in the town and countryside is different. In the countryside, when monks or novices go around for alms food, lay-devotees are waiting in lines to offer the foods to them. In the city and town it is not like that. In the city or town, monks or novices have to ask the devotees if it is possible for a monk to come to their house tomorrow for alms food. The monks or novices will then go to their house for alms-food the next day if they agree. The monks or novices will be invited into the guest room where the donors have prepared special place for the monks or novices to take their meals. At first, I felt shy to behave like that. I got used to the practice later.
I did not develop any particular aims or goals while I was residing and studying in the countryside. After having been in the monastery in Kyaukpru, Arakan State for a year, I became more aware of the essence of the Teachings of the Buddha, and I began to set down plans and goals to achieve the aims in my life. The first aim is to get B.A. degree (for lay people) and pass Dhammacariya Examination (special examination for monks, novices and nuns) based on Buddhist Scripture by the age of 25. The second is to study at a foreign Buddhist University or College. The third is to teach the Buddha's Teachings to lay people, monks, novices and poor children in my native town after I finished my studies. Hence, I tried hard to achieve my aims. However, the path to achieving my first aim was not a straight one.
The year 2003 is an unforgettable one in my life. In that year, I passed Pathamagyi Examination organized specifically for Buddhist monks, novices and nuns by the Department of Religious Affairs of the Government of the Union of Myanmar. I was also ordained as a bhikkhu in that year, and my supporters for the Four Requisites were my parents (Paccayanuggaha). After the ordination, in accordance with my decision to study at a foreign university or a College I passed the Pathamagyi Examination, I prepared to begin my journey to India. But my parents requested me not to go there because it was very close to observing Buddhist Lent and I had no friends there. My abbot also requested me to train young novices and teach them Buddhist Scripture in the monastery. Even though I no longer wanted to reside there, I agreed with his suggestion. I taught young novices there for a year. Then, I decided to continue working towards going to a foreign institute. I moved to Rangoon in 2004.
In Myanmar, most of the abbots do not let monks or novices living in their temple to study English. They think that monks or novices ought not to study English and most of lay people think likewise. In my views, both monks and novices should study English, an international language which is widely used in the world. Nowadays people from western countries such as USA and UK have become more and more interested in Buddha's Teachings. Unless the monks and novices can read and write English, they cannot serve to promote and propagate the Buddhist teachings in various parts of the world.
On arriving at Rangoon, I found that it easy to learn Buddhist Scripture but difficult to study English. I looked for a temple that allowed me to learn English, but I was not successful. By now, it was very close to Buddhist Lent, so an abbot allowed me to reside in his monastery for the rains retreat, but not for learning English and he reminded me so. But one month later, I secretly started learning English. I did my homework, and I learned vocabulary by heart quietly inside my mosquito-net every evening. In the first three months, no one knew that I was learning English. At the end of Buddhist Lent, one of monks informed the abbot that I was learning English. As soon as the abbot knew about it, I had to leave. But I was not worried. One of my supporters arranged for me to live in another temple where the abbot allowed every monk and novice to learn English. Therefore, I kept on studying English. One day, I heard that my preceptor (Upajjhaya Acariya) passed away in my village. So I stopped learning English and returned to my native town for my preceptor's cremation ceremony.
In the summer, I returned to Rangoon and continued learning English. But soon after my return, political demonstrations led by the Sangha started in Rangoon in September, 2007. The Government then gave the order that all Sangha members except the abbots had to go back to their native towns. I returned to my village again during the Buddhist Lent. When I arrived there, my parents and my relatives asked me to change the robes because they worried about me in my monk identity. But I did not agree with them because I determined to continue on my monkhood life as usual. After the Buddhist Lent was over, I again returned to Rangoon to continue learning English. In 2008 I applied to study at IBC. Now I am here, finally achieving my aim of studying abroad in a Buddhist Studies program conducted in English medium.
I often think about my life now. I think about why I became a novice, and why I took the higher ordination. But I still don't know the cause of my becoming a novice, except that I wished to become a Samanera like my friends when I was young. I continue to be a monk because I want to help poor children. As a Buddhist monk, I depend on the lay-people. Despite their poverty, the devotees always support and provide the Sangha with the Four Requisites. So in return, I wish to do something for the welfare of the devotees. After I finish my education, I will go back to my hometown, and I will teach the Buddha's Teachings to poor children so that they will grow and develop to be useful citizens of my country.