On my first day in Luang Prabang I toured the main parts of the town including Mount Phousi, more of a hill than a mountain but non the less a great view point in the middle of the town. As I climbed the steps and took in the views, I started to follow the signs for Buddhas’ foot print.
Its common in parts of Asia to stop and chat to the novice monks, they are keen to develop their knowledge and English, and we, well I’m certainly keen to understand their stories as graduate monks.
So as I walked along I talked to one novice who kindly explained the statue of mother earth, who protected Buddha whilst he mediated, by pouring water from her hair to make it impassable for approaching ‘enemies”.
I then walked further and found Buddhas foot print and was greeted with a happy “Ciao” from a novice monk sitting studying his english books. His name was Novice Boun Heuang. We must of talked for something like an hour. This has really mad my travelling special to talk to young people like this, listen to their stories and imagine their futures.
Novice Boun Heuang is just 17, he was raised in the provinces of Luang Prabang, in a small village, the only son with 5 sisters. His life would of been working the land and producing food to supply the family, but this guy wanted something more, and whilst we talked I felt he was destined to achieve a lot. Boun Heuang looked to Buddhism, his heart led him there and also I think, a desire to learn and develop himself, he asked his parents if he could join a Wat in Louang Prabang, one he knew of through other villagers moving there. At first it was a surprise for his Parents, especially i suspect with him being the only son. After some enquiries and recommendation from the families friends in Louang Prabang, Boun Heuang joined Wat Sang Kha Lok. If I remember correctly Boun Heuang has spent around four years at the temple, and will now complete his final year, and from that will decide whether to become an actual monk at the age of 18. And that is no small decision.
After a long chat Boun Heuang invited me to his temple on that coming Saturday. This is when they have a little free time, or more accurately they clean and maintain the temple. Well I was due to leave on the Saturday bit I changed my plans for this opportunity.
Saturday came, I decide to take the hotel bike as it was a fair walk to the Wat from my guesthouse, and it allowed me then to explore further, later in the day. It’s quite amazing how many Wats there actually are, after cycling a little too far I turned around and thought I would ask in one of the temples for directions.
It turned out I was already at the right place, Boun Heunag then appeared and remembered me. I was shown around the temple and the grounds, here there are five monks and 19 novices, each Wat has an Abbot monk, who on that particular day had gone to visit a local family who had requested prayers. Some of the novices would also attend, they would often take in turn. The plus was sometime they would receive gifts, anything from food, maybe books or even money depending on the financial situation of the family.
I leant that there are varying amounts of rules for those who practice buddhism, for the lay man there are 5, for a novice monk there 10 and for an actual monk there are around 254! So you cannot underestimate the difficult life they undertake.
Life for a young novice monk is also very strict and involves a lot of hard work. An early start in the morning before 6am is preceded by the Alms ceremony where the Monks will be met by local villagers outside the temple to receive gifts of food. I understand that these are not seen as donations but a way for the individual to gain “merit” for this good deed, resulting in good Karma. For the monks, well they depend on it at this is the only food they will receive for the entire day.
Boung Heung would study for the rest of the morning up until 11.30am, studying typical subject of Mathematics, physics, chemistry as well as Buddhism. I was told it was a similar curriculum that you may receive at university, that of course is very expensive and financially not viable for the many.
Of course there is time for prayer during the day, but in the afternoon there is some free time, which for many will include more studying, especially english, and talking to the tourists. They return to the Wat in the evening for more payers and duties, this is typical for the week Monday to Friday. The weekend is for temple maintenance, cleaning, visits to the community and local events. Today they were preparing for meditation on the Sunday.
Novice Boun Heung then showed me the donations made to the temple on which they are so reliant. In particular with this temple which is the oldest in Luang Prabang and dates back to around 1527 and has strong ties with Thailand. It was interesting to understand some of the poses of the Buddhas and how they relate to certain days. And also the detailed paintings on the Temple wall highlighting the “rules” and illustrating the consequences if not followed. Inside was beautiful as always, Boun Heung showed me a structure used for celebrating a novice becoming a monk. Water is passed down the structure over the monks head, a kind of Baptism with the water of life.
And there was much more too. It was a delight to meet this guy, he gave me a gift of cotton that I’m wearing on my wrists in the photo ( and still on now!). He has many hopes for his future. It could be leaving for Canada to work in a Wat there, He may become a month here in Loung Prabang, he would like to become a politician!.
Well I think whatever he does he will do it well, you could feel his ambition to improve his life and the life of others, and I think he will have a very rewarding life.
I gave him a lilt bit of money to buy a book that will help in his studies. He has to email to let me know what he bought, but this is more for me to follow his journey for a while….a lovely guy, I wish him a bright future…..
Not my picture but an example of the Alms procession.