The kind meals by nuns of Myanmar | ミャンマーの寺院で食べる、尼さん達の作った優しいご飯

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The kind meals by nuns of Myanmar

I once stayed in a temple in the south-east of Myanmar for two weeks for meditation practice.
In Myanmar, where more than 90% of the population are Buddhists, it is not rare that lay followers such as an ordinary housewife stay at a temple for a period of time, practising as same as monks. The temple is basically open to all, so foreign visitors are also allowed to stay as long as they agree to the rules. The main schedule was to sit in the temple hall and do five meditation sessions of one and a half hours each, from four in the morning to nine at night.

The meditation practice itself was an important experience, but I think there is not so much to discuss it than to just do it. So here, I’ll tell you a story about life in a nunnery, a place for women monks only, and the great food there.

The morning routine in the monastery

The meditation days started with the strange sound of something wooden hit as a wake-up call at 3:30am. I crawled out from the bed made of a thin blanket and a yoga mat on the floor and strolled to the meditation hall. I was half asleep when I was sitting during the very first session.
At 5:30, the bell rang to finish the session. All the practitioners went outside to receive their breakfast carrying their aluminium plates and forming a long queue in the corridor to the kitchen. I followed them and joined the line, waited for about an hour yawning in the dark and chilly dawn air.
When it was my turn to receive breakfast, I was overwhelmed by the quantity and variety of food.
I got totally awake by that.

As I stepped into the kitchen, I was greeted by the smell and steam of freshly cooked rice. There a large pot of brown rice on the right, and another pot of porridge on the left, were waiting for us to choose. After I chose the porridge, boiled kidney beans were served on top of the porridge.
Right after that, the next server grabbed a handful of wheat noodle and tossed it on my plate. A few vegetables and a curry-flavoured coconut milk soup were poured over the noodle, and that turned out to be a Burmese noodle dish called “Khau Suwe“. When I thought “This is it”, another server put a big piece of samosa on top of my Khau Suwe noodle.

I was happy to receive such a big breakfast and puzzled at the same time. Because I imagined that meditation practice was something unworldly, the food would be simple, and I would starve.

On the wall behind the nuns distributing the food, I noticed a signboard that read “Today’s offering”. Underneath it, it said that the food for today’s offering had been donated by Buddhist groups in Taiwan, Vietnam and China. I was impressed by how many donations were collected.

Pa-Auk Tawya, where I stayed, is a large temple with forty branches within the country and abroad, with over a thousand practitioners living there. It seems that through this huge network, donations are collected on a daily basis to here, the headquarter.
So the food here was abundant. Two meals a day, but plenty of it. They cook no eggs, dairy, fish or meat. Instead, tofu and beans are used to ensure a balanced diet. The soup, made only from the vegetable broth, has a gentle taste. The vegetables in the stir-fries are also colourfully changed days to days. I felt that people who cooked care much for those who eat.

All the meals were cooked by the job of the nuns and female practitioners to for a thousand of residents. As soon as breakfast is over and the daily cleaning is finished, the nuns who run the kitchen start to prepare the next day’s lunch. They peel and chop the vegetables piled high in the kitchen. It is a job that needs patience and takes three or four hours. They do it instead of sitting meditation. Local people come to help prepare the meal and eat together.

The area where the nuns and female practitioners live is called Lower Monastery. Here, it can be noisy and crowded with local people and visitors. On the other hand, men’s monastery is called Upper Monastery. It is deeper in the forest, upper in the mountain, and is quiet and solemn. Male monks do not have a cooking duty.

Male vs females ?

It seemed clear that there is a difference in status between the male monks and the nuns. Seeing from the outsider’s pint of view, it sometimes looked similar to the gender roles in modern society, and at other times it seems to be an exaggeration of it.

One day, there was an interesting event relating to this. That day, We listened to a lecture instead of evening meditation. The lecturer, a great monk and several assistant monks were sitting in chairs at the front of the room. One of the nuns offered a glass of water to the lecturer monk, but she made a mistake in the way of offering. I couldn’t see clearly from where I sit whether it was the position of the water on the table or the use of the hands, but it was such a small mistake. The monk smiled at the nun and said, “Do it again.”
The nun blushed apologetically, and took the glass and offered it to the monk once again. It was an awkward moment for everyone.
Later, I heard that a foreign visitor from Netherlands was very angry about this, saying that it was disgusting to see the nun was humiliated. Whether because of this incident or because she didn’t like the temple life, she left the temple after about three days.

I found that was a strange moment, but not particularly disgusting. The lecturer was a great monk, and I suppose it was kind of natural, according to their culture, that a nun with so few years of training should be cowering. And, it was certain that there was no intension to humiliate her in the lecturer’s way of saying. It seemed to me that he was just asking her to redo her job following religious etiquette, rather than being polite to the monk himself.
The lower status of the nuns was a consequence of the restrictions on women’s associations in the history of Theravada Buddhism and is just one of the many examples of gender discrimination throughout the world’s history. And also like any other history, it was not questioned until the modern era.

I would leave it to the nuns whether if they will rise for the advancement of women’s position,  and I would not judge their culture.

Besides, becoming a nun doesn’t seem to be all bad. In fact, they seem to be enjoying their lives. I was impressed that each of them has a life story before they came here. One nun, who said her favourite dish is Khao Swe, the curry noodle soup, told me that she once had married and has three sons, but became a nun after her husband died. Now she lives peacefully in the monastery and looks forward to going out and visit her sons sometimes. She likes breakfasts, and invited me to join her in front of the pagoda in the backyard to eat together, so we become breakfast friends. “No need to be lonely, no need to worry about everyday meals. Being a nun is not so bad!” I could feel her such a cheerfulness.

If I were asked if my time at the monastery was a good experience, I would say “Yes.”. But what I felt by doing some mimic of the training for two weeks was far from the feeling of salvation that Buddha attained. Rather, I observed once again how trapped I am in my emotions and expectations, and that I still want to live in a humane, secular world.

The nuns I saw were also quite human. Quietly sitting in meditation was not their only life.
As if they were saying, “That’s all right like this.”
There is nothing special about training towards salvation.
It’s about doing what’s natural for a human being.



In February 2018, I stayed at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery in Mawlamyine, which is located in a large forest of Mon state, a South-East part of Myanmar. The monastery’s website describes the meditation training and monastery life really well. So, if you are interested, take a look.







食事を配る尼僧たちの背後の壁に、「Today’s offering」と書いてあるのが目に留まった。その下には、台湾、ベトナム、中国の仏教団体から、今日の食材が寄付されたということが書いてあった。こんなに沢山寄付が集まるものなのかと感心した。



尼僧と女性修行者の暮らすエリアは、Lower Monastery (下部寺院)と呼ばれる。ここは外部からの人の出入りも多く、何かと騒がしくなる。一方で、男性僧たちの暮らすエリアはUpper Monastery (上部寺院)と呼ばれる。広大な敷地の森林の奥に位置していて、静かで厳粛な雰囲気が漂っている。男性僧たちには、食事作り当番は無いようだ。



その日は、夜の瞑想の代わりに講話を聞くことになっていた。講師となる高僧と付き添いの男性僧数人が、部屋の前方で椅子に座っていた。ある尼僧が、講師の僧にコップに入れた水を差し出したのだが、何か作法を間違えてしまった。水をテーブルに置く位置なのか、手の使い方なのか、私の座った所からはよく見えなかったが、そんな些細な間違いだった。すると講師は、尼僧に笑いかけて「Do it again.(やり直しなさい)」と言ったのだ。尼僧は申し訳なさそうに顔を真っ赤にして、コップの水を一度下げ、また講師の手元に置きなおした。苦笑いしてしまうようなひと場面だった。










2018年2月、ミャンマーの南東部に位置するモン州の大きな森の中にあるマウラーメインの「パ・オーク森林寺院」に滞在しました。この寺院のホームページには、瞑想修行や修道院生活の様子がうまく紹介されています。興味のある方は見てみてください。Pa-Auk Forest Monastery

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