The kind meals by nuns of Myanmar | ミャンマーの尼さん達の作った優しいご飯

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It was as if the nuns living there were saying,
“There is nothing special about the practice of going to nirvana.
It is to do mundane things as human beings.”


In Myanmar, where more than 90% of the population are Buddhists, it is quite common that ordinary people stay at a temple for the practices. Temples there are basically open to all, so foreign visitors are also allowed to stay as long as they agree to the rules. They sit together in meditation all day at some intervals, from four in the morning to nine at night.

I had a chance for this temple stay as a friend during the travel invited me to join. The meditation practice itself was an essential experience for me. But I think there is not so much I can tell you about it. Because you just have to do it.

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 between 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 first session. All the practitioners went outside to receive the breakfast. We all had aluminium plates and cups and made a long queue in the corridor to the kitchen.
It was in January. The climate in Myanmar is hot throughout the year, but it can be cold in the morning. We were waiting, and I was yawning in the dark and chilly dawn air. When it was my turn to receive breakfast, I was surprised by how big and rich it was.

As I stepped into the kitchen, I was greeted by the smell of freshly cooked rice. There a large pot of brown rice on the right, and porridge on the left. 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 noodles and tossed it on my plate. A few vegetables and a curry-flavored coconut milk soup were poured over the noodle, and that turned out to be a Burmese noodle dish called “Khau Suwe”. When I thought “OK, enough”, another server put a big piece of samosa on top of my Khau Suwe noodle.

A big tasty breakfast after a long meditation. It got me awake but puzzled at the same time. Because I imagined that temple stay was something strict and the meals would be so small that I can starve.

On the wall of the kitchen, I noticed a signboard that said “Today’s offering”. Underneath, it was written that the food for today’s offering had been donated by Buddhist groups in Taiwan, Vietnam, and China. It seemed they get so many donations from overseas.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.

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 vegetable broth, has a gentle taste. The vegetables in the stir-fries are also colorfully changed from day to day. I felt that people who cooked care much for those who eat.

All the meals were cooked by the nuns and female practitioners for a thousand of residents in the temple. 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. Local people come to help prepare the meal and eat together.

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

Males vs females, “upper” and lower”

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 a lecture by a great monk we gathered to listen to it. The monk and several assistants were sitting in chairs at the front of the room. One nun had a duty to offer a glass of water to the monk. But she made a mistake in the manner. I couldn’t see clearly but it must have been a small mistake. The monk smiled at the nun and said, “Do it again.”

The nun blushed. She apologized, took the glass, and offered it to the monk once again. It was an awkward moment for everyone.

A Dutch girl who was also a foreign visitor got furious to see it as a humiliation for the woman. I did not feel the same way.

The lecturer was a great monk, who should be treated respectfully in their manner. And there was no intention to humiliate the nun when he told her “do it gain”. 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 spoke a little English told me that she once had married and had three sons, but became a nun after her husband died. Now she lives peacefully in the monastery and looks forward to going out and visiting 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.” Maybe she was telling like that by her way of living.

If I were asked if my time at the monastery was a good experience, I would say “Yes.” But what I felt by copying their practices only for two weeks was nothing about enlightenment or any spiritual something.
Rather, I re-realized how badly trapped I am in the emotions and expectations in human dramas, and that I still long to live in such a mundane, messy 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 a human as 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。



ある日、偉いお坊さんの講話を聞くことになっていた。坊さんが、部屋の前方で椅子に座っていた。ある尼僧が、そ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。私の座った所からはよく見えなかったが、とにかく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、気まずいひと場面だった。










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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