Hi everyone. I’m interested in a very casual research project: Who are the monastics that go for alms—at least twice a week—in non-traditional Buddhist countries? (This would include Buddhist countries where alms-going isn’t the norm, like Japan)
Specifically, I’m looking to find out which monastics/mendicants depend on alms-going as their primary means of sustenance in places where it is not an established practice. If anyone knows of an entire monastery where this is the norm, that too would be helpful.
For clarification, by alms-going I mean that mendicants must leave their monastery/residence and receive food from lay people along their route.
Yes, I do know of such a monastery: Pacific Hermitage near White Salmon, Washington (USA). Per the monestary’s website:
“The Hermitage is a small monastery, intended to be a place of solitude where several monks can devote much of their time to meditation, study and simple living. The monks walk daily through the nearby town of White Salmon, Washington to accept food offerings for their daily meal and make themselves available as spiritual resources for the community. They offer Buddhist teachings, answer questions and lead meditation locally and in the region.”
Western society with its cultural emphasis on self-sufficiency creates major hurdles for alms rounds. For my own part, I was a bit shocked to understand that one could actually live via alms rounds alone. My friend Alex, now at a monastery inThailand, explained that Buddhists in China had similar issues. The surviving monks learned to farm.
It’s quite a different question as to which monasteries (or monastics) do alms rounds to which monasteries rely exclusively on alms rounds, or food offered daily by the laity. I know several that do alms rounds periodically but, until the Pacific Hermitage was identified, I was not aware of any that manage to survice solely on public alms rounds on a daily basis. I notice they do also allow people to come to the monastery to offer meals.
Most monasteries in the West that I am aware of have lay people in residence, who “own” the food that is stored, either uncooked or as leftovers, and they offer it to the monastics daily. It is a workaround of necessity.
Indeed, which is why I’m curious about those communities or individuals that have managed to rely on an alms-round for at least half the week. When I first found out there were actually monastics who did that in the present-day United States, I was surprised. What seemed impossible before was suddenly happening right before my eyes.
Monastics at Abhayagiri go on almsround in Ukiah, CA weekly I believe, but not daily. It is not the entire monastery, but some monks go. I too have heard that Pacific Hermitage has had somewhat outstanding success with their almsround in their town.
By other people’s reports I believe at least some of the monastics at Cittaviveka, Chithurst, UK regularly go on alms round. Also, Wikipedia suggests:
During this period [1984-1992], the monastery also became more integrated into the local landscape, with the bhikkhus and sīladharā going out on alms-round on a daily basis.
Two or three members of the community currently go to the local towns on alms-rounds (pindapāda) for their daily meal on a couple of days of each week.
A friend of mine who’s lived nearby to Amaravati, Hertfordshire, UK for approx 30 years said that at one point the monastics could regularly (at lease once a week, I believe) be seen on in the town centre on alms round, but these days it is quite rare.
In one of those ironies regarding the differences between urban and rural life, it seems that, in North America at least, monks would have an easier time with alms rounds in small towns than in big cities. I live in a small town in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It would only take a few small businesses and families to sustain alms rounds. In fact, the town I live in is fairly similar to White Salmon, Washington (where the Pacific Hermitage is located), and not too far away. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were local businesses, restaurants, and families that would arrange for meals and food donations. In small towns where everyone seemingly knows everyone it is not hard to create a sense of community.
When I lived in Redwood Valley, near Abhayagiri, I would occasionally see the monks on their weekly almsround. It is a 15 mile walk each direction. I could usually manage to drive to the grocery store, buy some produce, and drive back down the road to offer it to them. I think it is unlikely that they gathered enough to feed the whole monastery for a week, and if they did, they would have to rely on a lay helper in a car to drive it back to the monastery.
An amusing anecdote - I had a friend in the area who never quite figured out almsround. When she saw the monks walking, she would offer them a ride.
At Abhayagiri (as far as I know, if it hasn’t changed) they are driven in the monastery van to Ukiah. They start off at one edge of the town and walk through town to the other. There are a few regular meeting points where people wait and where the van also waits to unburden the monks who accept the food. There were some lay supporters who would drive to Ukiah from other towns to donate large amounts of food. At the far end of town there were some restaurants owned by a Thai family that would make a very large offering.
For some time the monastics at the Bhavana Society would go on a weekly alms round in the near by city.
But as far as I know at the pacific hermitage the monks walk from the monastery to town and back. Even in the snow.
And yes, if you want to rely on daily alms brought to the monastery, even, you have to be close to a population centre. Otherwise lay people have to live at the monastery to prepare the food on a daily basis.
We go for alms round twice a week from Dhammadharini monastery in Sonoma county California. We usually end up with enough food for a couple of days each time. During the 2017 Vassa the bhikkhunis went for alms round every day as there were no lay people or anagārikās in residence. It was a very positive experience for them. We do have sponsors for the alms rounds - either a restaurant or certain people who we know will offer something.
When staying in Sydney, I normally walk for alms 5 days a week. Typically I stay at the Buddhist Library, and just walk in the local area. There is no pre-planned route or regular donors. The most frequent donors are the Thai restaurants, most of which are delighted to offer dana. In addition, there are often various spontaneous donors.
Next year I am looking to set up a place in the western suburbs of Sydney, and being able to walk for pindapata is one of the requirements.
Usually on the weekends I accept dana invitations in houses, and take to opportunity to share Dhamma with extended family groups or communities at various places.
Yes, this almost certainly seems to be the case that in smaller towns of a few hundred or 1-2000 people, word spreads more quickly about “what the deal with the monks” is, and people figure out how to help. One of the good things about small towns everywhere I suppose.
some monks at Samaṇadīpa in Slovenien go at times to a nearby town, though they don’t do it in the main for their sustenance.
There is also āyasmā Jotiyo, who lives on his own in a forest near Freiburg in Germany. As far as I know he depents fully on his round. He eats every couple of days or so (!) … He chooses himself though …
One monk at Wat Bodhidhamm in Frankfurt, Germany goes everyday but doesn’t depent on it.
Āyasmā Martin Piyadhammo (aka Ajahn Martin) usually goes when in Germany, I think.
I myself usually went, at times being completely dependent on it. Normally I stood rather than walked though …
Quite, I’m extremely apprehensive about hearsay, and even pretty cautious about secondhand reporting which is why I wanted to flag it up as such in my original comment. Nevertheless, by my friend’s account, I believe they can occasionally be seen standing for alms. But again, the fact of the matter is I do not know exactly what they practice in this respect.
I believe Aj. nisaranno goes for alms around BSV Malvern (Victoria Australia) when he stays there. I don’t know if he existed solely on alms on days.
When I was in Adelaide we started a pindapat monthly with monastics from many temples and walked a planned route through the city. The support was massive and would have easily provided 3-4 days food. I believe that a single monastic could be fed daily walking inner city Adelaide and will give it a go in the future if I’m visiting family (and ordained). Sadly we don’t really do pindapat where I am now, though I’d be curious to see if our local town would support a few of us.
Thanks everyone for contributing (and continuing to contribute) to the thread!
Looking over what people have mentioned, there are also probably a few monastics who are off-the-radar, secluded in forests or such here and there—which is a wonderful treat for the people who happen to come across them.
Part of me secretly wishes for a monastic to stay in my neck of the woods hehe.