Rites of passage have existed in societies all across the world since time began. From the Aztec Empire when a boy was only considered a man if he presented a prisoner for sacrifice, to today’s lavish ‘Sweet 16’ birthday parties, there has always been a discernible moment where a boy or girl steps into adulthood.
The main rite of passage in the Southeast Asian nation of Laos is motivated by the country’s religion. A practice still followed today, each male spends a period of time (usually 3 months, but nowadays the period is commonly less) being ordained as a Buddhist monk.
Often undertaken during childhood, the period is spent learning about Buddhism, practicing self-control, chanting ancient Pali scripture and learning how to meditate. Their studies help them understand the teachings of Buddha and are considered an essential step on the path to enlightenment while generating good karma for themselves and their family.
Buddhist ordainments usually take place over two days, with the first taking place in the family home then the second day at a local temple. During the time at home, extended family gathers and a variety of merit-making offerings and food are prepared for temple monks.
Later, parents of the monks-to-be will cut and shave off the young man’s hair and eyebrows as a symbolic gesture of starting anew while renouncing any consciousness about one’s physical appearance.
Once hairless, the young monk will don a simple white robe and parade their way to the temple, along the way taking blessings from well-wishing family, neighbors and friends. At the temple, the monk-to-be renounces his worldly goods and the world around them, just as Prince Gautama once did to become the teacher upon which Buddhism was founded.
They then take their vows and become a monk, changing their white outfits to the saffron or orange colored robes that are commonly worn by monks in Laos. From that moment on, they will dedicate their lives to understanding the teachings of Buddha, though any monk is permitted to disrobe and return to a lay life whenever they choose.
If you’d like to learn more about Buddhism in Laos, you can experience the nuances of the religion on several of our customizable Laos tours. Our fascinating and revealing ‘In Love with Luang Prabang’ tour for example includes a chance for travelers to observe an early morning alms giving parade as well as take part in a private ‘Baci’ blessing ceremony.
Contact one of our Vientiane-based Travel Specialists today to find out more.