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NOVICEHOOD - Initiation of Novicehood in Myanmar( Shinpyu Ceremony in Burma)

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     For a Burmese boy, this is the most important ceremony. It is obligatory to be initiated, as he is not considered a good Buddhist until he has gone through this procedure, to become a novice ( koyin in Burmese ). For the parents, it is the best opportunity to gain the immense merit by sponsoring such a ceremony. It also marks the boys' transition from one age status to another as a kind of rite de passage. It is also the responsibility of the Buddhist parents in Burma to see their boys initiated so that the boys do not miss the most essential privilege of their existence in this world. Historically, it symbolizes the Great Renunciation of Prince Siddhatta and the initiation of his son, the young prince, Rahula.


     Boys as young as Five can become a novice if they can pronounce the Pali phrases of the ceremony articulately. There is no upper age limit when the older novices are called Koyin-gyis who can be as old as 50. But it is very rare to find a fifty-year old Koyin-gyi as most boys have already joined the monastic order before they are 19. If the parents cannot afford the expense, their sons can still be sponsored by the relatives or friends. The so-called Community Shinpyu Ceremonies are becoming increasingly popular throughout the country as the cost is reduced greatly. This is when families arrange the ceremony together for all of their sons.


     The young novice can leave the order at any time as they often miss their parents and home environment. Short term noviciates, lasting a few days of weeks, are quite common. But he can come back and become a koyin again when his younger brothers are old enough to be koyin or when the parents want to perform theEar-boring Ceremony for their young daughter. (The young girls can also ordain . But, the parents do not usually hold a special ceremony for them to become a Buddhist Nuns , known as Thela-shin in Burma.) The initiation can be celebrated at any time through out the year, although it usually held just before the Buddhist Lent when the weather is favorable. In practice, most parents arrange it during school holidays. Some of the young koyins become attached to the religious life and stay on to become ordained monks at the age of 19.



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     Preparations for the ceremony are done in advance. The boy is sent to the monastery to learn how to recite the words of initiation both in the Pali and Burmese language. Invitation cards are also designed and printed in advance and sent to the relatives and friends. The friends volunteer to build a temporary palace-like pavilion, ( Man-dart ) and a classical orchestra plays traditional and classical songs ( Mingala Byaw ). A few days before the ceremony, the boy-aspirant ( Shin Laung ) has to pay homage to Lord Buddha at the local Pagodas and is also shown before the Spirits ( Nats ) for their blessings.


Initiation Day and the Great Procession

     The Shin Laung is dressed in prince-style costumes and placed on a horse being sheltered with golden umbrellas by an attendant. All friends and relatives join to form a procession which is led by a man carrying a special robe on his head, to be offered to the Lord Buddha. The men, women and young girls followed in single file, carrying donation gifts on their heads or in their hands. The most beautiful or popular girl will carry the ceremonial salver of gold Kwun taung and she is often referred to as Kwun taung Kaing.Other girls with flower baskets are called Pan taung Kaing.Then the parents of the Shin Laung follow these pretty girls, carrying more robes and the rest of the eight essential requisites of a novice. Other items include the Dhamma books, umbrellas, mats, pillows and palm-leaf fans. A musical troupe, made up of young local talents, will play popular folk songs. The Mingala Byaw is also performed by the orchestra. The procession travels through the whole village or many roads if in a town and finally arrives at the destination, i.e. the monastery where the boy is to stay as a novice.


An elaborate meal (Soon ) is served to the members of the Order (the monks) just before noon. The Shin Laung is not to be forgotten as there is no dinner for him probably for the first time in his life although he can still eat anytime before he becomes a novice. After the monks have eaten, all the guests and volunteers have their lunch which usually consists of several delicious dishes.

Actual Initiation Procedures

     The initiation procedures begin in the afternoon.

     1. Presentation and Introduction of the Shin Laung to the Order of Monks by the Master of the Ceremony.

     2. Requesting the Order of Monks for the appointment of a person to shave the head of the boy. (The head hair must be shaved off as a sign of renunciation vanity.)

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     3. Shaving of the head by the appointed monk or lay person. A towel is spread by the parents to save the hair cuttings. The Shin Laung meditates upon the constituents of the human body during the shaving procedure by reciting: -

     "Atthi imasmim kaye kesa, loma, nakha, danta, taco - asuci, jeguccha, patikula, nijjiva, nissatta."

     4. Requesting permission for Participation to enter amidst the Congregation of the Chapter of Monks. The Shin Laung will say: -

     "Aham bhante sanghamajjhe pavesanam apucchami"

     5. Handing over the robes: equipped with the eight compulsory requisites of a novice (Parikkhara), the Shin Laung squats properly, holding the robes in the hands and requesting to be initiated to realise Nibbana by reciting: -

      " Sakala vatta dukkha nissarana Nibbanassa sacchikaranatthaya imam kasavam gahetva pabbajetha mam bhante anukampam upadaya "

     The robe offered is accepted by one of the monks.

     6. Asking for the robes from the Monks. The Shin Laung requests again to be initiated in order that he may realise Nibbana by reciting : -

      " Sakala vatta dukkha nissarana Nibbanassa sacchikaranatthaya etam kasavam datva pabbajetha mam bhante anukampam upadaya "

     7. Changing of layman clothes with the monastic robes.

     8. Request for admission to the Order: The Shin Laung in yellow robes, equipped with eight requisites, squats properly and requests admission to the novice-hood by reciting: -

      " Bhante samsara vatta dukkhato mocanatthaya pabbajjam yacami " (three times)

     9. Taking Refuge and pledging to observe the Ten Precepts by reciting: -

      " Aham bhante tisarana saha dash samanera pabbajja silam dhammam yacami; annuggaham katva silam detha me bhante "

     Then the Preceptor says " yamaham vadam tam ", followed by the Shin Laung: " ama bhante ". The Preceptor leads and intones the sacred words of the three Refuges by saying : -

     " Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa " ( three times )

     Buddham saranam gacchami ( meaning: I take Refuge in the Buddha )

     Dhammam saranam gacchami ( meaning: I take Refuge in the Dhamma )

     Sangham saranam gacchami ( meaning: I take Refuge in the Sangha )

     ( Repeated two more times by saying 'dutiyampi' and 'tatiyampi' first)

     Then the Preceptor will say " Tisarana gamanam paripunnam " (meaning: you have fulfilled taking Refuge in the three Ratanas)

     The Shin Laung replies " Ama bhante "

     Then The Ten Precepts are taken by the Shin Laung after repeating the Precepts in Pali as intoned by the leading monk, and finally pledging : "Ama bhante " again. At this point, the Shin Laung is fully initiated as a novice. But he still needs guidance for his new monastic life.

     10. Requesting the appointment of a Spiritual Teacher (upajjhayacariya): The Shin Laung will approach an elderly monk and say: -

     " Upajjhayo me bhante hohi " (meaning: Would you please be my Spiritual Teacher?)

     Then the Monk will instruct the novice to fulfill the duties and Ordinances of a novice. The novice will pledge by saying " Ama bhante ".The new novice takes a religious name in Pai. It is usually chosen by the Abbot , based on day of the week when he was born.

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     11. Salutation and Reverence of Parents and lay devotees to the new novice:

     The parents of the novice and the lay devotees ( relatives, friends and guests attending the Shinpyu Ceremony ) prostrate themselves (Shikko )before the newly initiated novice. (A novice is a junior member of the Holy Monastic Order. As he is spiritually superior to all other lay beings, the older men and women including his own parents have to prostrate themselves before him. After all, he is the Son of the Lord Buddha even if just for one day, or several months or years until he leaves the order).

12. The Sermon and Water Libation:

     The Abbot or the most senior monk delivers a sermon which is related to the Initiation Ceremony. The lay devotees listen to the Dhamma Teachings delivered by the monk, hoping that the merits accrue for the future life-cycles. At the end of the sermon, all the monks recite the Paritta (Holy Discourses of Protection). The Water Libation is performed by the parents or the sponsors pouring down water from a small jug into an empty bowl to symbolize the transference of merit to the departed by saying in plain Burmese : -

     "Whoever hears us, share merit with us"

     To this, the audience will reply " Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu " (meaning: well done!)

     (Repeated twice more)

     13. The End of the Ceremony: The monks leave the main assembly to their living quarters, followed by the newly initiated novice. The audience will disperse now.