A BUDDHIST FAMILY IN BURMA
U Kin Maung, B.A.
Deputy Inspector General of Police (Retired)
Vol. III, No. 10, 1958
This article is written in fond memory of Rahula a two year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Penrose of "Mangala Villa", Seaforth, Sydney, who lovingly came to me and gave me a kiss the night I dined with them. In fact I was amazed at his nice manners just as his parents were for such tenderness and affection. Would Rahula become a Buddhist one day? Most probably he would.
At the request of his parents, I sent him a book produced in Burma, containing illustrations, depicting the life of our Lord Buddha. I am confident that if Rahula were to live in Burma, he would most certainly grow up a True Buddhist. Buddhism must be considered to be lifeless, and of no value, unless the living creed of Buddhism is made to live.
We in Burma apply teachings of Lord Buddha to our daily lives. To a Burman Buddhist, religious culture has become part and parcel of his life and with the traditional heritage, handed down from generation to generation, he will ever remain true, so long as the Teachings of Lord Buddha are allowed to guide his action as a living force.
Our family consists of my mother-in-law, my wife, my three children and three nieces. Such a family picture might be considered too crowded to a foreigner, but the happiness and harmony, tolerance and loving kindness prevailing amongst us fully prove how Buddhism is a living force among the Buddhists in Burma.
From his childhood, a Buddhist is taught to respect Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, his parents and Teachers. During the month of Thadingyut, which marks the end of the Buddhist Lent, young persons would approach their parents and Teachers to pay their respects by bowing down deeply before them and receive their blessings, while fruits, tinned provisions, candles and such other articles are placed before them as token for their respects.
Thus, my family lives in an atmosphere of utmost understanding, patience and amity. I might add here that none of dependents pay us anything for their food and the clothes we provide them. They returned their gratitude by doing things in the house. This is one form of "Dana", alms-giving that a Buddhist becomes accustomed to and practises almost daily.
The children get up in the morning and wash themselves ready for school. My mother-in-law insists upon them to bow deeply before the shrine. A Burmese Buddhist house has a shrine room or a place allotted for the Buddha's image or images, however small that place may be, so that the householder can offer food, flowers, candles etc. Ours is a room on the south side of the~ house since it is considered that the shrine room should be on the south or east portion of the house. There are altogether eight images. Number one is an image one and half feet high which I got merely for the asking from a monk who in turn obtained it from a workman who salvaged it from an old moat of the Burmese Kings. Number two is an image which a Police Constable presented to me when I was in Rangoon in 1937.
There is a story connected with it. One day, being anxious about my promotion, I interviewed an astrologer and he said that I will get my promotion not many months after I received the gift of a Buddha image. I had no image then only a picture of the Mighty Shwedagon seen from the Lakes. It so happened that a Police Constable visited my house over some official matter and he cried in dismay that I had no Buddha image yet. His tone and manner made me feel ashamed. Then he said that there was a monk who was making hundreds of statues of Buddha from a wood which came from the southern branch of a 'Bo' tree. A 'Bo' tree is generally considered sacred From the fact that Buddha became enlightened while meditating under this tree. A few days later, he brought one saying that it was the very last one. Months later, the astrologer's Prophecy was fulfilled. This image had since been with us.
Number three was a present from a monk who used to beg for food from us. Number five was the small one with the hood of the mythical dragon over the Buddha's head which I bought from a prisoner in the jail just to please him. Number six was the one which my preceptor monk gave me on his return from Ceylon. Number Seven was a black hard wood figure as small as my thumb which I used to carry on tour for spiritual support. Number eight was a silver figure quite common in Burma. Except for the black hardwood and the silver figures the rest are covered with gold leaves.
Rich people in Burma have some highly ornamented thrones and silver or gold shrines studded with precious stones, housed in a place curved most artistically and generally heavily gilt and magnificently bejeweled. A room such as this could cost as much as three to five thousand pounds. In front of the images were three goblets filled with seasonal flowers, little silver cups and plates for offerings of food and water, which are really a symbolic gesture on our part as if Buddha were alive and with us.
It is my mother-in-law's duty to see that these offerings are made everyday. She also watches out for a succession of sometimes as many as ten monks who come to beg for food. She makes her obeisance to all these monks and offered in them food in small measures and a cup of hot coffee and bread. The reader will now appreciate the path filled in by my mother-in-law in the daily life of a Buddhist family.
We also approach the shrine in the morning to worship. We say that in order to overcome the evil of our past actions, we now bow down in respect being earnest in mind and body. We say that we take refuge in the Three Gems "The Buddha, His Dhamma and the Sangha", we praise the virtues of the Three Gems and receive our Five Precepts to be observed for the day. They are to refrain from taking of life, from stealing, from adultery with other peoples wives or with woman who live under guardian ship of others, from speaking falsehood and taking intoxicants. We generally succeed in keeping these precepts. Some people find it difficult to keep the last one. But it is not so difficult as an intoxicating drink such as beer is not a national drink as in the western countries.
The religious days are Pre-sabbath. and Sabbath. On Pre-sabbath, nuns visit houses to beg for raw rice, money or any other offering the householder may wish. The children take delight in doing the offering themselves to the nuns who even before queueing became a fashion queued up in single file. During the rainy season of four months from June to October, many of the older people of the house observe sabbath, consisting of eight or nine precepts. The eight precepts are to refrain from taking of any life, stealing, committing sexual sin, taking intoxicants, speaking falsehood, from dancing, singing, playing music, seeing or taking part in any performance using of scents, flowers, beautifying oneself, refraining from eating after midday, and using noble and high seats or beds. The additional precept for observance of Nine Precepts is to observe loving kindness to all living creatures on earth.
There is usually a bustle in the kitchen to cook a more palatable meal and some extra eatable for we are not going to eat after midday till the dawn of next day. We sometimes go to the monastery to receive the precepts from the monk who would be offered food and other gifts. Our children love to go to the monastery as a form of picnic and to worship various well-known pagodas in or about the town. They generally get a bunch of plantains or sweets from the monk, who will also tell them a story on the life of Buddha. We, particularly the children, enjoy their religious holidays by going to famous pagodas and giving alms to monks and nuns and pour water on the Bo tree during the Kason (May) festival. The parents may spend the day in meditation.
When it is evening time, the parents would insist on the children making their usual obeisance before the shrine before retiring to bed. In my house at this time of the night, one may hear my son reciting the words of the worship more than once. One day I questioned him the significance of reciting more than once. Then he said that he was trying to atone for the sin of killing some ants quite unwittingly or a fly that annoys him far too much. The children go to the shrine and bowed before the images in deep veneration, recite their usual words befitting the occasion and lastly go to all those who are older than themselves to bow three times in respect. It is really delightful to see my son, a twin brother of her sister who is just half hour older, to do the right thing by her at this time, and the sister would bless him like the older people. The youngest had to do this to all while my mother-in-law would just sit down to bless all those younger people who would come to her.
And so to bed. When the house is once again enveloped in darkness and quiet and peace reigned once more to mark the passing of one day - a day nearer to agedness, infirmity, disease and death - we again sit down to meditate on "Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta."
Peace to all Beings!
(This short and interesting article depicting the religious life of the author serves rightly as a valuable contribution for foreigners to clearly expose the cultural and spiritual influence of Buddhism on a Burman and all the members of his family in their daily routine. Editor, The Light of Buddha.)
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