Exploring Myanmar’s Mahagandayon Monastery
Most of the pictures and videos depicting Mahagandayon Monastery on the internet involve colorful scenes of the up to 1,500 monks receiving their daily meals from the local area’s residents.
But, for visitors interested in the teachings of Buddha, there is much more to learn from a visit to the monastery. The monastery is also seen as one of Myanmar’s main centers for the education of young monks in the teachings of Buddha and a place where strict religious discipline is maintained.
Monks from all over the country come to the monastery where, along with learning the 227 steps required of the monks, they must also follow a daily ritual that focuses on their minds on their Theravada Buddhist education. A complete education from the monastery lasts 7 to 10 years.
A Monk’s Daily Ritual
Each of the monks is required to rise every morning at 4:30 AM. Breakfast is served to them by the local residents promptly at 5 AM. The monks eat in silence. They clean up after their meals and proceed to classes where they are expected to study the teachings of Buddha which are conducted in the Pali Language.
At around 10:45 AM they are fed lunch, which is the final meal of the day. From noon until dawn the next day, they are expected to go without food. After their meal, they clean up and resume their classes until it’s time for them to go to sleep.
There are essentially 3 types of monks living and studying at Mahagandayon Monastery. The youngest are the white-robed, pre-novices who are essentially helpers around the Monastery. They are not considered to be mature enough to be actual novices. The rules are somewhat more lax for these youths. They are allowed to play, eat dinner in the evening and use money.
The second level is the temporary novices. These are monks who have come from a novitiation ceremony and who are just starting out on their 227-step Buddhist education as the ‘rite of passage’ that every devout, male Buddhist is encouraged to make in life.
The third level is monks that have transferred from another monastery to Mahagandayon Monastery in order to continue and advance their studies. They have passed an examination, which is conducted by the government, proving they have mastered some level of Buddha’s teachings.
The History and Location of Mahagandayon Monastery
Mahagandayon Monastery was established in around 1914 by Agathi Thukha Sayadaw. The monastery became renowned for their enforcement of the Vinaya, the 227 steps that constitute the code of monastic discipline, after the Sayadaw was joined by the Venerable Ashin Zanakabivumsa shortly after opening.
The monastery still maintains the Sayadaw’s sleeping quarters and visitors can look inside the eight windows of the room to see the Spartan lifestyle he adhered to.
The monastery is located in the town of Amarapura, which is just 11 kilometers south of the city of Mandalay. The monastery is very close to Amarapura’s famed U Bein Bridge.
The Visitor’s Code of Conduct
Visitors are welcome at the monastery. However, some rules must be followed in order to preserve the monasteries code of discipline as well as ensure that visitors observe and practice good manners.
Of course, shoes must be removed in areas within the monastery. If a visitor is invited into the monastery, they should maintain a level of quiet that any institution of higher learning would require.
The monk’s heads must never be touched. And, it is considered impolite to take pictures of the monks bathing rituals.
If a visitor follows these simple rules, they’ll be rewarded with a glimpse into the daily practices of one of the world’s oldest and most revered religions.