Life in the Saffron Forest: Chapter 12

Child Offering Bananas to Ajahn Viradhammo

Let me say some more about alm­sround—piṇḍapā­ta (Thai: bind­abaht). The Pali word piṇḍapā­ta is a com­pound of piṇḍa (lump of rice) and pāta (‘drop’). Lit­er­al­ly, the word means ‘drop­ping rice.’ What the word real­ly means is plac­ing alms­food into the bowls of the monks. The rea­son why monks go out on alm­sround is to receive food into their bowls from the laypeo­ple. If one exam­ines this activ­i­ty in rela­tion to the Buddha’s activ­i­ties (bud­dha-kic­ca), one sees that it is extreme­ly impor­tant.

There are five dai­ly activ­i­ties that the Bud­dha observed over his entire life:

  1. Before dawn he con­sid­ered who was with­in the ‘net’—who was suit­able to receive assis­tance.
  2. At dawn he went out on alm­sround to offer assis­tance to that per­son.
  3. In the late after­noon he gave Dham­ma teach­ings to the Bud­dhist assem­blies.
  4. In the evening he gave teach­ings to the bhikkhus and bhikkhu­nis.
  5. Late at night he answered ques­tions posed to him by the devas.

The Buddha’s under­ly­ing objec­tive of going out on alm­sround was not to obtain some­thing, but rather to offer some­thing. Before going out for alms, he would check from whom he should accept food. This was not favouritism, but rather an inspec­tion of who should be helped first. He didn’t go out sim­ply to ask for food. Instead, he went out to offer the gift of Dham­ma or to offer guid­ance to the per­son offer­ing the alms­food. There­fore, the chief rea­son for the Bud­dha and his awak­ened dis­ci­ples to go out on alm­sround was to assist liv­ing beings.

Woman Offering Sticky Rice in Ubon Rajathani

Many mem­bers of the monas­tic sang­ha today, how­ev­er, have for­got­ten this vital objec­tive. They think alm­sround is sim­ply a way to get food. They don’t reflect on the oppor­tu­ni­ty to share the Dham­ma with the laity. When monks begin to think in these super­fi­cial terms, they either stop going on alm­sround because they already have food, or they plot where to go in order to get lots of food. Greed and cov­etous­ness thus over­whelm the hearts of these ven­er­a­ble ones. In some places (in the cities) the monks even scram­ble for the food and have punch-ups in front of the laypeo­ple! This has actu­al­ly happened—it is not just gos­sip that I’m recount­ing with­out proof.

Blam­ing only the monks for this scram­ble for food isn’t real­ly fair. Some of the laypeo­ple are also respon­si­ble for this behav­iour. The sto­ry I’m about to tell occurred when the strict hold­ing to ordi­na­tion lin­eage was ram­pant. Monks from both the Dham­mayut­ti­ka and the Mahānikāya orders were boast­ing that they kept a strict dis­ci­pline (Vinaya). Each side was slan­der­ing the oth­er. This com­pe­ti­tion didn’t just take place in the cir­cle of the Saf­fron For­est. Even the laypeo­ple took sides and split up into fac­tions.

There was one layper­son (it’s bet­ter you don’t know the name) who had great faith in the Dham­mayut­ti­ka monks, wait­ing each morn­ing to offer food. I for­got to men­tion that she was an attrac­tive unmar­ried woman a bit over thir­ty. She would inspect each monk who approached to see if he was Dham­mayut­ti­ka or Mahānikāya. If he was a Dham­mayut­ti­ka monk she would imme­di­ate­ly offer food, but if he was a Mahānikāya monk she would stand impas­sive­ly and ignore him. In this way, she embar­rassed many of the Mahānikāya monks, one after anoth­er. You may won­der how she was able to dis­tin­guish between the monks. She could tell by the way they wore their robes. The Dham­mayut­ti­ka monks wear their robes with equal, over­lap­ping lay­ers and car­ry their bowls in their hands, while the Mahānikāya monks roll the edges of their robes into a ‘loofah roll’ and throw it over their left shoul­der, and car­ry their bowls on a strap on the right shoul­der. These days, how­ev­er, it’s not sure—many Mahānikāya monks wear their robes in the Dham­mayut­ti­ka style.

The monks from Wat Pah Nanachat on alms

This sit­u­a­tion went on for many days. There was a Mahānikāya monk (it’s bet­ter not to know his name or which monastery he lived in, but rest assured he wasn’t from my monastery of Bahn Huay) who became very indig­nant and spent hours hatch­ing a plan. In the end he went through with his plan and it was com­plete­ly suc­cess­ful, ful­fill­ing all his wish­es.

From that day onwards this woman would only give alms to Mahānikāya monks; she would ignore the Dham­mayut­ti­ka monks or even revile them. She was com­plete­ly dis­af­fect­ed. This cre­at­ed bewil­der­ment amongst the ven­er­a­ble monks. One evening one of the monks brought this sub­ject up dur­ing tea time.

That woman is strange. Before she treat­ed Mahānikāya monks like excre­ment. Now she only gives food to Mahānikāya monks!’

I was once tor­ment­ed by her. I saw her stand­ing there hold­ing a bowl of rice and went to receive some. She just left me stand­ing there hold­ing the lid of my bowl open. I want­ed to sink into the earth with embar­rass­ment,’ one of the old­er monks said.

Luang Dtah—did you want to be a sharp­shoot­er, rush­ing to get food with­out look­ing first to see if she was going to give you some?’ one of the lit­tle novices inter­rupt­ed.

What the heck, how was I to know? Any­one else stand­ing there with rice would be ready to offer some; they wouldn’t be play­ing games like this woman. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing,’ Luang Dtah swore.

Do you know why that woman changed her behav­iour?’ one of the young monks asked.

All eyes turned to him with curios­i­ty.

It is a result of my inge­nu­ity,’ the young monk said after a long silence.

I was sim­i­lar­ly tor­ment­ed by her, just like Luang Dtah, so I thought of a way to teach her a les­son. I there­fore dis­guised myself as a Dham­mayut­ti­ka monk and went to col­lect alms from her.’

Did she give food?’ some­one asked.

The first day she gave food; she couldn’t remem­ber the faces of all the monks; she sim­ply gave food to any­one wear­ing the Dham­mayut­ti­ka style. But on the sec­ond day, as soon as I part­ed my robes to bring out my bowl, she screamed and ran into her house. After that she paid no atten­tion to Dham­mayut­ti­ka monks and until now only gives food to Mahānikāya monks.

Why? Did she remem­ber your face?’ Luang Dtah asked.

No,’ the young monk grinned.

So what was it?’

That morn­ing I didn’t wear an under-robe (sabong)!’

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