Monastic Alms Round in the West

Discussion of ordination, the Vinaya and monastic life. How and where to ordain? Bhikkhuni ordination etc.
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Bhikkhu Cintita
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by Bhikkhu Cintita » Tue Jul 10, 2018 3:05 am

I tried, with limited success, to institute an alms round in Minnesota, USA in 2010 after returning from Myanmar, where I had ordained the year before. This is an account:
Before I left Myanmar, Ashin Paññasīha had onced admonished me, “When you go back to America you should continue to do alms rounds!”

I remarked, “I don't think you can do alms rounds in the States. Nobody will know what I am doing.”

“I did.”

Indeed, Ashin Paññasīha had lived in America for one and a half years, where he had attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He explained he had been determined to walk for alms no matter where he lived, because of the Buddha's injunction. He described how he had printed up fliers, and distributed them through his neighborhood to head off people's bewilderedness, and how he ended up with many new students of Buddhism.

“In a lot of places in America, including Austin, I could be arrested for 'begging'!”

“I wouldn't have minded getting arrested. I could teach Buddhism in jail.”

Whew, Ashin Paññasīha argued an awfully strong case.

The very same alms bowl from yesterchapter was now sitting on my shelf in Maplewood. Nonetheless I had trouble picturing myself seeking alms on County Road C, walking along the edge of the road, dumbfounding the inhabitants of cars as they flashed past and gaining little notice from the neighbors, all of whose houses stood well back from the road. What I pictured seemed hardly promising of alms, nor even of tangible human contact. That is, unless I just happened to pass the right house at the right moment:

Once, while on a long walk, a swift bicycle approached me from behind, passed and screeched to a halt, ejecting a dark-haired woman who, with a sidewards toss of the bike, dropped to the ground and bowed at my feet. It turned out she was from Laos, married to an American, had been washing dishes in her kitchen, and had happened to glance up to see the very last thing she had ever expected in Maplewood walk by. She had dashed out the door, jumped on her daughter's bicycle and hastened after me. Had I instead been walking by with alms bowl in hand at that moment, I would undoubtedly have attained to left-over waffles, bear mush, or even better!

No, I had an alms plan in mind that left little to chance. This was inspired second-hand from an American nun I had heard of, who had started collecting alms in Colorado ... at a farmers' market. Her plan was brilliant: At precisely such a place are found the ideal set of circumstances to induce the spontaneous whim that would cast Nordic inhibition aside to participate in an ancient rite over twice as ancient as the Viking plunder. The circumstances were, first, a wide variety of amiable people in a relaxed and interactive frame of mind and, second, food close at hand available for purchase. I phoned the director of the farmers' market in Maplewood, and procured permission to walk barefooted, bowl in hand, robes formally adjusted over both shoulders, past the booths.

I also invited the four monks from the local Karen monastery in St. Paul to participate and a few members of our community to bring some food to offer, to prime the pump that would then suck in broader participation. The Karen monks, never having expected to go for alms in America, a bit apprehensive about the response they would invoke, and of less than Nordic stature, suggested we forgo the normal monastic custom of queuing up according to ordination date and, much like novices or ducklings, line up according to height ... tallest first.

We had a number of glitches. The Burmese recruited to prime the pump were, as I should have anticipated, too generous to provide a reasonable example for emulation; they handed us what appeared to be entire grocery bags of food, which gave the row of monks the appearance of a kind of human shopping cart, and hardly in need of still further alms giving. Luckily in subsequent weeks fewer members of the Burmese community showed up, but then relatively few of the shoppers had any idea why grown bald men in dresses were playing choo-choo in the middle of their shopping experience. However an occasional shopper or merchant would figure it out. Once an oriental woman, who presumably had not seen an alms round in many years, was thrilled to have her lanky grandson drop an offering into each of our bowls. A vendor once gave us little bottles of honey. We were week after week making slow headway when suddenly the very short Minnesota farmers' market season came to a chilly end.
This is excerpted from https://bhikkhucintita.wordpress.com/bo ... lass-book/

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pilgrim
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by pilgrim » Tue Jul 10, 2018 5:53 am

The Thai and western monks at the Sarasota Forest Monastery in Florida have a daily alms round.
http://www.sarasotaforestmonastery.org/ ... s-round-1/

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Mr Man
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by Mr Man » Tue Jul 10, 2018 6:46 am

In the spring of 1978, one of those small miracles happened that stop the mind's rational expectations. Keeping to the apparently pointless routine of going out for alms every day, as prescribed by Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho encountered a lone jogger on Hampstead Heath whose attention was arrested by the bhikkhus’ appearance. This jogger had acquired an overgrown forest in West Sussex called Hammer Wood, out of the wish to restore it to its former glory – but he also understood that this was work for more than one man and one lifetime. Although not a Buddhist, he had the openness of mind to appreciate that an order of forest monks might be the perfect wardens for his woodland. Subsequently, he attended one of the ten-day meditation retreats that Ajahn Sumedho held at the Oaken Holt Buddhist Centre near Oxford, and later made an outright gift of the forest to the Sangha
https://forestmonastery.org/how-the-bud ... to-sussex/

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Crazy cloud
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by Crazy cloud » Tue Jul 10, 2018 5:42 pm

Maybe the biggest obstacle is lacking trust of goodness in man ...
If you didn't care
What happened to me
And I didn't care for you

We would zig-zag our way
Through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain

Wondering which of the
Buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing
- Roger Waters

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ShinMeiDokuJoh
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Location: Germany

Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by ShinMeiDokuJoh » Tue Jul 10, 2018 7:52 pm

Here some pictures from the south of Germany: Muttodaya Forest Monastery

https://www.flickr.com/photos/muttodaya ... 7418215931

There are other monasteries too, where alms rounds are practiced

With best wishes
ShinMeiDokuJoh
Pali in Thai Script: http://paliinthaiscript.blogspot.com

Pali Sutta, Gatha and Paritta in Thai Script: http://sutta-sutra-pali-in-thai-script- ... ogspot.com

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Dorje Shedrub
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by Dorje Shedrub » Wed Jul 11, 2018 1:41 am

This is quite interesting. Thank you all for your contributions!

Do the monks only eat what is in their own bowl or do they all share at the monastery?

DS
"Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,"

~ From the Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sn 1.8)

bksubhuti
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by bksubhuti » Sun Jul 15, 2018 2:13 am

This was written recently for you and others.
It is about the legality of alms in the USA and probably other Western countries as well.
https://subhuti.withmetta.net/2018/07/1 ... ata-legal/

SarathW
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by SarathW » Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:11 am

This was written recently for you and others.
Thank you, Bhante.
It is great to see monks in this forum.
So neighbors get double points.
Blessings and neighborhood watch!
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Dorje Shedrub
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by Dorje Shedrub » Sun Jul 15, 2018 8:36 pm

bksubhuti wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 2:13 am
This was written recently for you and others.
It is about the legality of alms in the USA and probably other Western countries as well.
https://subhuti.withmetta.net/2018/07/1 ... ata-legal/
Thank you, Bhante. So, if people ask you what you are doing when you are standing in front of the house, does the vinaya permit you to explain that you are accepting food donations? If so, do those people then usually give to you, or not?

DS
"Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,"

~ From the Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sn 1.8)

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pilgrim
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by pilgrim » Mon Jul 16, 2018 12:54 am

bksubhuti wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 2:13 am
This was written recently for you and others.
It is about the legality of alms in the USA and probably other Western countries as well.
https://subhuti.withmetta.net/2018/07/1 ... ata-legal/
Great to see you here Bhante. I've been enjoying your writings since the early days of jgtrek on yahoo groups.

I note that many westerners call the alms round Pindapata which I think is incorrect. Pinda means "lump of food" and pata is the "alms bowl". So pindapata actually means alms food that has been collected. In Malaysia, we use the term Pindacara; cara meaning "walking about". So one can say one goes on Pindacara to collect Pindapata

bksubhuti
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by bksubhuti » Mon Jul 16, 2018 6:58 pm

Thank you, Bhante. So, if people ask you what you are doing when you are standing in front of the house, does the vinaya permit you to explain that you are accepting food donations? If so, do those people then usually give to you, or not?

DS
I usually tell them that I am doing two things. Wishing loving-kindness and also collecting food for my meal. I let them know that I am carrying a bowl (and not a drum), and that I don't touch money and I don't eat after hight noon. I also tell them that I cannot save the food from one day to the next so I need to go out everyday to eat. I am usually quick to tell them that I have not touched money in 17 years. They all usually say "Wow". Those exact words usually. Depending on the person and situation, the answer is short or longer.

Sometimes, I am embarrassed to tell them that I am looking for alms. So I just explain that I am wishing loving-kindness. Usually those who say, "Thanks for the blessing, " don't get the alms round info. However, sometimes, I explain the blessing part in more detail. You have to feel it when to speak and when to not speak. There were a few times where I walked away explaining what the "blessing" was without mentioning anything related to food. Then they called me back and made an offering.

Lastly, it is legal in Buddhist rules to speak up if someone says, "May I help you?" which is more in the context of "WTF are you doing here?" But you can speak up. It is the right words.. You can ask for food too. One time that happened. I said, "This is my bowl and I am collecting food for my meal. Normally I don't say anything unless people ask."
The response was, "OK, well I asked and come inside, I'll give you some food." He offered some fruit.
He never gave again though.

I often joke that I should just walk into any retail store and stand around. Eventually a worker will say " Can I help you?" If I am in Best Buy, I can say, I need help receiving a new laptop! I have not done that of course. Offers are based on faith, means, context and literal words. All factors should be present actually.

SarathW
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by SarathW » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:06 pm

I have not touched money in 17 years
Yes, it is indeed a hard Vinaya rule to follow in moderns society especially in a Western country.
Even a country like Sri Lanka this tradition is diminishing.
:anjali:
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Dorje Shedrub
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by Dorje Shedrub » Tue Jul 17, 2018 11:06 pm

What happens if you receive alms food that has prohibited items, like garlic or onions? When you notice, do you simple not eat that, or do you eat everything and make a confession, or is this not a problem?

DS
"Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,"

~ From the Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sn 1.8)

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pitakele
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by pitakele » Wed Jul 18, 2018 4:49 am

Dorje Shedrub wrote:
Tue Jul 17, 2018 11:06 pm
What happens if you receive alms food that has prohibited items, like garlic or onions? When you notice, do you simple not eat that, or do you eat everything and make a confession, or is this not a problem?

DS
My memory of banned food items for Sangha is stand alone garlic unless ill (due to offensive odour) and ten types of flesh - see viewtopic.php?t=18142

The general practice on almsround is to receive all foods into the bowl, and then later, one can choose what to eat. For example, if one is vegetarian, usually non veg foods would be accepted, but not eaten.

In the monastery refectory or in a supporter's house, it is not improper to cover the bowl with the hand if one doesn't wish to receive an unsuitable food item.

It is not necessary for an individual to eat food which is unsuitable or detrimental to health as this would be contrary to the practice of satisampajaññā (mindful clear comprehension).
now here = nowhere

bksubhuti
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Re: Monastic Alms Round in the West

Post by bksubhuti » Wed Jul 18, 2018 5:35 am

Dorje Shedrub wrote:
Tue Jul 17, 2018 11:06 pm
What happens if you receive alms food that has prohibited items, like garlic or onions? When you notice, do you simple not eat that, or do you eat everything and make a confession, or is this not a problem?

DS
The above comment is just about correct including the 10 types of flesh which are not really an issue in the USA.
We cannot have raw meat either, unless possessed. I have turned down pokee which is sushi in Kauai. (raw meat)
I would not want to eat something unallowable and then confess.
I tell people I cannot cook and refuse raw rice, etc.
We have to be careful about those who catch their own fish and wish it for a monk. I usually ask if I suspect. That is the rule.
I wrote an article on vegetarianism at this link here. https://subhuti.withmetta.net/2018/01/1 ... buddhism/


Most communities figure garlic by itself without a medical reason is a problem. Bad breath?
Mixed with food is ok by common community standards across the board even by the most strict Theravada monasteries,
It is mentioned in the bmc2 and since it is allowed at pa-auk, I am pretty sure there is some mention in the commentary pali texts somewhere that it is ok.
The mahayana does not allow garlic. I heard it is for celibacy reasons.
I bet you come from a mahayana/tibet tradition with a name like yours.
Theravada is so far away from Mahayana/Tibet see my article https://subhuti.withmetta.net/2017/09/1 ... e-nibbana/
If you are mahayana, you will freak out after reading this. This idea is so central and so different. It is the difference between wrong view and right view (according to Theravada). Therefore, the two schools are SO far apart. Right view and wrong view are never close together.

We also don't believe in *easy* Bodhisatva vows (notice the spelling). It is a really serious thing. You cannot be a sammasambudho by living in some pure land happily ever after. :) It negates the whole Jataka. Mahayana has a "skillful means" chapter in the White lotus sutra. I lost faith in mahayana as a layman in the 90's after reading that chapter.. I never finished the book. I'm glad I read that far. I might have been Mahayana.

i have refused food I was sure to not eat, but not always. For instance, at the farmer's market, a Lao man wanted to offer a banana. I had already eaten 6. I refused, although I was looking for some carbs to balance out my all fruit diet that day.
I gave him a blessing anyway. He cried.
I got sick from eating too much fruit that day.

I eat almost anything. I was a vegetarian as a layperson and I am ok with eating meat.
I like how I am content to eat musubi (a local favorite) and nonGMO organic vegetarian food (a north shore culture) together.
It is all blessed food in my mind.
Being easy to support and easily contented is a preliminary of the loving-kindness sutta

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