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|Shinpyu Initiate ~ Yangon, Myanmar||Slide 1 of 200 | Next >> |
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One of the most beautiful rituals in Myanmar culture is shinpyu, a ceremony marking a young boy's initiation into novice monkhood. Shinpyu originated with Prince Siddhartha, the father of Buddhism. At age 29, Siddhartha renounced the worldly pleasures of princely life and spent the following six years as an ascetic, meditating and forming the basic tenets of Buddhist doctrine. After attaining enlightenment, he returned as Gautama Buddha to his father's kingdom - and his wife and son. On instruction from his mother, seven-year-old Rahula - the couple's son - asked his father for the inheritance he was due. Gautama Buddha replied by stating that the inheritance his son sought involved material riches, something that would only perpetuate the suffering that results from desire for material wealth. Instead, he offered Rahula the inheritance of religion, an offer that required the boy to enter the Buddhist order as a novice monk.
Since then, Buddhist parents have initiated their sons into novice monkhood at some point before they become adults. While there is no rule regarding an initiate's age, most boys become novices between the ages of 5 and 15. After being admitted as novices, the young monks live in a monastery and follow a subset of the precepts practiced by full-fledged monks. They are taught the basic tenets of Buddhism and live a life of austerity. Duration of the monastery stint varies, largely dependent upon a boy's desires and his ability to endure an ascetic life (e.g., like older monks, novices fast from noon to dawn the following day).
Because it is a re-enactment of the initiation of Prince Rahula, the shinpyu ceremony takes on an air of royalty. Dress is colorful and regal, the procession filled with royal symbols and practices. (It seemed to me somewhat ironic that so much money is spent on a ceremony marking a young man's initiation into a religion that renounces material wealth.) Parents and relatives participate, the procession often beginning in a pagoda and ending in a monastery or home. Shinpyu ceremonies take place year-round but are most common in March and April. This photograph was taken at Shwedagon Paya in March 2003.
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