Burmese Buddhism & Lunchtime at Bago Monastery

In Asia, Myanmar, Places of Worship & Ruinsby SheenaLeave a Comment

Observe the lunchtime procession at Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery in Bago to gain a better understanding of Burmese Buddhism.

Burmese Buddhism

Here at DIY Travel HQ I was inspired to learn more about Buddhism in Myanmar from a visit to the Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery.

The common Burmese approach to Buddhism is centred upon striving for a better future, founded on the concept of samsara or the “cycle of existence”, the continual process of life and death through rebirth and reincarnation within the six Buddhist realms.

Acts of spiritual merit that can help worshippers attain enlightenment include:

  • Feeding monks
  • Giving donations to temples
  • Affixing gold-leaf layers to sacred images and objects
  • Taking part in regular worship at the local paya
Monks eating at Bago monastery

Monks receive rice from visitors to the monastery, which is then eaten with the meal provided

Lay Buddhists subscribe to the Five Precepts, though they are more rules of guidance than imperatives in support of practice:

  1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing
  2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given
  3. I undertake the training rule to avoid sexual misconduct
  4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech
  5. I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness
Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery

Lay Buddhists follow 5 Precepts of Buddhism, monks follow 10

Novice monks, on the other hand, follow Ten Precepts:

  1. Refrain from killing living creatures.
  2. Refrain from stealing.
  3. Refrain from unchastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
  4. Refrain from incorrect speech.
  5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
  6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
  7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs (performances).
  8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
  9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
  10. Refrain from accepting money.

And a fully ordained monk is governed by the 227 rules of the Pratimoksa.

Monk receiving toothbrush

Traditionally in Burmese Buddhism, all of a monk’s possessions, not just food, came from the lay community

Buddhism is a serious, yet flexible, practice in Myanmar, with many variables and adaptations, especially in the 21st century. For example, males can enter and leave the monastery as often, and at any time, as they wish.

The Burmese New Year, or Thingyan Water Festival, is a popular period, where many take up residency for a few days, and then return to their ordinary lives. On the other hand, some stay with the monastery for life.

In modern Myanmar, it’s all more or less the same, and monks and nuns of all standing are the most revered members of society.

Monks in line at Kha Khat Wain Kyaung

Monks in the lunchtime procession at Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery

Kha Khat Wain Kyaung Monastery

Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery in Bago receives visitors at lunch time – as does the Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura near Mandalay.

With the tourist hordes, cameras and smartphones, the lunchtime procession is as much like feeding time at a zoo as it is like an  exhibition of Burmese Buddhism.

Kha Khat Wain Kyaung study session

Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery is also open to visitors to observe the study session every afternoon


Tourists taking photos of Monk lunch

Tourists flash cameras at the monks on the way to the dining hall

It is an exhibition of Buddhism’s reciprocal relationships between monks and disciples:

  • monks depend on offerings for physical survival & worshippers need blessings for spiritual nourishment
  • visitors donate food and goods and in return are free to take photos and wander the grounds

It’s capitalism vs socialism, consumerism against minimalism, an awkward liaison of which both sides are conscious, willing participants.

Visitors offering monks rice

In Buddhism, monks & Buddhists both give & receive

Still, just like the afternoon study session, observing the lunch time process is captivating.

It officially begins with the gong of a bell at 11:00am, but tourists arrive much earlier in preparation and anticipation.

There are front-row positions to hold and food stations to organize, gifts to allocate and rice to keep warm.

Tourists at Bago monastery

Tourists arrive early to claim the best spots

At 11:00am, the procession commences.

In single-file silence, monks bearing alms bowls slowly and steadily make their way to the dining hall.

Monks lunch procession begins

The lunchtime procession begins every morning at 11:00 am

Along the way, they pass laypeople in line, opening their containers to accept offerings, commonly of rice, sweets, rice, face towels, toothbrushes and red packets of money.

With approximately 500 monks residing at Kha Khat Wain Kyaung, the lunchtime march can take over half an hour…

Monks in lunchtime procession

It can take over half an hour for all the monks to make their way to the dining hall

… But always in time for all to finish their meal before the midday deadline.

At last, the stage is set and the food looks good.

Lunch at Bago monastery

Lunch is served

Lunch is consumed in silence and swiftness.

There is no small talk across the table or pausing in between mouthfuls.

Lunch at Bago monastery

Lunch is eaten in complete silence

Burmese Buddhism in Myanmar Today

After noon, monks are not permitted to eat, until the breaking of dawn the next day.

However, they can freely consume liquids without any solids, such as water, tea and sweets.

Lunchtime at Kha Khat Wain Kyaung

This is a monk’s last meal of the day – they can only consume liquids after noon

Monks eat what is offered to them. Particularly for smaller monasteries, their main meal is often collected on alms rounds where they present themselves to the lay community and accept whatever is given.

In fact, customarily, all of a monk’s possessions, not just food, must come from the lay community.

In the past, these were no more than a razor, cup, water filter, umbrella and alms bowl.

These days, monks still live modestly, but with more personal effects and freedom.

Monks wear 3 sets of red robes

Monks have more freedom these days but still practice some traditions like the lunchtime procession

Indeed, in modern Myanmar, monkhood is becoming increasingly hard to generalize.

Some monks continue to lead traditional lifestyles, either due to tighter discipline as a novice or by choice as a fully ordained monk. They follow strict schedules, eat vegetarian, live mostly collectively or in solitude and possess few belongings.

A growing number, on the other hand, have adapted to current times, socializing inside and outside the monastery, studying and speaking English, eating meat, fish, fast-food and Western snacks. They own or have access to books, televisions, computers and smartphones. Many monks have no responsibilities at the monastery other than study and prayer, and are free to come and go as they like.

Monks have money and spend it freely. I have spent time with monks that have insisted on paying for my transport fares, entrance fees, food and drinks.

Lunch with monks

Enjoying lunch with my new monk friends at a local restaurant near their monastery

Along with meal times, one thing that has remained consistent is the red robe. Upon ordination a monk receives a set of three: lower, outer and inner robes.

Bright red is typically worn by novices under 15, with the darker hue reserved for older, fully-ordained members. This is in contrast to Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos, where monks wear saffron-coloured robes.

In the tropical heat and humidity of Myanmar, it is perhaps fitting that monks carry umbrella’s for coverage – in Burmese Buddhism, one hat doesn’t fit all.

That’s me with my new monk friends I met at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon who then invited me to visit their families!

Visiting monk family in Yangon

Visiting the family of my new monk friend at their home

Know Before You Go


Location: Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery is located just outside the city centre of Bago but still within walking distance.

Lunchtime Procession: Starts at 11:00 am every morning.

Entrance Fee: Free

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Burmese Buddhism & Lunchtime at Bago Monastery


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*** The Final Word – The lunchtime procession is one of many sides to Burmese Buddhism. Don’t miss the chance to observe & understand it ***

Have you seen the lunchtime procession in any other Buddhist countries?

5 Shovels-2Super easy DIY travel around city centres

Visited in June 2014


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