By far my favorite assignment since I’ve come to Utica was photographing this young man becoming a monk. Maung Maung Lay, 12, had his monk ceremony a few weeks ago at a Buddhist monastery here in Utica. Now, this young man didn’t become a full time monk at such a young age. Much like young Jewish men go through Bar Mitzvahs, Buddhists are initiated into the monk way of life in their younger years. They have 7 days at the monastery, then they decide if they want to go back to their regular everyday life or pursue monasticism. If they decide to go back to everyday life, they can still come back and be a monk as long as they do it pretty soon after they become adult (usually in their 20s.) Once they get married or pursue other interests that are contrary to monasticism, they cannot come back.
I had never seen this ceremony before, so I really enjoyed it. They walked through the city in a ceremonial march, took lots of family pictures together, shaved his head, prayed for over an hour and then they had a meal. I felt really lucky I got to stay for the entire thing. Often these days we don’t have much time to cover anything in depth, so it was a nice to spend a morning getting to know these people and their religion.