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The Feeding of the Monks

The alms round was, for the Buddha, a key feature of the monastic life and the alms bowl is, for all Buddhists, a symbol of the monastic order.

The Pali word for alms round is pindapata, which colorfully means “dropping a lump,” describing the process whereby food accumulates in the alms bowl. The tradition is that monks or nuns leave the monastery, or wherever they are dwelling (most ideally, the root of a tree or a cemetery), either singly or in a group. As a group they walk single-file according to seniority, that is, ordination date.

The robes are arranged formally, covering both shoulders. The monks walk barefooted into a village and then from house to house, not favoring rich or poor neighborhoods, accepting, but not requesting, what is freely donated, that is, dropped into one’s bowl. Everything dropped into the bowl, according to ancient tradition, is simply mixed together, since monks are asked not to favor one food over another, and by extension should not favor one blend of foods over another, just as their stomach’s will not a few seconds later. Carrying the ancient tradition into the modern context can result in some rather unique blends, for instance, curry and cake,  shrimp and mangoes. Monastics are instructed not to endear themselves to the lay with the intention of improving their intake during alms rounds, not to ask for anything directly except in an emergency,  not to express thanks for donations received, and to receive without establishing eye contact. This ritualized behavior can be seen every day in virtually any village or city in Burma.