How to approach a monk

By Jayshri Patel
“Your smile is all they need to see,” said Yiy Chhayleang (Chhay) when I asked him about bowing to a monk.
We were walking away from Ta Prom Temple down a serene and dusty path; saffron-robed monks illuminated the distance ahead of us. Kema and I were curious about how to approach, greet, acknowledge a monk. All we knew was that one should not make eye contact with a monk, and we both agreed that there had to be more to it. So, as budding travel writers, we asked.
Chhay gladly demonstrated. Walking a few feet in front us, as two monks passed by, Chhay calmly removed his hat, looked down at the ground, and bowed his head slowly. Excited and anxious to learn, Kema and I echoed Chhay’s actions.
I still feel that fleeting moment. My heart beating quickly. I tried to greet the monks the way Chhay did, to send them my respect, but when I bowed, my coordination went out the window. After skipping a step and almost dropping my hat, my eyes naturally sauntered up from the dirt path to the monks’ eyes–I was attempting to finish off my greeting and see if they had “received” my bow.
“How do I know that they have acknowledged me acknowledging them?” I asked after botching-up my greeting.
Chhay said that I do not need to worry about being acknowledged. He said the monks will do the seeing, and that all they need to see is my smile.
That’s when I decided that the trick to greeting a monk is to focus on what you should do rather than what you should not. This being said, here are five things to keep in mind when approaching a monk:
1. Do not try to avoid eye contact, just remember that monks generally do not look at others in the eyes
2. It is considered more respectful to a monk if you hold your pressed palms at forehead level.
3.  If you are wearing a hat, remove it and hold it at your chest with your right hand.
4. Look down at the floor, or at the feet of the monk, tilt your head toward the monk you are greeting, and bow slowly. A fast bow is interpreted as insincere.
5. Smile. We all smile in the same language.
If anything just remember, as Chhay delicately put it, “When you are bowing to a monk you are not being polite, you are being respectful.”
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1 comment so far

  1. AnuFoi on

    hehe …. clumsy Jay!! How did you stop yourself from laughing? It sounds like the movies but better. Hope you get better at your Monk greetings and Bow down proud. You don’t have to worry about the smiling part as I know you have mastered the art:-)


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