The Pink Monks of Myanmar: Eyewitness to Life as a Buddhist nun
It was easy to become enchanted by her. Her unabashed smile was captivating. And she seemed to radiate calmness, happiness and confidence.
What do you know about Buddhist nuns? You may have seen photos of Myanmar’s Buddhist monks in their saffron colored robes. Or, you’ve seen or heard his holiness the Dalai Lama.
Copyright 2015, Cindy A Stephens
Before my visits to Nepal and Myanmar I had read about Buddhism, which has always fascinated me. Most of the books are written from a male perspective, however, and don't illuminate the lives of women in monastic orders, either Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism.
The 'Pink Monks' of Myanmar
The ‘pink monks’ of Myanmar are girls and women ranging in ages from around 10 upwards. They wear light pink robes and have shaven heads. Myuk told me she had been at the nunnery in the Saigaing Hills for 30 years, since she was a girl of just 10 years old. (Note, I may not have the correct spelling of her name).
Myuk spoke excellent English and pointed out their learning room where they receive a free education. The 100-150 nuns receive two meals per day and clothing. For many young girls joining the monastic order is a way to escape poverty or worse situations.
The nuns in this Theravada Buddhist order do not farm or sell small handicrafts. Like their male monk counterparts they rely on almsgiving - the generosity of others - for their food and goods.
My brief conversation with Myuk, and the opportunity to get a glimpse into her life, was a real privilege. These types of encounters and memories are the reason I travel to countries and cultures that are different from mine (spending 20+ hours on planes!).
Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery, Nepal
In 2013, on my prior journey to Asia, I visited the Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery in Kathmandu. According to the Kopan Monastery website the nunnery is home to around 360 nuns many of whom are refugees from Tibet.
Whereas the monks of Myanmar practice Theravada Buddhism the monks and nuns in Kathmandu follow Mahayana Buddhist practices. If you’re interested you can read more about the difference in these two schools here.
Copyright 2013 Cindy A Stephens
One of the things I remember most about my visit to this nunnery is learning about the incense the nuns make and sell to support the nunnery. I had never seen incense made before and certainly never experienced anything like this.
I went inside a small room where four or five women were patiently bundling the incense that was drying on shelves near the room’s entrance. Gift boxes of incense were sold in the monastery shop and used to support the monks and nuns of Kopan Monastery and Nunnery.
The day I visited the nunnery happened to also be an exam day for the nuns and I was privileged to get a brief glimpse of that part of their world too – becoming an eye witness to this important passage.
What I’m Reading
Often when I return from my latest main street or back road journey I find myself drawn to personal accounts of living in these exotic lands. One of the next on my booklist is a story about the woman of Nepal called The Violet Shyness of their Eyes: Notes from Nepal.
I've just finished reading a memoir by Inge Sargent (Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess) about her days as the Mahadevi of Hsipaw upon her graduation from a university in Colorado and marriage to a Shan prince.
You can see more photos of many of the people I’ve met on my journeys: here
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Calmness, happiness and confidence are important aspirations. Some seek them in pink robes and separated spirituality and others through the absorption of travel and subsequent contemplation.
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