Photo: Temple outside Monywa.

Burma forum

Begging monks in Myanmar

Posted by hellomoto84 on 17/3/2017 at 06:58

Just an observation as we're currently in Myanmar and have been approached multiple times by monks asking for money. They are not pushy or aggressive but we were really surprised as it's not something we've experienced anywhere else in Asia. Have others come across this or know what the etiquette is?

Thank you!

#1 hellomoto84 has been a member since 13/3/2017. Posts: 18

Posted by exacto on 17/3/2017 at 14:17

Sounds like things are tough all over.

Travelfish writer David knows far more about Buddhism and its practice in Southeast Asia than I do, but I remember my Thai Buddhist friends insisting that monks never beg. What they are doing is giving you a chance to earn merit by helping to provide for their needs. It is a karma thing.

Having said that, it is fairly rare in my experience to be approached by a robed monk asking for anything, much less cash. Maybe David or others will have some insight into this. It could be that monks are having difficulty meeting their basic needs as Burma modernizes and some of the more traditional behaviors like giving food to monks get left behind; but it could also be with the uptick in foreign tourists, everybody sees a chance to make a little extra by working the relatively well-healed visitors.

In the mean time, you might ask at your guest house to see what they can tell you about this practice, to learn if it is common or if perhaps you are being (for lack of a better word) targeted by the monks as a foreigner. They might also provide a suggested donation amount, if you are so inclined. Good luck and let us know how it goes. Regards.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,742
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Posted by antoniamitchell on 17/3/2017 at 20:31

Hi there,

I noticed this too in touristy parts of burma, and assumed it was dodgy, although i could be wrong.

I saw lots of monks doing the early morning collection of alms in many places (groups walking in single file along the streets, and the locals would come out and put food in their bowls). But I only saw monks approaching tourists for cash, not locals, and those monks were always working singly or in pairs, rather than big groups, so I assumed it was something they were doing on the side, rather than official, monastery sanctioned activity.

Burma is the only place I've ever seen monks smoking cigarettes and playing on their cell phones while they wait for a bus, though, so maybe I just don't understand burmese Buddhism.....

#3 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Location: Singapore. Posts: 537
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Posted by DLuek on 19/3/2017 at 08:19 TF writer

I don't know Burma much but I know it has millions of very devout Buddhists and, in general, I wouldn't say that the tradition of "giving food to monks" is getting left behind. That tradition (morning alms round) has persisted for 2,500+ years and it ain't going away - even in major cities like Bangkok it still takes place every single day. If anything, in Thailand at least, many monks receive a lot more than is needed for sustenance. Some temples are just filthy rich and Thailand has had its share of scandals involving monks with private jets donning Gucci sunglasses, etc. That was definitely not the Buddha's way!

I've never encountered monks blatantly asking tourists (or anyone) for money in Thailand, or Vietnam or Laos for that matter. Evening news would most likely shame any monks trying that in Thailand. The only time I encountered it was in Seattle, when a Chinese monk slyly requested $20 after shoving an image of Kuan Yin into my hand.

So I'm inclined to agree with Antonia - it seems dodgy - but again I don't know too much about Burma in general. I do know that Burma is Theravada Buddhist and one of the monastic rules in that tradition is that monks are not allowed to touch money (monatery donations are normally placed in envelopes). Any monk who is asking blatantly and grasping cash in hand is most likely a dodgy (perhaps temporary) monk, or may be seriously desperate for money, for example if a family member needs medical attention.

#4 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,271
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