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Thai Buddhist Monks Alms Bowls

Thai Buddhist Monks Alms Bowls  

Each day before dawn, in every village and town throughout Thailand, barefoot monks leave their monastery city district, in twos and threes from the smaller monasteries, or in long lines from the larger ones. The monks walk in silence along the side of roads, and, at homes and shops where they expect food to be offered, stop and turn to face the entrance. Someone as a rule hurries out with a basin of rice and a scoop. The monks remove the lid from their alms bowl—an almost spheric bowl—and receive the offering with both hands, still in silence. Should no one appear, they wait a few seconds before moving on.

In making this daily round, the monks are carrying on the tradition of the Buddha himself; in offering food, the lay community is playing its part in backing up the local monastery, and is also accruing merit in return. At one point in his life, the Buddha visits his father, King Suthothana, before the old man dies. The last time the Buddha was in the city, he was a rich young prince, the heir to the throne, but now he is coming back as the Enlightened One, shaven headed and in yellow robes; he begs for his food. The old king is shocked, and says: "Why do you want to slight me? Why do you want to beg for your food? Can't I give food to all these monks?"
"This is the practice of our lineage, 0 Great King," replies his son. "Isn't our lineage the royal clan of Maha Sammatas? Not one of that lineage ever begged for food."

The Buddha gently rebukes his father: "Your ancestry is that, 0 Great King; that is the royal lineage. Ours is the ancestry of the Buddhas. All the Buddhas used to beg for their food on the road." The practice of calling for alms—indeed, the whole idea of the abjuring of worldly values—pre-dates Buddhism.

Gautama was, in many aspects of his daily life, continuing an established tradition. The Canonical texts describe how, as he disowns his luxurious life as a prince and escapes from the palace and city, an old acquaintance takes to him "the eight requisites for a recluse: the three robes, the alms bowl, the razor, the needle, the belt and the water strainer".

Even today, according to the monastic code or Vinaya, these are the only possessions a monk is allowed. According to custom, the Buddha's alms bowl was made from clay, and was simple in form. Today, alms bowls are still elementary, but as they are an item appropriate for a devotee to offer to monks, people try where possible to make them fine and elegant. The alms bowl is composed of three parts: the stand, the bowl and the lid. The initiate monks carry the standard black lacquered bowls.

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