Hla experiences Buddhist culture


Submitted by Justin Hla

Justin Hla and his brother have their heads shaved by Buddhist monks.

Jack Benson, Editor-in-Chief

When someone says they are living like a monk, they usually don’t mean it literally. However, for senior Justin Hla, living like a monk was a very real experience. Hla spent the summer of 2016 in Myanmar learning directly from Buddhist monks.

Hla’s family value their Burmese heritage, and becoming a monk was one part of carrying on those values.

“The majority of my decision was dictated by my parents’ pressure to continue the age-old tradition of becoming a monk, which both my mother and father went through when they were young.” Hla said.

Besides living in a different country, living as a Buddhist monk changed even his daily eating routine.

“We had to fast from noon to 6 a.m. the next morning.” Hla said.

Becoming a monk is an intense commitment that can not be done on a whim.

“I had to learn the Pali language and understand the phonetics a week before the ceremony,” Hla said. “I had to get my head shaved to show I was part of the monk community.”

Despite of the difficulties, people in Myanmar accepted the Hlas and helped them on their journey.

“We also went through a day long ceremony at a pagoda where family and friends congratulated me on becoming a monk and completing the rites to become an adult.” Hla said.

Before he committed to spending time as a fully-fledged monk, Hla had taken previous trips to Myanmar. It was important for him to connect to his roots.

Through Buddhism, I see the need for generosity.

— Justin Hla

“The trip previous to the ceremony had my family travelling around Myanmar to see all the pagodas and temples, including [visiting] the thousand Buddha cave and scaling mountains to see a pagoda,” Hla said. “These trips always meant something to me.”

Besides his time as a monk, Hla saw people living in worse conditions in Myanmar, and has taken what he experienced and principles of Buddhism back to the Twin Cities with him.

“I have seen how some people are living terribly with not enough money to support themselves,” Hla said. “Through Buddhism, I see the need for generosity.”

In addition to thinking about generosity, Hla and his family utilize these lessons to shape the way they live their lives.

“My mother also supports Buddhism by giving donations whenever she can to pagodas,” Hla said. “My father actively embraces Buddhism whenever he is in Myanmar by going to pagodas and praying there.”

Hla’s parents have shown him the benefits of Buddhism, while avoiding making decisions for him.

“My parents have tried teaching me Buddhism and small concepts, but they never forced it upon me,” Hla said.

Another way Hla benefited from his trip to Myanmar was to share the country with his friends.

“This would be a great idea to introduce some of my close friends to the culture where I came from”

Originally published in the November 2018 edition of The Rubicon.