Giving Alms to Monks

I waited in the dark. It was around 5 am, dawn was a few minutes away. I stood at the wooden makeshift steps at the bank of the river Tha Chin. Gentle and fresh breeze caressed my face and locks. Innocuous clouds were hovering over me wondering what I was up to. Holding my plate I was waiting for two things โ€ฆ the sun to come out and the monks.

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My plate had food packages (milk, juice, rice, noodles, biscuits, pandan cake, fruits) and other useful items such as incense sticks, candles etc. accompanied with a lotus flower. The hotel I was staying at, had arranged for it.

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The wait was over now and I could see a boat at a distance. A monk in familiar orange robe along with a helper was coming down our way. I was told, when a temple is near a river, they use a boat. It was magical, watching him gently rowing the boat towards us. In a few minutes he was at the bank. Calm and graceful he did not utter a word.

I was guided how to offer him the food. It is very important that we should not touch the monk or his bowl. He had a silver bowl in which we were supposed to put the eatables and other items one by one. The monk was then emptying the contents into two separate vessels. After offerings were made, I bowed to him and sought for his blessings. He smiled, while showering me with his blessings.

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It was truly wonderful, I was struck by the generosity and kindness of this gentle tradition. It was so lovely to be part of it, so what if it was only briefly.

Alms giving is one of the most common practices among Thai Buddhists. It’s a way to support the monks by offering them food. At the same time, we learn to give, be generous and to let go.

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All over Thailand, from dawn until around 7 o’clock, local Buddhist monks can be seen slowly walking bare feet with their alms bowls in the area around the monastery. The senior monks walk in the front while the juniors follow behind. They walk past shops and houses where local people offer alms in exchange for blessings. I am told, one should not give a full large package to one single monk as once his bowl is full, he must return to temple, and canโ€™t come back again that day. Probably that is why our monk was emptying the contents into other vessels. ๐Ÿ™‚

Monks don’t prepare their own meals. They depend on the generosity of the community. Hence any food is accepted by the monks. At one place I had seen some sachets of detergent and Paracetamol medicine also. Since rice is the most common Thai food, people normally offer rice and other dishes. In some north and northeastern provinces the rice is replaced with sticky rice. It is said that through monks the food goes to our ancestors, so people cook the best dishes and offer what their ancestors liked, even if it happens to be a non-veg dish. Some people also give a bouquet of flowers, preferably lotus, to be offered to Buddha at the temple.

The giving of alms is not considered a charity to the monks, but a way for a common Buddhist to show respect to the monks. It forms a connection between the people and the monks. Thais highly respect monks for their devotion to the Buddha’s teachings that liberates them from suffering.

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What a special morning it was! I got to learn a new Thai culture. When in Thailand, I highly recommend you participate. I plan to do again, whenever it is possible.

Note:- This post is written under Living the Thai culture series. You can read more posts of the series by clicking the following links. More to come.

Thai Herbal Compress Luk Prakob
Reviving the Dragon Earthen Water Jars
When I painted my own Ceramic
Celebrating Muay Thai
Songkran Splendours!

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40 thoughts on “Giving Alms to Monks

  1. Alm giving was very common in India as well at one time. Wandering brahmins and/or sadhus would call out biksham dehi meaning please give alms. I hope I have my facts right as I can’t really claim to be knowledgeable about these matters.

    Nice post. Lovely pictures.

  2. wow! I could learn new part of Thai culture here.

    Nice pictures and well informed article.
    Thanks for sharing this amazing part.

  3. If I go to Thailand ever, I won’t miss it. This sounds so peaceful, calming and one experience which can’t be expressed in words, though your narration is marvelous. Truly touched by this tradition. We have same thing in India but it is corrupted.

  4. Saru,

    Thank you.

    Yes, we also had similar tradition in India but I think it’s lost somewhere in today’s world and has become too commercialized to have any emotions attached to it.

  5. Amrita,

    Even I didn’t know before participating in it. And I liked the way they accept everything, even non-veg without threatening with curses or making faces. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Gave me a very calming feel.

  6. Shrinidhi,

    Probably on the lines “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” ? Also, we are not supposed to give with left hand, so generally people keep their left hand ‘away’ or at the back.

    I don’t know exactly why but saw many people doing it so clicked a picture so that I can ask the locals later.

    If some local is reading this comment then s/he can help us. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Don’t know what captivated me more! The lovely photographs or the touching and elaborate description! Really profound!

  8. Your words bring alive the scene of a boat gently floating in the water with a benvolent looking monk clad in orange sitting in it. The scene looks so surreal and blissful at the same time. Must have been a great experience. In Hinduism too the sanyasis or the people who have renounced the world are supposed to survive on alms.

    1. Thank you so much.

      Yes, it was a great experience. And I learn new things everyday. Yes, am aware of Hindu culture’s surviving on alms.

  9. What an amazing experience to have participated in. I didn’t realize that people could get involved in this tradition and I will definitely look into it when we next return to Thailand. The monk looks so serene and kind.

    1. Thank you.

      I knew about it only after reading online. Always thought it was for the locals and for those who are Buddhists. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. This is so lovely and must have been so interesting to experience. I didn’t know you could do this, I would love to give that. Such a beautiful gesture. I have to look into this when I travel back to Thailand.

  11. I love this post since I have always wondered about this practice. Do you know why it is important not to touch the monk’s bowl? I would be that person who gets so nervous and accidentally touches the bowl!

  12. I enjoyed learning more about Thai Buddhist culture especially how it’s not considered charity but offerings to loved once who have passed away. I thought it was very thoughtful for your hotel to have prepared the package for you. And I would love to participate one day.

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