The Benefits of Faith Alms

Mala in Hand

The benefits of “Faith piṇḍapata”. This is a term that I learned either in Abhayagiri, Ca, or Wat Pah Nanachat or both. Probably brought to the West from Ajahn Pasanno who is/was the abbot of both. This means that when you go on alms, you make a determination to only eat the alms food you collect. When you do something like this (and I am not sooo perfect when I follow these things), you can learn a lot about yourself and the real Buddhist teachings. (Note: It is often not good to write about ascetic practices. However, I write about my life as a way to teach about Buddhism.)

1. Pindapata is for food and nothing else. These days piṇḍapata has become a tradition where it is merely symbolic and often it is “special” to eat and depend on the food you collect. If you are from the West, this statement will surprise you just as much as knowing that the majority of monks use money. If monks do actually eat the food or rely on it for 95% of their meal (like Mudon and some other monasteries), usually a backup is available to subsidize the quality. It can be difficult to get edible food, but when the donors know you are looking for curries to go along with the rice, it is possible. Myanmar is not so difficult. “So how does one teach the donors?” I once asked Sayadaw U Kundadhana. “Although we cannot say we want curries without an invitation, we can refuse donations.” His advice works quite well, sometimes without delay.  You only need a few donations like this to make a meal. “Less rice, I have many” the ladies figure it out and start yelling, “hin hin, or soon khin” to their neighbors. I also often attempt to refuse cakes and cookies once I have too much to handle. But it is difficult to practice this fully… The full (lay) bowls of rice end up going into my bowl no matter what I say, just as well as the cakes from the kids. Today, someone offered me a whole packet of 100 or so “Ritz-like” crackers. I told him to open it up and give just a few, but he gave the whole packet. I ate about 10 of them and gave the rest away.

2. I am dependent on the lay people. Today, I was not getting any food from the normal houses after another 1 hour stroll, so I went into the shack village which is more or less a sure thing. I am thinking of bypassing the “normal” village next time. These shacks are in a flood zone where all of the street run-off water collects. As I am walking to a “Sure thing” house that always has something for me, something was different this time. There was 1 ½ feet of gray and filthy water washed in from miles of nearby streets. I had to wade my way through 50 feet of this to get to the house. There was a boy making his way ahead of me which helped me contemplate the filthy and maybe hazardous water I was trudging through.

He is living in this and he is still alive and well. I am here only for 5 minutes, but I am lower than him. They are feeding me as a beggar.”

So if you have a sure thing or backup plan back at your monastery, you might opt out of such an unpleasant but valuable experience.

3. I was going for about one hour and had only a small amount of food. I needed to keep “wandering for alms” because I was finding my own streets on the fly. This is what monks have done in the olden times. It is rare to “Wander” for alms these days, myself included. Eventually people see you going back and forth, and they know what is up. Normally, (and I often practice this) a route is created and followed to a schedule. Once this is done, the donors know you will be coming. In Hawaii, this was essential to do. It can be very convenient and soon, I will have a route here too. I savor the newness of finding my roads even though it is difficult work.

While I think it is valuable for all monks to try this practice at least once in their lives, I do not think some of these houses can afford to feed more than two monks per day. So I am grateful that I am alone in the village. Last week, I saw one of my friends walking in as I was walking out. He was visiting ITBMU and needed to get his food externally. He missed the group of monks who go to the wealthy Kabaye Village where they know monks will come and invite us inside their gates. I joked to him in passing and said, “Do you need any cakes?” He opened up his bowl and said, “Sure, I only have one cake.” because he needed to eat what he could find. Sometimes, cakes and rice are all you get. I said to him, “I do not want to give you my cakes now, I can carry everything back home for us… This is not real edible food. Go down this road here and you will get food given in faith. Come to my kuti and we will share collectively what we have.” This is what brotherhood is all about.

Before I tell the next half of the story.. I need to give some history..

About two weeks ago, I asked a Sri Lankan friend for a mala (rosary beads), but he did not have an extra one for me, so I went without one. Yesterday, I was memorizing some lines and I thought that if I had a mala, I could use it to count how many times I repeat the lines to “burn it in.” Yes, only yesterday, I was thinking that..

So, on my way back, it is my habit to go to Swe Daw pagoda to meditate before returning home. The guards know me and even though I may put my bowl on the floor to the side of  the front desk before my meditation, I often I find my bowl sitting on top of a special table after I return.  Today, a guard followed me with a table before I set my bowl down. After my meditation, I was walking back. A motor bike stopped and tried to offer me money and then I said my favorite line… “Paison makhainboo” (I do not handle money). He smiled with a tilted head, and closed eyes towards the sky, and then I joked to him when he returned, “Paison ma-ponboo.” (I do not eat money.) He gave a nodding smile and then sped away. As he left, another bike stopped. (this is not so common to happen.) As I was prepared to say my line again, he pulled out a mala or string rosary beads to offer me.  I told him “ubazin alosheedeh” (I needed this).

I eat my food about one hour before everyone else in the eating hall. I ask for hot water and set myself up away from the tables. A lady dropped an egg in my bowl and then took the noodle soup mix I had to prepare for me.  She came back with the soup and then came back with a plate of ITBMU food. I said, “ma ponboo” (I do not eat that) and so she came back with two plates of vegetarian food.  I kindly asked her to remove it and told her, “I got my food from a very poor village and I should eat only this.  This is my practice.”

Afterwards, I went to my Sri Lankan Friend’s kuti told him about the lessons I learned and the flood-zone house I went to. Then I pulled out a mala. I reminded him about my request for a mala and told him about yesterday’s wish too. Then I asked him, ”How many malas monks get on piṇḍapata?” He rebutted with a better question to ask any monk, “Have you ever received a mala on piṇḍapata?” We both smiled and then it was time for him to each lunch. He will find a nearly full but open packet of Chinese made Ritz-like crackers at his seat when he arrives.

In my presentation on Hawaii, I said, “You are always taken care of.” I really believe it.

Here is a quote from the Dasadhamma Sutta

AN 10.48

PTS: A v 87
Dasadhamma Sutta: Discourse on The Ten Dhammas
translated from the Pali by
Piyadassi Thera

Thus have I heard:

On one occasion the Blessed One was living near Savatthi at Jetavana at the monastery of Anathapindika.

Then the Blessed One addressed the monks, saying: “Monks.” — “Venerable Sir,” they said by way of reply. The Blessed One then spoke as follows:

“These ten essentials[1] must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth (to live the holy life). What are these ten?

1. “‘I am now changed into a different mode of life (from that of a layman).’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

2. “‘My life depends on others.’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

3. “‘I must now behave in a different manner.’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

4. “‘Does my mind upbraid me regarding the state of my virtue?’[2] This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

5. “‘Do my discerning fellow-monks having tested me, reproach me regarding the state of my virtue?’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

6. “‘There will be a parting (some day) from all those who are dear and loving to me. Death brings this separation to me.’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

7. “‘Of kamma[3] I am constituted. Kamma is my inheritance; kamma is the matrix; kamma is my kinsman; kamma is my refuge. Whatever kamma I perform, be it good or bad, to that I shall be heir.’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

8. “‘How do I spend my nights and days?’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

9. “‘Do I take delight in solitude?’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

10. “‘Have I gained superhuman faculties? Have I gained that higher wisdom so that when I am questioned (on this point) by fellow-monks at the last moment (when death is approaching) I will have no occasion to be depressed and downcast?’ This must be reflected upon again and again by one who has gone forth.

“These, monks, are the essentials that should be reflected again and again by one who has gone forth (to live the holy life).”

So spoke the Blessed One. Those monks rejoiced at the words of the Blessed One.

“Dasadhamma Sutta: Discourse on The Ten Dhammas” (AN 10.48), translated from the Pali by Piyadassi Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013,http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an10/an10.048.piya.html .

Note:  I told my next door neighbor what happened and he had me soak my feet in Dettol water for 20 minutes

Article by Bhikkhu Subhuti

Bhikkhu Subhuti is an American Buddhist Monk with roots in both Sri Lanka and Myanmar Forest Traditions. He currently resides in Myanmar but his heart sometimes floats back to Kauai, HI where he spent six months in 2015.

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