William and Robert Chambers,
Text on page 79
The Burman term applied to a priest is Pon-gyee, or Bon-ghee ; literally " great exemplar," or " great glory." The Pali term Rahan, or " holy man," is seldom used. aIhe Siamese name is P'hrasong. Some authors speak the priests as Telapoins, but the term is never used by Burmans or Siamese. It seems to have been given J;0 the priests by the French and Portuguese, a perhaps from the custom of carrying, over their shaven heads, the large fan made of Tal-apot leaf.
Pongyees are not a caste, or hereditary race ; nor, as has been remarked, is there any such thing as caste 111 Burmah. Anyone may become a priest, and any Priest may return to secular life at pleasure. Thousands do, in fact, thus return every year, without the least reproach. The far greater number enter with the avowed purpose of remaining only a few months, or years, for the acquisition of learning and merit. Indeed, the majority of respectable young men enter the noviciate for a season, not only to complete their education, but because the doing so is considered both respectable and meritorious. The more acute and energetic re-enter society, and, as the phrase is, "become men again." *he dull, the indolent, and those who become fond of religious and literary pursuits, remain. . When a youth assumes the yellow robe, it is an occa-SlAn of considerable ceremony, of neighbourly festivity, and of emolument to the monastery.* The candidate, richly clad, is led forth, on a horse handsomely caparisoned, attended by a train of friends and relations, and Passes in pomp through the principal streets. Before him go women bearing on their heads his future robes of. profession, and the customary utensils of a priest, Wlth rice, fruit, cloth, china cups, and c., intended as presents to the kyoung, and its superior.
This splendour of array bears a striking similarity to the display of dress, and c., made by a nun when about to Enounce the world. Henceforth, at least while he Remains a priest, the youth is no more to wear ornaments, ride on horseback, or even carry an umbrella, .he candidate is also made to pass an examination as 0 his belief, motives, and c., and to take upon himself Certain vows.
Priests are not only to observe all rules binding on cAmmon people, but many more. They are bound to celibacy and chastity ; and if married before their ini-"ation, the bond is dissolved. They must not so much as touch a woman, or even a female infant, or any female animal. They must never sleep under the same roof, Al* travel in the same carriage or boat with a woman, 0r, touch any thing which a woman has worn. If a best's own mother fall into the water, or into a pit, he J^ust not help her out except no one else is nigh, and hen he must only reach her a stick or a rope. They are not to recognise any relations. They must not have, even touch, money ; nor eat after the noon of the aay i nor drink without straining the water ; nor build a fire in any new place, lest some insect be killed ; nor spit in water, or on grass, lest some creature be defiled by eating. They must not dance, sing, or play upon musical instruments, nor stand in conspicuous places, nor wear their hair long, or any ornaments, nor have a turban, umbrella, or shoes ; and their raiment must be made of rags and fragments gathered in the streets. As the burning sun makes some shelter absolutely necessary for a shorn, unturbaned head, they p . are allowed to carry their huge fan
r;est walking out. for this purpose, as shown in the They must hold no secular office, nor interfere :n the least with government. Seclusion, poverty, con-ernplation, and indifference to all worldly good or evil, are henceforth to distinguish them.
^ * He who incurs the expense on this occasion, is said to have lule a priest, and beeomcs a Thengan-tuga or Tn-gyee-taga.
In eating, a priest must inwardly say, " I eat this rice, not to please my palate, but to support life." In dressing himself, lie must say, " I put on these robes, not to be vain of them, but to conceal my nakedness." And in taking medicine, he must say, A I desire recovery from this indisposition, only that I may be more diligent in devotion and virtuous pursuits."
All this strictness, though required in the sacred books, is by no means exemplified in the conduct of the priests. They wear sandals, carry umbrellas, live luxuriously, and handle money. They not only wear the finest and best cotton cloth, but some of them the most excellent silks. They, however, preserve a shadow of obedience, by having the cloth first cut into pieces, and then neatly sewed together. They even look at women without much reserve. The huge fan, peculiar to priests, is intended partly to prevent the necessity of their seeing women when preaching, and c. ; but the manner in which they are represented in native pictures, as looking over them, is not more amusing than true.
Their dress covers much more of the person than that of the laity ; indeed, it veils them completely from neck to ankles. It consists of two cloths, one put on so as to form a petticoat, and fastened with a girdle, the other thrown gracefully over the shoulders and round the neck. The rule is to keep the head shaved entirely ; but some permit it to grow an inch or two. I found the rule in Siam was to shave the head twice a month ; and probably the same prevails in Burmah. Yellow is appropriated as the colour for the dress of the priesthood, and it would be deemed nothing less than sacrilege in any one else to use it : so peculiarly sacred is it held, that it is not uncommon to see one of the people pay his devotions in due form to the old garment of a priest, hung on a bush to dry, after being washed.
Kyoungs are found in all cities and villages, and often in very small hamlets. As a partial compliance to the law, which forbids them to be erected in such places, they are generally placed at the outskirts. They are enclosed within an ample space, generally set out with fruit and shade trees. The ground is kept clear of grass or weeds, in proportion to the strictness of the superior. The kyoungs are always vastly better built than the dwellings of even the richest among the laity ; and near the metropolis many of them are truly grand. With few exceptions they are built in the same manner as good dwelling houses, only decorated with carved work, and having massive steps of brick and mortar leading up to thern. The distinctive mark between common and religious or royal residences, is always observed, namely, the stages or hips in the roof. The number of these breaks depends on the beauty, size, and sacred-ness of the structure. The apartments are all on one floor, and often rendered truly imposing by the height and decorations of the roof. I have been in some monasteries of great size, which were solidly gilded, within and without, from top to bottom.
As to the morality of the priesthood, my information is too vague and contradictory to allow me to venture an opinion. Perhaps, however, this contradictoriness arose from a real diversity in the characters of the priests whom my different informers had known. It is certain that if they choose to transgress, they may do so with little danger of detection, by assuming the turban and robe of the laity. They cannot be distinguished by their shorn heads, as that is a sign of humiliation practised by all who go into mourning for relations. Sometimes half the community adopt this sign at the death of some very great man or member of the royal family.
Such as their literature is, it is chiefly confined to the priesthood. Few others can so much as read, without hesitation, a book they never saw before, still less understand its contents. The thousands who " finish their education" in the monasteries, furnish but few exceptions to this remark. The nation has acquired the character of " a reading people" from the fact that nearly all males do learn to read in the kyoung. But it is as the bulk of the Jews read Hebrew, without understanding any thing they read.Such as their literature is, it is chiefly confined to the priesthood. Few others can so much as read, without hesitation, a book they never saw before, still less understand its contents. The thousands who " finish their education" in the monasteries, furnish but few exceptions to this remark. The nation has acquired the character of " a reading people" from the fact that nearly all males do learn to read in the kyoung. But it is as the bulk of the Jews read Hebrew, without understanding any thing they read.