I went to a Burmese community event last weekend. I was invited to watch a very important Buddhist ritual. A friend of mine named Zaw Min has a son and they were celebrating his son becoming a novice Monk.
I went to Rennselear, NY to a Buddhist Monestary. Looking on the outside, I thought it was an apartment building. Many would think it is an apartment if they don't spot the tiny sign outside in Burmese writing. I think it is very common for minority religions to "hide" their place of worship, especially if they encountered difficulties and persecution in their native country.
When I arrived to the Monestary I was greeted by many Burmese. They were very friendly and offrered me many different kinds of food- rice, fish soup, fresh vegetables, chicken, pork and fruit. They immediately found me a spot to sit and I shared a meal with them. They kept offering me food which is customary. I felt a little nervous while eating because I didn't want to offend anyone and I also don't speak Burmese so it makes it a bit difficult to communicate. Mostly though, I ate, smiled and thanked them for having me over. I was the only non-Burmese there and I felt honored to be there.
Soon after it was time for prayer and rituals. They meditated and chanted outside around the pagoda. Young children carried different items like clothing. It was a family and community event. The adults were encouraging the children to chant and there was a lot of smiling. I recognized some children and I ran over to say hello to them. I chatted with some parents and played with the kids.
Soon after, we went inside the monestary to pray again. The boys who were a part of the cremony had their head shaved by the Monks which symbolizes them becoming novice monks. There were about fourty people crowded on the floor watching the ceremony and praying. Even though I did not understand a word, I felt it and it was a beautiful ceremony.