A rite of passage, or formal entrance into adulthood, is a universal experience that we can all relate to despite our cultural background. Maybe your rite of passage was a “Sweet 16” party thrown in your honor. Or maybe it was the moment you cast a ballot to vote. In Laos, the rite of passage is steeped in religion and is a solemn experience.
For Lao boys, the traditional rite of passage still widely practiced today involves being ordained as a monk and living the monastic life for a period. Most youths are ordained during childhood, when they are roughly five to thirteen years old. They usually live as monks for three months, but some opt for a shorter period.
During their time as a monk, the young boys learn about Buddhism—they practice self-control, chant ancient Pali scripture, and learn how to meditate. This is thought to be an essential education in order to live according to the teachings of Buddha, and to accrue karmic merit for themselves and their family.
The ordaining ceremony takes two days. The first day is celebrated at home with special offerings and food. The whole family gathers to prepare the boy for his ordainment. His parents shave off his hair and eyebrows as a symbolic gesture of the boy’s rejection of the material world.
The second day takes place at the local temple. The now-hairless boy is dressed in a white robe and makes his way to the temple, with his family and friends blessing him on his way. At the temple, the boy renounces his worldly goods and desires, symbolically repeating Prince Gautama’s vows of monkhood.
When the boy has taken his vows, he changes into the saffron-colored robe that is worn by Lao monks. From then on, the boy is considered ordained and he strives to understand Buddha’s teachings. But he is also free to disrobe and return to civilian life whenever he chooses.
In Laos, you’re likely to witness other spiritual rites and practices almost on a daily basis. No doubt you’ll come across monks clad in saffron in most Laotian towns. In places like Luang Prabang, waking in the early morning gives you a glimpse of serene alms-giving processions. While monks walk silently through town with their bowls, devotees offer food and receive private blessings as they kneel on the ground.
If you’d like to learn more about Buddhism on a tailor-made Laos holiday, contact our on-the-ground Travel Specialists. You can experience private blessings and explore temples on many of our customizable tours, such as our In Love with Luang Prabang tour.