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Published: November 3rd 2013
2am wake up for Alms Giving
Theravada Buddhists observe a three month lent period, which ends on the full moon day in October. In the days leading up to and immediately following the full moon there are many festivals and ceremonies to observe. One of the ceremonies is the giving of alms to monks and nuns who, due to the end of lent are allowed to leave their monasteries.
The alms giving in Yangon was a large affair, with more than 400 monks and nuns participating.
We had a 2am wake up call and we bundled ourselves into the back of Auntie and Uncle’s small truck for the trip to our designated spot. Even at this time of the morning there were hundreds of monks, nuns and lay people in the streets. Gongs were sounding and the monks and nuns were forming orderly lines at the starting point of the their alms rounds. Once underway, the monastic groups wound their way through the blocks of adjacent streets accepting offerings and giving blessings. What does an Aussie wear under his longyi?
I gave Ohnmar and the other passengers on the back of our truck a bit of
a shock. Ohnmar asked did I feel comfortable wearing a longyi for the first time. My response was "It is very comfortable and so breezy, it feels great, especially with no underwear"
. Ohnmar laughed and said "You're kidding? No underwear?"
and I said "Here let me show you"
at that I flipped the longyi up exposing the fact I was actually wearing a pair of shorts underneath. After the passengers recovered from the initial shock of what they thought they might see they all pinched and slapped me playfully. Alms stall
Our group set up our “alms stall” in the street where Ohnmar and Mum lived before migrating to Australia. The neighbours and relatives had helped by preparing food and other offerings to add to the huge load of Aussie chocolates we had brought in our luggage.
We had ourselves very organised, with a table full of supplies, including foods, fruit, tiger balm jars and small jars of local digestive aids (a herbal stomach powder of some sort).
As each group of monks or nuns approached our street, Uncle struck the gong to let them know we were ready and waiting. We would then offer each
2am truck ride
Yong on right + helpers
monk or nun one of each of the items on our stall. Following a short blessing they would leave, either on foot or on a small truck, headed for the next alms stall.
I have never seen so many monks and nuns at one time. Lorenza and I had purchased about 400 chocolate treats and we ran out of these before the last few groups approached us. That gave us an idea of how many individual offerings our group made.
Once packed up and tidied, we left the stall area and climbed back on the small truck to go in search of some breakfast. We gobbled down pork buns as we slurped on Burmese tea. All this was over and done with by about 6am. Dana at East Dagon
The Pali word Dana means to be generous or to give. Dana can take many forms, food offerings, charitable works or donations, a kindly act to another being, etc.
Following our act of Dana in Yangon city, we made our way a short distance to East Dagon and the Tipitakamhaganthavanaikaya Monastery oversighted by Sayadaw Yesagyo. The monastery name sure is a mouthful. Here we made food
offerings to the student monks.
Again, the neighbours and relatives had assisted by preparing the cooked foods. We did our best to help by slicing up fruits and setting the tables. A Buddhist monk or nun cannot eat food that has not been offered to them. So, each dish was laid on the individual tables and when the monks were seated we lifted the tables a few inches off the floor and “offered” the food to the monks. The monks consumed the food “mindfully” and while observing “noble silence”.
A large banner had been hung in the dining hall acknowledging whom today’s food offerings had been donated by. After the monks completed their meals, it was our turn to share some lunch with all those involved in this act of Dana. Two schools and a clinic
Ohnmar and Mum sure have some stamina, they set a cracking pace for us all day despite the 2am start. Next on our list of Dana duties was to visit a village some distance from Yangon. Mum and her group of friends back home had raised funds to supply this village with two water supply reservoirs. Prior to these being
built the village had no permanent water supply during the dry season.
Our trip to the village consisted of a 1 hour ride in a mini bus, a short boat ride and then a trip on the back of some motorcycles. It was a really enjoyable and interesting journey. Seeing Mum on the back of a motorcycle, sitting side-saddle, really showed us what a versatile woman she is.
The two water reservoirs were impressive, considering how hard it would be to get any earth moving equipment in to the area. They were largely built by hand and the villagers told us they now have a continuous water supply during summer.
From there we visited two local primary schools. At each school we all made some donations to improve the amenities. At the first one they wanted to install ceiling fans in the classrooms, so between us all we managed to cover the cost of this. We were taken to each classroom by the teachers and we gave each child a small gift. They were so pleased by this it really made our hearts swell. Kids their age in the west have so much, these wonderful children were
so happy just to be a given a simple toy it was a joy to see their smiling faces and to hear them say in unison “thank you and good luck to you”.
At the second school we donated money toward new chairs and tables for the classrooms. The current ones were basic and the kids fast outgrowing them. We again gave each child a small gift. Included in the funds we donated here I added some money that some friends and work colleagues had given us back in Australia. The idea for this is simple and based on an idea called “100 Friends”. When you visit a developing country you aim to contact 100 friends and ask for a small donation to put toward something like the school amenities. By doing this, each person donates about the cost of a few cups of coffee and a group like this school get new tables and chairs. I call our version of 100 Friends “Two Cups of Coffee”. Cheers to all who chipped in for this, you have hearts of gold.
After the school visits we dropped into the local village first aid clinic. It was a very basic
Lorenza offering fruit, food & chocolate
clinic, with a cot and some limited medical supplies and equipment. The volunteer operators told us they treat about 100 patients a month. The most common issues they said they treated were broken bones and also brain seizures. They try to render first aid using a combination of basic medicines and local remedies.
We all chipped in what we could for the clinic and they were overwhelmed by our small contributions. Considering the income of most of these villages is less than $1 a day a modest donation does go a long well in a place like this. The older lady who administered the clinic and accepted our donations got very emotional when we were leaving. You could tell she was everyone’s universal Grandmother.
After the clinic we took a rest, enjoyed some coconut water and snacks and then made our way by motorcycle back to the boat jetty, across the river at sunset then back to Yangon. It was a very busy and fulfilling day.
Our hearts had been touched deeply by how open, warm and happy the people we came into contact were. It is easy to see they have a very tough life and
well earned breakfast
L to R - Yong, Mum & Ohnmar
the political system has not done much to help them. Our initial impressions of the warmth and sincerity of the people of Myanmar would be strengthened as our journey continued - may they all be well and happy.
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