Br. Chân Trời Nguyện Lực
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, a gentle breeze blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”
Alms round is a beautiful practice that I like very much. Of all Plum Village centers around the world, only at Thai Plum Village is it practiced on a regular basis. It is a tradition that dates back to the Buddha’s time. Like the Buddha, Buddhist monks and nuns choose to leave behind our family to live a simple life dedicated to spiritual practice in order to be liberated from suffering and to help relieve the suffering of others. Since all our time is dedicated to practicing and sharing the Dharma, we do not work to earn a living in the same way as lay people. We mainly rely on the offerings from lay people who have faith in the Buddha’s way.
Daily alms round is commonly practiced by monastics in the Theravada tradition. Although we are from a different tradition, at Thai Plum Village, we go on alms round to preserve and continue this beautiful practice. Each week we go to one of eight local villages, then the week after to another. Unlike Theravada monastics, Plum Village monastics eat vegan food, so we need to let the villagers know two days in advance by distributing leaflets inviting them to offer vegan food to monks and nuns walking past their house at a specified date, usually around six o’clock in the morning. The leaflets also briefly introduce Thay, the Plum Village practices, and invite the villagers to come practice at our monastery.
During alms round, we hold our alms bowl, walk silently along the road in one line by our ordination order, and share our peaceful and mindful energy with the villagers. Those who want to make an offering would normally call out to us when we walking by their house. Some wait in front of their house with the offerings on a small table. When the monastics arrive, the villagers would take off their shoes to express humility and then respectfully place food offering into each of our alms bowl, starting from the eldest monastic. After they finish, they would sit squat on the floor with their palms joined in respect, to receive blessings from us.
Being one of the few Thai monks at the monastery, I like to talk a little in Thai with the villagers after each offering, and to invite them to come and practice with us.
Many Thai Buddhists believe that giving alms is a good way to make merits, and an opportunity to practice generosity. I feel very nourished every time I go. The villagers are very respectful and humble when they make the offering. Some of them are quite poor but still make an effort to get up early to share their food with us even though most of us are foreigners from a Buddhist tradition that they are not familiar with. Sometimes they even put cash in the alms bowl. The seed of gratitude is watered in me, reminding me to practice wholeheartedly to be worthy of their offering. I am also reminded to walk mindfully not just during alms round, but wherever I go. The image of villagers offering food and money to us makes me determined not to be wasteful with resources of our monastery, to recognize that they may have come from the hard work of villagers.
“Receiving the offering, practicing the way of awareness, gives rise to benefits without limit. We vow to share the fruits with all beings. We vow to offer tribute to parents, teachers, friends, and numerous beings who give guidance and support along the path.”
My pocket money perhaps also came from these villagers. So when I buy something, I try to make sure that it is only what I need and not what I want, certainly not luxurious products. Even though our brown robes clearly show that we are not from a tradition commonly seen in Thailand, when I am outside of the monastery, I still try to adapt to Thai culture whenever possible to avoid misperceptions. For example, Thai people would find it strange and inappropriate for monks and nuns to have dinner together at a restaurant in the evening (even though doing so in some other countries would be perfectly normal). The villagers who respectfully offered us their food and money in the morning would be quite shocked and hurt if later they see us eating dinner at a restaurant they cannot even afford. If I need to have dinner outside when going on a trip, I usually pack a meal before going out or wait until returning to the monastery.
The practice of alms round is more than just going out to receive food from local villagers. It is also a chance for us to connect with them, to water our seeds of love, humility, and gratitude, and be reminded not to be wasteful or take for granted our daily resources. For the villagers, it is a chance for them to make merits, practice generosity, and to water the seeds of peace and happiness. If there were no lay people to support the monastics, it would be very difficult for us to continue to practice and share the Dharma. I feel very grateful to our lay supporters. I am determined to practice deeply to transform my afflictions, to be worthy of their support, and to repay the debt of gratitude to all who have supported me on this spiritual path.