The Life of a Buddhist Monk

I’ve always been curious about the way monks/nun live. And so, I decided to find out for myself and made a trip to a temple in Brickfield ( Buddhist Maha Vihara), which also functioned as a monastery. Shamelessly, I went to asked one of the monks about monks’ daily lives. (I’m born as a noisy busybody!)

There are many different kinds of Buddhist monks, just as there re many different types of Buddhism. Their life and customs are different and unique, and each has a spiritual meaning. There is a certain code the monks must follow and certain rules that must be obeyed. Their daily life follows a strict schedule, and each monk’s life revolves around meditation, the study of scriptures, and the taking apart in ceremonies. His daily life involves interaction with the community around him and with his fellow monks. Their lives are pretty basic. And yes, unlike pastors in a Protestant churches, monks are not allowed to marry and the swear to live in celibacy.

Each kind of monk has a different life style, as there are unique kind of monks just as there are many different ways that they can live. Renunciate monks fall under one of two categories, those who live in a monastic community and those who live in a hermit like state, who are referred to as forest monks. The forest monk lives to the virtual dismissal of all activities non-related to the pursuit of enlightenment. Then there is the temple monk who is occasionally involved in lay community affairs, such as participating in Buddhist holy days. They can also be involved in the sanctification of new homes or businesses, they are can also be involved in the teaching of novice monks, short-term monks, or laymen or laywomen.

A temple monk’s pastoral activity is a transaction between monks and householders; this is where a monk confers merit upon a layman. In gratitude and respect the layman may offer food, money, and other everyday items or he could offer a ritual item such as a candle.A layman may also give land in gratitude, but the monk is not allowed to cultivate it himself, for that involves the killing of small animals.
In the temple elder monks can be seen carrying around young children. The younger monks had been found parentless and brought in and the young monks stay in the monastery to show their gratitude. The young monks might have also been sent there by their parents to learn about being a monk. All men who have dedicated their life to Buddha share one thing in common; they are all in the pursuit of enlightenment, through meditation.

The life of a monk is not as easy as some perceive it, a Buddhist monk is woke by a bell at five, they then spend two hours meditating in silence before eating a breakfast. of rice and vegetables, they then pray until nine, for the remainder of the morning young monks have classes to learn about Buddhist holy writings. Lunch follows, and then there is a long hour of discussion where novice monks quiz each other on their knowledge of scriptures and philosophy. In the afternoon there are more classes followed by more discussion, an hour of study on the texts they learned that morning, then they may retire to bed or they may continue their own meditation.

Buddhist monks spend most of their daily life meditating, chanting or making offerings. Monks use meditation to free their mind from passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy and pride. The art of meditation allows ones natural wisdom to shine through. Monks usually find a quite secluded place to meditate, when a monk meditates; he may sit with his legs crossed or on the lotus position.

Offerings are made in front of shrines and each has an important meaning. Chanting, meditation and making offerings are all a part of a monk’s life each helps a monk find his way to ultimate enlightenment. As stated in the Buddhist doctrine, study and mediation are the gradual steps to nirvana.

All monks have a special uniform, their robe. The color of a monk’s robe can tell you what his status in the monastery is. If he wears a brownish orange robe he is considered one of the wise, elderly monks. The color of a monk’s robe is very important. When the ancient Indians looked into the forest they could always tell what leaves were about to fall off the trees because they were yellow, orange or brown. So yellow became the color of renunciation. Now Buddhist monks wear orange, yellow or brown robes as a constant reminder of the importance of not clinging, and of letting go.

 Each monks robe has three parts, the outer garment called the tricivara the under garment called the uttarasnga and the cloak called the samghati. Each Buddhist monk is allowed these eight requisites, which includes a begging/alms bowl, a belt, a razor, a staff, a tooth pick and the monks three part robe. A Buddhist monk’s life in a monastery is build around meditation and the study of Buddhist scriptures. Each monastery is a houses a community of monks or nuns who live there permanently.
Traditionally monks only venture out into the community to collect alms, and then when they finish they return to take part in religious ceremonies. Monks also interact in communities; many Buddhist monks play a big part in the fight against AIDS/HIV in Asia. In a university in China more than 2,000 monks and nuns are being trained to help HIV positive people and to educate the community about HIV/AIDS. Their work also consist of helping the disadvantaged and the needy.

 A monk is not required to have an official residence, he may live as a forest monk, or he my have his own hut made of leaves, or he may live in a cave. When a group of monks in a house take on a n importance it is called a monastery and it can be made of brick or stone. If a monk does chose to live in a monastery he is given a card, at ordination that has the name of his residency on it. If a monk does chose to have a residence there are many factors that may influence his decision, such as the monks who reside in that monastery, or the monasteries educational strength. Monasteries with high education value are also very popular with young monks who wish to learn. Now many monks have been moving out of the official monasteries and have been setting up simple communities in remote rural areas.

A monk’s devotion is one and the same as his daily goal, which is to follow Buddha’s teachings throughout daily life. As each monk strives to attain his daily goal he is also working on becoming the ideal monk, who is said to be gentle inoffensive, poor and humble and perfectly trained.

Buddhist monks choose to live a life of solitude from all of the every day pleasures all to peruse enlightenment. They live with out the every day pleasures just to find Nirvana. They live a peaceful life, not killing a single organism. They follow the rule in their rulebook with out faltering. They give up their personal time to teach others about meditation and scriptures, hoping that they too will find inner peace. The monks will help without thought of reward but almost always receiving gifts of gratitude. They take in young children teaching them a life of peace, and giving them a home.

It is interesting to note that Monks are not allowed to hoard food. Nor are they allowed to cook. So, in order to survive they have to go out in the morning to receive food from Buddhist followers. When they come back, they sort through the food. Some food they will eat straight away for breakfast. Other food they will save for their last meal of the day at 11 a.m. The food that is left over is not wasted. Some may be given to the nuns or children who help out around the temple. Other food is given to poor people who come to the temple at mid-day. Any left-over food is given to the temple dogs or cats

I’ve been looking for the programme that helps the needy and the homeless in KL since my encounter with the homeless lady last week, and I found out that the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfield, Kuala Lumpur is hosting such programme during my interview with the monks about their daily lives.  It’s called ‘Feed The Needy Programme’, and it’s held during weekends, and the meals served to the needy are strictly vegetarian. It’s served to the needy regardless of their age, race and religion. And yes, just to answer your curiosities, the foods are halal food. Interested volunteers and donor may go to the:

Buddhist Maha Vihara: 123 Jalan Berhala, 50470 Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.

Or contact: 03-22741141/ [email protected] or their website

Cleffairy: LOL. You guys must be curious why I’m writing this, well, this is what usually comes out when I’m bored out of my head. I did some adventure out of curiousity on the lives of the monks and this is the result. It’s a humbling experience. While I eat at least 2-3 times daily, these monks are allowed to eat only eat once a day to nourish themselves and still manage to do many good deeds that I am not capable of. And for charity sake, I would like to promote the ‘Feed The Needy Programme’ too. I know there are alot of kind and generous people out there, they want to help but do not know where to go. There, this is one place you can contribute to the needy of all race, regardless of religion.

Special thanks to Rev. Suddharma for allowing me the interview and enlightening me with the moderate lives of monks.

A picture of Rev. Suddharma, who kindly lend me his time.

A picture of Rev. Suddharma, who kindly lend me his time.


  1. Hawk Tan says:

    Ok let me see, Religion is my weakest subject., though I am buddhist. Honestly, I never practice buddhism, however I always respect all religions as long it is not extreme. My family are all mix up, my sister and brother are christian, one brother is muslim, my parents and another brother is still buddhist and we are all one close and loving family.
    Whatever my believe, I always practice being a kind human being, helping the unfortunate regardless of skin colors., I truly oppose cruelty and would not even kill an ant. (if I could). Well I don’t care if I go to heaven or hell because I will do what I feel is right. I love mankind and would love to believe there is GOD to save us (mankind).
    Disaster and wars are unaviodable, I am indeed worried that one day human wil be wipe out forever because of this.
    Who else to save us but GOD.
    Why GOD or its messanger never appear in the modern world (present), to tell us to be good?
    What we read and know is few hundred years ago. I WONDER WHY?

  2. KevinP says:

    Religion is not my forte either. While I am a Christian, I always believe in living in harmony and there should not be compulsion… Everyone has a choice and it is he/she alone that will answer for his choice to GOD later. One should never need to answer to another man on his decision.

  3. cleffairy says:

    Count me in too. I am no religion expert too. But I made a point to try to understand most of the major religion in Malaysia instead of being in the dark about and become a ‘babi’ about it and ridicule other people’s religion. I’ve head people say:

    Muslims pray to the wall
    Buddhist/Hindu pray to the berhala/ancestors
    Christians pray to some crucified dead being/some woman that is raped and bore a bastard son.

    I’d say that is untrue. People with religion are praying to one entity that they cling to during good or desperate time, offering their faith and gratitude. And I learn one thing from trying to understand the religions in Malaysia, which is NONE of the religion asked their devotees to promote havoc/violence/corruption, and ALL religions requires their devotees to live in harmony. And yet what do we get these days? VIOLENCE and people who uses religion to manipulate people’s thinking in order to lead or gain power over others.

    Is one religion superior over others? Though I know the answer is no, and we’ll never find out unless we’re in the underworld, it seems that there are alot of people in the world who thinks their own religion is supreme and uses it to step on others head and fight in the name of ‘God’.

    And yeah, I asked that question sometimes to, Daniel. WHY do messenger/God never make appearance in the modern world? is it not screwed up enough for them to make appearances? Do we not need their guidance now more than ever?

    There’s this joke I’ve head somewhere and I would like to share it with you guys.

    Son:Dad, what does God look like? Is he black or white?
    Dad:Son, he’s both black and white.
    Son:Does he love children or dogs more?
    Dad:Son, God loves both children and dogs.
    Son: So, dad…Micheal Jackson must be a God!

    Cleffairy: Does it matter what religion we bear if our hearts are set to step on other’s head and the purpose of us having a religion is to feel superior than others? Those who do not pray or have no religion should be mocked to no end while those who have and practice their religion do not live harmoniously and their hearts are set to use religion to overpower the others? I have no definite answer for my own questions, but I believe that while it is good to have faith to cling to, the religion itself does not require people to misuse it. one should promote religion for the good of others, not violate it.


  4. KevinP says:

    The whole problem is… God cant talk… actually he does… funnily only to “selected” people… sometimes I wonder why God only talked to the so called “holy” folks. Instead he should be talking to “US” who are really in need to “believe”. Funny aint it?

    “God talks all the time, sometimes we just need to stop and listen.” ok.. ok.. many of us may have perceived some signs that we want to believe its from God.. but think about it… wouldnt it be easier to just say, “Son, you do this you are screwed!”?

    Religion however comes in a book or a series of books. Since it is static, its up to people to interpret. Thats where we start to disagree…. thats where problems start… thats where politicians come in to make extra mileage. Never trust a politician… not even Nathan Petrelli… LOL.

  5. cleffairy says:


    Religious books are jotted down by men and for men. God did not write it down on His own. I wonder why he ‘whispered’ his words to certain people…and people interpreted in for us to follow…

    I was in a bad mood once when someone tried to preach to me on how God helps in everything. The bloody goody-two shoes seems to think that praying without making effort will settle every single problems in the world.

    He found himself with the tongue lashing of my own: “If you think God will help everyone without us helping ourselves first, why don’t you ask God to make a phone call to me now and ask him to explain to me why the world is so screwed up! The destruction was of our own doing, and if you expect god to clear everything, do ask him to call and talk to us now!”

  6. chitrakorn says:

    i really love this post!!!! it’s adequately researched i must say! i m a buddhist, and often try to be aware that i must practise! hehe. but yr post is really humbling especially from someone who is not totally into one religion/teaching. btw, buddhism is a teaching..hehe.

  7. cleffairy says:

    Thank you for visiting and commenting, chitrakorn. LOL… I’m not a religious person, but i do try to understand others teachings and beliefs…. it’s fascinating and humbling at the same time.


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