Lining up for Lunch ~ Kyakhatwine Monastery, Bago (Pegu), Myanmar

Burmese Theravada monks in a line-up: Kyakhatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

Monks lining up for lunch – Kyakhatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

I love food – all kinds of food.

I live for food. I run so I can have an extra piece of chocolate; cycle so I can have a glass of wine with dinner.

Why am I telling you this? Because I cannot begin to imagine enjoying life without the pleasures of food! And, with a tendency to hypoglycaemia and a family history of diabetes, I like my meals small and frequent.

Buddhist monks, however, eat only two meals a day. The sixth of the ten basic precepts that order monastic life is to abstain from taking “untimely” meals – with “timely” defined as between dawn and noon. So, the last meal of the day, at 11:00 am, is an important one.

On the second day of my PhotoTour with Karl Grobl in Myanmar, I was lucky enough to visit the Kyakhatwine Monastery in Bago in time for the monks’ lunch. We were strictly observers, mind you, and our guide, Mr MM gave us clear instructions ahead of time, so that we would not interfere: no speaking and no crossing in front of the monks as they walk in and out of the lunch hall. This is a teaching monastery, housing up to 1000 monks and novices at any one time, and their lives are ordered by immutable routine. Visitors are welcome – provided they stay out of the way!

Low round table with tin tea pot and food bowls, Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

The Dining Hall is ready and waiting.

A lone monk walks down a quiet corridor, bounded by gold pillars. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

All is quiet in the corridors of Kyahkatwine Monastery.

Statue of a uniformed man on a white horse. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

The statue in the courtyard at the monastery struck me as incongruous; I never found out who the local hero on the horse was.

Headshot: Burmese Theravada monk and burmese layman talking. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

A senior monk and our guide MM negotiate our presence at the monastery.

Monk hitting a gong with a wooden striker. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

At ten minutes to eleven, a monk hammers the gong, all the temple dogs start howling, and the monks materialise from where ever they were hiding.

Senior Theravada Buddhist monks walking in a line with their alms bowls. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

The monks come from several directions; soundlessly and in orderly queues.

Close-up: monk

Each carries his own alms bowl.

Feet of a line of monks. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

One step, two steps…

Burmese Theravada monks in a line, Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

… the monks keep coming.

Portrait: Burmese monk in a lunch queue. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

A silent face in the queue.

Portrait: Burmese monk in a lunch queue, Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar


A short-haired brown do on a temple floor. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

A temple dog knows the routine and waits for its turn.

Portrait: Young burmese novice, Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

I feel sorry for the younger ones; they must get very hungry before the day is finished!

Hand holding a tin plate heaped with white rice.

Rice out of a massive pot is scooped by the plate-load ~

Burmese monk serving rice to another monk. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

~ into the alms bowls of the waiting monks as they pass.

Simple dining room with buddhist monks seated on the floor at round tables. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

Silently, the monks find their places, sit, and commence eating.

Monks in red robes eating in a green dining room. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

Focus on lunch.

Monks eating lunch, Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

Monks exiting a dining hall, Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

As noiselessly as they entered, table by table, the monks start filing back through the room…

Theravada monks leaving a green dining room, Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

… and out of the dining hall.

Monastery kitchen scene: a novice rinses tin dishes while a layman stacks plates. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

By 11:20, clean up is well underway in the kitchen –

Steaming blackened pot on a wood fire. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

– the cook still stirs a pot on the fire –

Round table covered in tin teapots. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

– and the cleaned teapots are ready and waiting.

Scene at a monastery: red robes on a clothesline, monks feeing a dog. Kyahkatwine Monastery, Bago, Myanmar

And, finally, the dog gets its reward.

Food that is not consumed one day is not meant to be saved; it either goes back to the community that gave the donation, or to the indigent people or stray dogs that might make the temple their home.

Buddhist monasteries are completely dependent on the lay community outside their walls: they do not produce or purchase their own food. Therefore they get what they are given – whether by central collection, as is the case with large teaching monasteries like this one, or by way of daily alms rounds, and monks are asked not to favour one food over another.

Text: Metta - wishing you loving kindness.

I would find that almost as difficult as only having two meals a day.

Food for thought, indeed, as we left the monastery to have our own, rather more sumptuous, lunch at a restaurant where we chatted, and picked what we liked.

Mmm – bliss!

Pictures: 12September2012

  • Signe Westerberg - November 9, 2012 - 6:14 am

    Fascinating I cannot imagine for one second Phillip not being able to chatter through a meal, sit quietly and focus… some of those boys looked even younger than 11 (Phillips age).

    I know routine is good…not sure how I”d manage myself.

    wonderful as always.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 9, 2012 - 7:35 am

      Never mind Phillip – I’d have trouble! It was an interesting morning. Thanks for the visit, Signe. 😀 … and Gabe. 😀ReplyCancel

  • Gabe - November 9, 2012 - 6:22 am

    I can’t imagine 1000 people dining @ one time in total silence. Must be a sight/sound to behold!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - November 9, 2012 - 3:37 pm

    Ursula. This monastery is such an awesome place, isn’t it!? Great job telling the story – both the words and the images. LisaReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 12, 2012 - 9:09 am

      Hey, Lisa! Yes, I loved Kyakhatwine. 😀 Thanks for stopping in.ReplyCancel

  • Ben - March 25, 2017 - 4:05 am

    So interesting to see how untouched this experience was 5 years ago. We were there last week, and now it is always packed with tourists who are watching the lunch line up. And it is far from quiet.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - March 25, 2017 - 6:11 am

      Hi Ben,
      I’m sorry to hear that! We were clearly told what we could and couldn’t do before we went into the area, but even then some tourists are less than respectful, and spoil things for everyone!
      Cheers, UrsulaReplyCancel

  • Roelof - October 29, 2017 - 7:33 pm

    In september 2016 i visited thus monastery. While the monks passed me in the long corridor to pick up the rice, I was strucked, I got a spiritual moment. Dificult to explain, but the only thing I wanted to do that moment was helping with pooring in the rice in the bowl of the monks. I gave my camera to my wife and started helping. From that moment on I was in trance, I never felt so lucky, it felt as if I was coming home. After helping, I went into the dininghall, I sat down against a wall and started crying. Pure happiness. The days after I was searching for an explanation what to me. I’m still searching.ReplyCancel

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