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The monastics of Dabei Si

In another thread, Ven. Vimalayani posted a link to a documentary series about the monks of Dabei monastery in northern China. These monks go on thudong, practice the dhutaṇga, and don’t handle money (I believe they actually keep all the pratimoksha). Most of the videos are of them on thudong and begging for alms. The series is pretty fascinating, especially watching the monks interact with people while on alms round. Most of the people have no idea what the monks are doing on alms round, and the people’s reactions are all over the place. It makes me think that if those monks can introduce pindabat in modern China, people in the West can do it, too! Here’s the link to the 1st of the 13 videos:

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Haha yes! I watched one of the videos in the series and loved seeing the reactions of people. Some of them are quite literally like, “What the…?” especially with the restrictions on veganism. But it’s so heartwarming to see them offer things anyway!

We can, and we do :smiley:

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It’s interesting to compare their style of alms round, particularly given their dietary restrictions, with that of Theravada, where monks can’t refuse any food offered to them. The people who chose to offer them food are also so patient, continuing to run back and forth to their kitchen to get acceptable food…and then divide it into portions for each monk!

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Yes, their style is certainly more direct. That’s probably quite cultural, and I can see the logic when people don’t know what you’re doing. One of our lay friends here suggested that we get cardboard signs saying what we’re doing. We decided against that… :sweat_smile: but I’ve seen it done!

As for Theravada monks, we actually don’t have to accept every and anything that’s offered. We can refuse, and in some cases we have to refuse (if it’s raw meat, human flesh, etc.) We also don’t have to eat anything that we do get. We do try to be gracious about it all though, because most of the time people are just trying to express their generosity and gratitude.

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Ah, I hadn’t thought about that, lol. I guess I was thinking of the story about Devadatta and his push to make the Sangha vegetarian (and thus refuse meat offered by the laity). I know that vegetarianism is part of the Mahayana bodhisattva practice, but it was still a bit shocking to see the Chinese monks be so “picky.” I guess you can chalk that up to educating the laity about what’s acceptable to offer. If the tradition of alms round was already established, the monks wouldn’t have to do that.

It’s quite moving to see the reaction of the people who are just passing by, see the monks, and then get offerings to give them. You get the feeling that these people aren’t necessarily Buddhists, but are inspired to practice generosity by just seeing the monks.

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I’ve done pindapat in the West a lot but the way we do it in Theravada is very different, so I don’t think you can directly compare the experience in China with western Theravada monastics. The reason why it works in China is that they knock on doors and inform people who they are and what they are doing. Once you are right in front of someone and interact with them, the chances of them giving food are much higher. Most people would feel bad to send someone who is hungry away without giving anything.

In Theravada, we walk or stand in silence, and only if people approach us first, do we interact with them. We couldn’t go knocking on people’s doors or talking to strangers uninvited. That makes almsround so much harder, especially if you are in areas where no one knows Buddhist monastics. If you go regularly and people get to know you, it becomes much easier.

One way around this is to have laypeople or anagarikas with you who can do the knocking on doors / talking. Then you do get a lot more food much quicker. Anagarika @Sabbamitta and I went on Tudong in Germany for two weeks. We managed to get food every day, but Sabbamitta was very busy talking… :wink:

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Very interesting. The Thervada forest tradition monasteries I’m familiar with in the West (meaning America) haven’t been able to make alms round a daily activity yet despite being around for many years. I think that’a partly because of the location of the monasteries. Rural America is all vast, empty spaces with just a house here or there. It’s very different from rural Asia. I guess the monks and nuns would need to be driven to a more densely populated area to go on alms round. Of course, then someone would have to explain what alms round was. I think people in some middle class American suburb would initially freak out at strangers knocking on their doors and asking for food.

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Yes, we usually don’t go to suburbs. If you don’t have a layperson with you, the chances of getting any food are very slim. Usually, most people are out working anyway, so nobody is home. It’s better to go to supermarkets, bakeries, small shops, restaurants, etc.
Cultural background and religion also matters. If you can find out where the Asian and Muslim shops are, your chances increase a lot. Muslims are often extremely generous and they’re happy to feed Buddhists. Christians on the other hand sometimes feel that you should work and earn your own living, so they are less enthusiastic about giving… This might be another issue in rural America.
Also gun ownership… When I stayed in a rural area in the US, I was warned not to enter the property of any neighbors. Even just walking along the road was considered somewhat risky. The American nuns around me felt that Tudong / pindapat wouldn’t be possible in that area because we look strange and might get shot.

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Here is a (very subjective) report of our experiences.

That was what impressed me most. Despite all the difficulties—and I have to say it was very hard for me physically—I wouldn’t want to miss this experience of often unexpected kindness. :heart:

It was possible to do it for two weeks, but having to rely on it all the time would be very difficult.

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Was that advice based on an actual negative experience?

This is Protestant Calvinism at its finest. You would probably have more luck with your local Catholics, but they tend to be few and far between in rural environments, especially in the south.

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There are a couple of threads already on Pindapat in the West

and

I love going pindapat and have met all sorts of interesting people. I mostly just stand in a few places.

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