Friday, April 24, 2009

Gathering Alms (Pindapata)

Every morning in Theravadan Buddhist societies (Laos, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and so on), the monks gather their alms bowls just before daybreak. The exact time varies season to season and even day to day. (Technically, it is precisely determined as the time when the lines of the hand first become visible).

Enormous drums signal the monks are setting off from the monastery. Monks or bhikkhus then walk throughout the surrounding neighborhoods collecting foods and goods they will use for their daily sustenance. Family supporters are often the most dedicated. But many are eager to accrue merit (very beneficial karma). The Buddha taught that the Sangha is the foremost field of merit in the world.

Often, particularly from the point of view of Westerners, this practice is thought of as begging. It is the opposite. Practiced correctly, it is giving ordinary people the opportunity to gain merit and to develop the wholesome character trait of generosity. It is a tradition dating back to the time of the Buddha in ancient India. The Buddha engaged in this practice even on returning to his affluent kingdom, which angered his father who was rich and able to support him. The Buddha was determined to offer everyone the opportunity to give. If no one gave, he went hungry.

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