SuttaCentral

Monastics that go for alms in the West


#61

Am I mistaken or is it better for monks and nuns to stand in one place, rather than walking around, when it comes to urban settings?


#62

Bhante Suddhaso, Ayya Somā, and Ven. Kim Son on alms round last Wednesday :slight_smile: in NYC.


#63

I think it depends on the location. I hear that walking works in some places, but standing is what I’ve seen work.

When I lived on alms for a couple of months or so many years ago in Woodacre, CA, I received most meals at the kitchen door of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, but whenever their kitchen was closed, I went on alms in the nearby town of Fairfax (hitchhiking to get there). I disciplined myself to walk around the little town each time, but the only food I ever gained that way was (1) a small bag of peanuts once handed to me by a toddler in her stroller, and (2) a Cliff Bar from a homeless man who felt worried for me.

In contrast, food was donated in great abundance whenever I stood outside the door of town’s only health food store (with the manager’s permission). When the store wasn’t available one day, I stood quietly outside a Thai restaurant (not daring to knock as calling attention to oneself isn’t their tradition); fortunately they saw me just before my lunchtime ran out, and filled my almsbowl.

When I lived in Greenville SC (2003-2011), if the planned daily food dana delivery failed, then I went for alms in my neighborhood. That actually meant either phoning one or two of several friendly neighbors, or going along knocking on doors - otherwise no one would ever know that I was out there. When telephoning a neighbor, I would say politely, "Is this a good time for me to come by with my almsbowl?

The only time I walked outside of that neighborhood for alms was one occasion, when another bhikkhuni was staying with me. Standing gained us nothing; the only grocery store in walking distance refused permission to stand near it, so our standing was limited to street corners and random places. Nor did walking succeed, until one man called to us from his car; he ended up getting pizzas for us. We walked back with 2 big pizza boxes proudly covering my almsbowl.

At my Vihara in Charlotte (since 2013), I haven’t felt comfortable enough to knock on neighbor’s doors for alms; my neighborhood doesn’t feel as friendly that way. The only time I walked for alms in uptown Charlotte, whether we walked or stood, no one looked at me and the white robed nun who came along, not even a glance; it was chilling. I never tried that again.

My food here is brought daily by various donors organized by a volunteer - except when that plan falls through, which happens once or twice a week. Then I may depend upon my mother (92 years old and still cooking!) who’s not far away, or a nearby friendly Vietnamese restaurant. If nothing else works out, my meal comes from any of the restaurants that I can reach on the local bus and for which I have a donated gift card (usually Panera Bread).


#64

And to think that all this time I have thought of you as A Nun named Charlotte. :thinking:. :face_with_hand_over_mouth: :pray:


#65

i think almsround is a nice tradition but i also suspect that some monasteries may have a lot of stored up food which has been donated and still monks want to go for alms, in such cases i think it is inappropriate.


#66

Thank you for sharing, Venerable Sudhamma. My wife and I are in Florida and were just lamenting the lack of opportunity to provide monastics direct support, like giving them food. We looked at the Charlotte Buddhist Vihara website to learn more about how we can help but not sure how since we’re in Florida. We’ll keep researching and hope to visit soon.
with metta,


#67

The wat that I lived in had stored food in the canteen, and one could get rice and a fried egg at 6 am if you wanted it. But, the almsround is essential. You have to experience/understand the positive symbiotic relationship between good monks and nuns and the lay people that give dana. You have to see the look on their faces and the warmth that comes when they receive the traditional blessing from a good monk or nun.


#68

As i see it the alms round is primarily for nutriment. A monk is not a social worker, he is supposed to fulfill he teacher’s instruction and develop higher states of mind. He should avoid going into town without a very good reason, he should avoid seeing womenfolk and the alms round is a huge danger;

[1] "There is the case of the monk who dwells in dependence on a certain village or town. Early in the morning, having put on his robes and carrying his bowl & outer robe, he goes into the village or town for alms — with his body, speech, & mind unprotected, with mindfulness unestablished, with his sense faculties unguarded. There he sees a woman improperly dressed or half-naked. As he sees her improperly dressed or half-naked, lust ravages his mind. With his mind ravaged by lust, he — without renouncing the training, without declaring his weakness — engages in sexual intercourse. This individual, I tell you, is like the warrior who — taking his sword & shield, strapping on his bow & quiver — goes down into the thick of battle. There in the battle he strives & makes effort. But while he is striving & making an effort, his opponents strike him down and finish him off. Some individuals are like this. This is the first type of warrior-like individual who can be found existing among the monks.

[2] "Then there is the case of the monk who dwells in dependence on a certain village or town. Early in the morning, having put on his robes and carrying his bowl & outer robe, he goes into the village or town for alms — with his body, speech, & mind unprotected, with mindfulness unestablished, with his sense faculties unguarded. There he sees a woman improperly dressed or half-naked. As he sees her improperly dressed or half-naked, lust ravages his mind. With his mind ravaged by lust, he burns in body & mind. The thought occurs to him: ‘What if I were to go to the monastery and tell the monks: “Friends, I am assailed by lust, overcome by lust. I can’t continue in the holy life. Declaring my weakness in the training, renouncing the training, I will return to the lower life.”’ He heads toward the monastery, but before he arrives there, along the way, he declares his weakness in the training, renounces the training, and returns to the lower life. This individual, I tell you, is like the warrior who — taking his sword & shield, strapping on his bow & quiver — goes down into the thick of battle. There in the battle he strives & makes effort. But while he is striving & making an effort, his opponents wound him. He gets carried out and taken to his relatives. But while he is being taken to his relatives, before he has reached them he dies along the way. Some individuals are like this. This is the second type of warrior-like individual who can be found existing among the monks.

[3] "Then there is the case of the monk who dwells in dependence on a certain village or town. Early in the morning, having put on his robes and carrying his bowl & outer robe, he goes into the village or town for alms — with his body, speech, & mind unprotected, with mindfulness unestablished, with his sense faculties unguarded. There he sees a woman improperly dressed or half-naked. As he sees her improperly dressed or half-naked, lust ravages his mind. With his mind ravaged by lust, he burns in body & mind. The thought occurs to him: ‘What if I were to go to the monastery and tell the monks: “Friends, I am assailed by lust, overcome by lust. I can’t continue in the holy life. Declaring my weakness in the training, renouncing the training, I will return to the lower life.”’ Going to the monastery, he tells the monks, ‘Friends, I am assailed by lust, overcome by lust. I can’t continue in the holy life. Declaring my weakness in the training, renouncing the training, I will return to the lower life.’

“Lord, what course should we follow with regard to womenfolk?”

“Not-seeing, Ananda”

“But when there is seeing, lord, what course should be followed?”

“Not-addressing, Ananda.”

It is completely inappropriate if you ask me.

I also fully understand the symbiotic relationship between monks and lay people but this is improper according to EBTs, herein monks have not only stored up bunch of food but having stored up food are going into the town for alms, this is from the pespective of EBT is completely out of line and an indefensible undertaking, imho.

Of course the EBTs here once again are antagonistic to customs and traditions of the religion that is Buddhism.


#69

I understand your point, but the almsround, as I understand it, is and was always an important aspect of the relationship between the monastics and the lay people. The Buddha encouraged this interaction, and encouraged the Sangha to be dependent on the lay folk to support their good work and cultivate merit, or to deny support to monastics that were not meeting the standards.

If your mindfulness and ethics are good, meeting women in the town is not an issue. Myself, I cultivated a view of women as my sisters or my mother. I could be friendly and helpful and not worry about any sensual desire springing up. To me, it’s just part of the training, and it’s kind of silly to suggest that women are to be seen as temptresses or "lust magnets. "

Some men (likely a minority of candidates) enter monastic life with already awkward or immature views toward women. I think that in part, this accounts for some of the misogyny that is promoted by some (a minority of) monks.

The almsround is a very important aspect of monastic life, IMO. Any monastic that is sent into a spiral of lust by being in a town likely needs to get some additional training, or needs to examine why his attitudes toward women are so immature. If a monk is “assailed by lust,” the problem is not with the ,women, but with the monk, and the training of his mind.


#70

I am not convinced that you do.

What exactly is this interaction that we are talking about? I have absolutely nothing against the alms round and the symbiotic relationship where monks depend on food from the lay people.

However herein we are discussing a case where they clearly don’t depend on them for food. Therefore this is not the same as the almsround relationship wherein monks rely on lay people.

Herein it is just tradition and a ritual that monks and lay people do for the sake of the ritual, this is not done because the monks need food, this is done to perhaps please the monks, to please the laity, to establish or uphold customs or anything but because monks need food.

Therefore this is not an alms round that Buddha encouraged and it is inappropriate and not to be done imo, whoever undertakes it is wrong to do so.

As for womenfolk i think we better not discuss it because of the policies of this forum. I will just quote the Buddha again;

“Lord, what course should we follow with regard to womenfolk?”

“Not-seeing, Ananda”

“But when there is seeing, lord, what course should be followed?”

“Not-addressing, Ananda.”

You are free to ignore this and pursue alternative course of development. The Buddha did send monks to teach the Bhikkhunis but this matter is very delicate. However if a monk says ‘may i have nothing to do with womenfolk and may they not have anything to do with me’ and he says this because he understands that seeing and hearing women may remind him of the theme of womenfolk in general, which could lead to giving inappropriate attention and would be bad for his training. There is no offense here, this is not mysogyny but is wisdom and womenfolk should not see men either if they know their own good.

It is not that they are lust magnets it is that when a man sees a woman, he thinks about ‘a woman’, there is the perception of ‘a woman’ and because of this objectification one will think about associated themes which may or may not give rise to unwholesome states.

Let alone lust one may be reminded of one’s experiences that are associated with women good memories, bad memories and pretty much anything that has to do with women or is associated with the word women, it will be based on prior development and inclinations. There is just so much potential for entertaining ideas not conducive to development that the whole theme is best avoided as far as development of higher mind is concerned.

Women are far from the only thing one sees on an alms-round there are many things that one may encounter which are either agreeable or disagreeable, one comes into conversations and for this he leaves a delightful place where he could’ve meditated instead of spending time associating with the laity.


#71

I wonder if the equivalent in the west would be for monastics to eat at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. I know the systematic act of feeding the homeless is pretty meager and unorganized in the states for americans, and i believe it is more secured for northern europeans living in their native countries, but an idea is why wouldn’t western Buddhist monks use these resources for thier alms? It seems natural to me. Promoting the practice of humbleness and of course there would be many opportunities for dhamma sharing at many of these places to many of the people who need it most.


#72

Monks are indeed allowed to eat at public kitchens, but not multiple days in a row (Bhikkhu Pācittiya 31)


#73

I created my account on this forum only to ask questions and hopefully get relevant answers back, but I will make an exception to this case. The instruction of the Buddha that you quoted occurs only in DN 16 of Theravada and Chinese DA 2 of Dharmaguptaka. They are entirely absent in Sanskrit SF 245 of (most likely) Sarvastivada and Chinese T 6 of an unidentified school.

Ven Sujato did write an essay about SF 245 here: What the Buddha said to Ānanda about women: some textual issues

*I apologize to the OP for being off-topic here.


#74

I have not been a monk, but I have done many retreats at my local monastery where, during the retreat, I am treated similarly to a samanera. I eat with the monks, but at a different table, due to vinaya rules. There is no almsround, as that would involve travelling several km. The lay people simply bring food.

I would echo @UpasakaMichael’s statement about experiencing the symbiotic relationship. It arouses a profound sense of gratitude, and therefore a determination to not waste my time, which is made possible by this generosity.

As for your sutta quotations, such as:

"There is the case of the monk who dwells in dependence on a certain village or town. Early in the morning, having put on his robes and carrying his bowl & outer robe, he goes into the village or town for alms — with his body, speech, mind unprotected, with mindfulness unestablished, with his sense faculties unguarded. …

Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? The alms round (or in my case, having food provided) is part of the training, part of learning to “not have the sense faculties unguarded.”

And, of course, I’ve experienced it from the other side. A few years ago I was on an overnight drive in Thailand. Early in the morning we passed a couple of monks out on alms round. We stopped a few hundred metres ahead of them and quickly rummaged through the car for something to offer. It was an inspiring experience.

This symbiotic relationship is important for both the monks and the laity. It keeps both “sides” inspired and focussed. It is far from an “empty ritual”, in my view.

:heart:


#76

In that case they wouldn’t be a good monastic, as storing food is against the Vinaya.

The monastic training, as described in the Vinaya, has many aspects. It’s not just: “Go meditate in solitude”.


#77

dude i am not advocating the storing of food, i am saying if it is stored it is better to eat it than going on an alms-round…


#78

Thank you for the reference Bhante. In ancient times monks were often beneficiaries of kingdoms and I guess the sangha still gets economic support in many culturally Buddhist countries like Thailand. Do you think the sangha can live off of food stamps in the US or would the Vinaya say that the Federal government or a state government in the US would have to offer food specifically as alms to the sangha? I don’t mean to be Amero-centric, my question can apply to any social welfare program within any nation.


#79

That’s a good question! I will have to defer to Ajahn @brahmali for the definitive answer to that one!

The tricky thing is that, while meal vouchers and gift cards are allowed, debit and credit cards are not allowed (because completing the transaction is a transfer of money). So, the question becomes, is the EBT card more similar to a meal voucher or a debit card?

It seems to be closer to a debit card, in that you’re authorizing a transfer of money from the US Government to the merchant, but I can see a compelling argument for both sides, so perhaps this falls into that gray area where each (monk, nun, community, etc) has to decide for themselves how to apply the great standards.

[edit: I feel I should clarify, in either case I see no problem applying for the benefit as a monastic. Many monasteries use government healthcare, for example. The issue only comes up at the point of sale, afaict.]


split this topic #80

2 posts were merged into an existing topic: What the Buddha said to Ānanda about women: some textual issues


#83

Your harsh judgements about good monks are shocking and de-meritorious. Your statement would easily apply to a sotapanna, a sakadagamin, an anagamin, an arahant, even the Lord himself.

Yes there is abundant evidence that monasteries under the Buddha’s direct guidance routinely stored up food. For example, it is a parajika offense for a monk to steal food from the Sangha’s food storage.

The Vinaya offense is for a monk to store food for himself; storing for the community is a different matter. (The rules of offering still apply, so laity are involved.) Self-storing of food isn’t a breach of human ethics but a minor breach of practical rules guiding the holy life. (The 1st offender was an arahant.)

With or without food stored away for the Sangha, the Buddha strongly advocated for monks to give laity the blessing of opportunities to give alms to Sangha. There is no evidence to suggest that the Buddha ever said for the Sangha’s larders to be checked prior to going out on almsround.

A little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. You have missed much of the vibrant reality of the holy life, substituting some limited dry ideas, then harshly you judge those who don’t live up to your idiosyncratic high standards, even using demeaning language. In so doing you misrepresent the Blessed One and earn suffering, starting with the suffering of a fault-finding mind.

FWIW, I myself give away leftovers after lunch to start each day fresh. My alms-seeking is done with a pretty much empty larder, which is very convenient whenever an American unfamiliar with our traditions asks in amazement, “But don’t you have any food?”

Yet I would not dare to judge monastics who have less support for exercising this level of freedom. I too was unable to do this, prior to establishing my own Vihara on my own terms. Some people have gossipped about me for sticking to this principle. (Lay supporters from a certain Buddhist background absolutely insist that their excess donations be kept for later use and would take great offense if their donations were given away or tossed. They actually said things such as “The elder great monks of xyz monastery accept groceries, they are respected, venerated; who does she think she is!”)

Let’s leave behind the harsh judgements. Anyone sincerely trying to live the holy life despite the enormous modern stressors definitely deserves respect.

[Minor edits to add a paragraph break and this note.]