Shinpyu – Youth Ordination

Resident monks Tikkha and Aniruddha were ordained when they were children and have been friends ever since.  Ordination is not limited to those destined to live a monastic life, though.  In fact, the majority of Burmese Buddhist children are ordained as monks, a process whereby their heads are shaved and they live at a monastery practicing meditation and reading from the Tipitaka.  Aung Koe’s daughter as well as a number of the children I talked to at the monastery were ordained in Burma and spent two or more weeks living as ordained monks and nuns.  When I asked a boy what he did as a novice, he said, “We prayed.  We practiced praying and then prayed.” When I asked another boy his favorite part about being a novice, he replied, “Peace,” describing the hours of meditation they practiced.  This "youth ordination" gives children a taste of the life that they could live if they undertook the nine years of schooling necessary to be a full monk, as Thikkha and Aniruddha have done.

The ordination ritual is called shinpyushin means “a novice” and pyu means “to make one.” 1  In Burma, the ritual is understood as a reenactment of Prince Rahula’s request to become a novice monk. The children dress in royal clothing and begin at a mock palace, working their way in a procession to a pagoda and finally to a monastery, where the initiation ceremony takes place.  Sitagu Dhamma Vihara has had three ordination ceremonies, the most recent of which happened last summer. Koe recounted how they obtained permission from the Maplewood Police to have a procession around the neighborhood.  The newly ordained monks made an alms round, walking throughout the neighborhood with a large bowl collecting donations of food and the community danced.

In the evening, after the alms round, the new monks shaved their heads and changed from white robes into the traditional burnt orange and maroon colored robes.  They recited the Three Refuges within the sima boundary, which you can read about here.  Sitagu Dhamma Vihara’s Sima boundary is in the backyard and was instated by a visiting monk from the Florida monastery in 2010.

In Burma, shinpyu ceremonies happen between February and April, when farmers have enough money to pay for the cost of the ceremony, the requisite offering to the monastery, and the goods their children will need at the monastery such as soaps, towels, and simple shoes. 2  In Burma, it is also considered a rite of passage as boys enter adulthood to live as a monk for three months.3 In Minnesota, however, where school calendars do not allow for a monastic schedule, the ordination is held during the summer, and children generally only stay for a matter of weeks.

  1. Joseph Cheah, Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 102.

  2. Joseph Cheah, Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 104.

  3. Donald Eugene Smith, Religion and Politics in Burma (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1965), 68.