Friday, February 10, 2012

Binthabhat - the Giving of Buddhist Alms

On our 3rd morning in Laos, my dad had arranged for us to participate in a ceremony called Binthabhat, which is the giving of alms (in this case, food) to the Buddhist Monks of Luang Prabang. The monks are not allowed to handle money, nor prepare their own food and so the offerings they receive from the community during this daily ceremony is all that they will eat during their two meals each day. Around six o’clock every morning, the monks, mostly young boys, walk in a line around the town collecting food. Many townspeople and a few tourists take part in the offerings. The most common offering is rice, but people give them all sorts of weird stuff as well. We stuck with the more traditional items that my dad had arranged for us; rice and tangerines - in fact, 10 pounds of cooked rice and 25 pounds of tangerines! After a little wait, we saw them. Marching down the street in their flowing orange robes. They each had a pot to put the offerings in, we soon ran out of rice, and then switched to tangerines. It made me feel good that we could help these monks out, and offer them food to eat. 

*There are certain protocols to follow to show respect for the process and he monks.  It is important (to the monks) that women keep their heads lower than the monk's heads at all times, so they generally remain seated or kneeling, while men are able to sit or stand while giving alms.  It is equally important that women not touch the monks or their clothing as the monks must go through a purification process should they have any contact with a woman or girl.  As each monk passes by, they open their basket so you can place a piece of fruit or a handful of rice inside (again, being careful not to touch the basket). It is also tradition, and a sign of respect for their culture, to wear a hand-woven sash across the chest and over the shoulder while giving alms.  The monks ranged in age from around age ten to very old men, but most of them seemed to be in their late-teens to late-20s.  There is a seriousness that prevails during the ceremony, but the monks and participants relax and lighten-up a bit after it concludes. We chatted with a few monks who wanted to practice their English during our walk back to our hotel.*

Also, as an interesting side note, the monks also donate some of their food to beggars, who also line the route. The monks will walk by them, and take a large chunk of their rice and put it in the beggars’ baskets. It was a fascinating way to begin the day, and I could already tell it was going to be a great day for us in Laos.

* special thanks to my dad for the second paragraph of this blog as I copied much of it from his Facebook page!

1 comment:

  1. It's so cool that the monks donated some of their food to beggars even though the food was meant for them.