Friday, May 21, 2010

Buddhist monks in Isaan and Laos

Buddhism is the most important religion of Laos and Thailand's northeastern provinces, also known as Isaan. Buddhism practiced in this region follows the Theravada (literally, "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching", which is the oldest surviving Buddhist school) tradition.

The form of Buddhism practiced along the Mekong River countries Thailand and Laos is a unique version of Theravada Buddhism and is the corner stone of the local culture.

Buddhist practices and beliefs are often closely tied to animist and ancestral spirits beliefs, particularly in rural areas.

In Isaan and in Laos one does not need to walk far in a village to encounter a Buddhist temple and monks living there. Monks in their saffron or orange colored robes are easy to recognize.

By getting up early in the morning, monks can be seen in long lines walking with dignity to collect alms from laymen.

Lay persons by offering alms engage in merit making activities. These activities include offering food and other basic necessities to monks, making donations to temples and monasteries, burning incense or lighting candles before images of the Buddha, and chanting protective or merit-making verses from the Pali Canon.

In evening times, one can listen to their divine chanting in the temple or just have a seat and enjoy sitting with the monks and watching them.

Two different monastic roles in Theravada can be observed and described: the role of the urban scholar monk and the rural or forest meditation monk. Both serve their communities as spiritual teachers and provide instruction in basic Buddhist morality and teachings.

The minimum age for ordaining as a Buddhist monk is normally 20 years. However, boys under that age are allowed to ordain as novices. Almost all boys spend some time (usually around 3 months) in their village temple to gain merit. In some more remote areas the local temple is often the only place of education. Monks follow 227 rules of discipline, while nuns follow 311 rules.

Therefore men who have ordained as a monk may be seen as more fit husbands by many women...

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