FAQ by a Novice: Part D
Tell me about collecting alms?
Every morning at dawn monks and novices walk barefoot with their alms bowls through the town collecting food and other offerings. They walk single file grouped by temple; Monks first, in order of seniority, and then Novices. They only eat two meals per day both in the morning. In the afternoon they can only have liquids. In addition to giving alms, villagers often bring other food (vegetables, fish, soup, fruit, etc… directly to the breakfast at 7 am and lunch at 11am. In addition to alms food, villagers often bring other food (vegetables, fish, soup, fruit and etc) directly to the temple to supplement the alms food, which is mostly sticky rice. Most locals give sticky rice during alms. The giving of alms by lay people is called Sai Bat and the receiving by monks and novices is called Take Bat. Collectively it is called morning alms. Lay people line up along the streets at dawn each morning, with mats to sit on and umbrellas when it rains. Traditionally they drape a scarf over their left shoulder and remove their shoes. When the long line of monks and novices appears in the distance, they raise their bowl of donations and bowl in prayer to bless what they are about to give with positive energy. The Lao Buddhists believe that through giving alms, they receive merit for their life which counteracts any negative Karma they have accumulated. As the monks and novices pass by, people bless each offering again as they place it in the bow (being careful not to touch the bowl or the monks’ or novices ‘robes especially women).Men can stand when giving alms, but women must sit. The monks and novices are meditatively silent with eyes averted, though when you get to know them you are likely to get a smile, or greeting. As their bowls fill up they may offer some back to the lay people as a blessing and a form of respect to those who give often, or touch their lives in other kind and generous ways. You will also see poor children alongside the monks and novices collecting the extras to share with their families. This is especially noticeable on festival days and moon phases when more people give alms than on the average day. It is inappropriate to give alms to the poor children. Alms are only for monks and novices so only monks and novices may give to the poor children during morning alms. It is ok, however, to give to the poor after all the monks and novices have passed.
Is there always enough food or are you hungry sometimes?
There are many temples in Luang Prabang which do not have enough food. Sometimes we get a lot of food but often we don’t have enough. Many only eat one meal per day due to lack of food. Since Luang Prabang became a UNESCO world heritage town and a popular tourist destination, foreigners have been replacing the locals in order to build restaurants, guesthouses, hotels, travel agencies, art galleries and other businesses. This means there are less locals living in the villages around the temples to offer food, and the foreign business owners and staff don’t participate in giving alms so many temples simply go without food. Many have begun to grow and cook their own food, which goes against Buddhist precepts, but has become a necessity for survival. If you wish, you can donate food to the temples for their meals. Temples most in need are Wat Pasaviet temple Wat Sibounbeang temple, Wat Pakkan, and Wat Simounkhoun. All are in the tourist area downtown. Wat Pasaviet is an exception. It is very new temple, quiet and beautiful but often people don’t know where it is. There are 23 novices and a monk living there. You can shop for vegetables at the morning market and bring them to one of the temple s around lunchtime at 11 am to offer to the head monk or novices. The entire group of monks and novice at the temple will chant a blessing for you.
What happens to the left-over food?
Monks and Novices often receive more sticky rice and candy than they eat in a day, so the candy that is wrapped is saved to share with friends, family and visitors to the temple. Left over sticky rice is placed out in the sun to dry and is picked up by poor people or villagers who usually donate small amounts of money to the temple in return for the rice. They re-steam it or make a porridge-like soup with it. Some make it into rice (Khao cope ), which they sell.
If you want to participate in morning alms, what should you give?
Local people give mainly sticky rice, and some tourists buy sticky rice to give. You can sometimes buy sticky-rice through your guesthouse. Many tourist s give candy, but we get so much we don’t eat it all and it is not healthy. Some tourists give money, which is always useful.
Written by a Novice
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