( Ven. Katukurunde Ñāṇananda).
Venerable Ñāṇavimala Mahāthera
When he was staying at Vajirarama in Colombo, a wealthy lay supporter who was highly impressed by a Dhamma discussion with Venerable Ñāṇavimala, came with his family the following morning to offer him alms. With all the delicacies he had brought, he was eagerly waiting at the gate of the temple until Venerable Ñāṇavimala came out to go on his alms round. As soon as Venerable Ñāṇavimala showed up, he reverentially approached him and served a hopper (rice flour pancake) into the bowl. He was going to offer more when Venerable Ñāṇavimala made a sign with his hand to prevent it, saying: ‘Please give an opportunity for poor people also to offer alms.’ Long after this experience, that particular donor told me about it, not with a sense of disappointment, but with great appreciation for the frugal ways of Venerable Ñāṇavimala.
One of our fellow monks was staying at another hermitage when Venerable Ñāṇavimala also came there in the course of his cārikā. The monks of that hermitage were in the habit of distributing food to crowds of poor people who regularly turned up there. Venerable Ñāṇavimala was curious why this practice was going on. Our monk had explained, saying: ‘Venerable Sir, it is because they are poor.’ Venerable Ñāṇavimala’s rejoinder was:
‘If they are poor, we should take food from them.’ According to modern values, Venerable Ñāṇavimala’s attitude is grossly unkind. But most probably, he meant something deep by that retort. One reason for poverty according to the law of kamma is the lack of practice of giving. To encourage the poor to take from monks rather than to offer them, is to give them an inheritance of poverty in saṁsāra (endless round of rebirth).
Venerable Mahā Kassapa Mahāthera who was foremost in austerity, on rising from his attainment of cessation after seven days of fasting, used to prevent not only kings and millionaires, but even Sakka, the king of the gods, from offering him alms food and gave that rare opportunity of making merit to poor people living in huts. Materialistic thinking of today might, of course, interpret it as an exploitation of the poor.
Whenever Venerable Ñāṇavimala heard the pathetic excuse from a poor house on his alms round: ‘Venerable Sir, today we have nothing to give’, he used to console them with the sympathetic thanksgiving: ‘I came to give you mettā!’