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Weekly Alms Rounds

September 7, 2010

Wednesdays, 9:30am
Farmers’ Market at Adrich Arena
1850 White Bear Ave., Maplewood, MN

Having begun on  September 8, 2010, we intend to continue each Wednesday during the season in which  Farmers’ Market in at Aldrich Arena is open.  The 2010 season runs May 12 – October 27.

The alms rounds for receiving the noon meal is a traditional monastic practice in many countries in Asia, in fact the Buddha considered it to be an obligation for monks. It is much less often performed in America though it is not unheard of. We were inspired by an American nun who has begun doing a weekly alms round at a Farmers’ Market in Colorado Springs, CO. A Farmers’ Market is appropriate for this purpose because of the availability of foodstuff for purchase, the density of people and the pleasant, wholesome atmosphere.

We are a group of from two to six monks. from two monasteries.  We arrive about 9:30 and finish generally around 9:45. The procedure is quite simple: The monks walk single file once down the center of the market and accept very small food donations (an apple or a scoop of cooked rice would be an example) into our alms bowls from those who indicate that they would like to offer.  You may bring small donations from home, or purchase something on site (this is, after all, a Farmers’ Market). There will be lay Buddhist supporters present if you have any questions. If people would like to talk to the monks after the ritual we will move to an area outside of the market traffic flow. We encourage participants to do your own shopping while you are at the Farmers’ Market.

In spite of its simplicity the purpose of the alms round is easier to experience than to describe. It is a practice in humility and generosity. It is not simply a way to feed the monks and nuns; it has a much greater role to play in realigning the values of both monastic and lay. Contrary to common belief, it does not involve begging, since monks are not generally allowed to actually ask for anything. Rather it is a ritual in which monks offer the opportunity to donate to anyone who chooses to participate. As you also might know Buddhist monks receive everything as a gift and cannot accumulate wealth; they also do not eat after noon. they live entirely in an economy of generosity. In this context the opportunity for lay people to offer food is experienced a gift to themselves, one that produces remarkable joy and brings out the purest values of the human mind in a public ritual. More information, with pictures, is available by following this link:

In this formal ritual the monk maintains mindful awareness, does not express thanks for donations, and receives without making eye contact. A Buddhist lay participant will generally make a gesture of respect after placing a donation in the bowl, which looks like, and is certainly the origin of, the Christian gesture of prayer.

No proselytizing is involved (which would be a violation of Buddhist principles in any case). In fact one of the most moving parts of the (albeit limited) experience with alms rounds in America is that it serves as a natural bridge with out sister faiths. The Christian understanding of charity, for instance, quite spontaneously finds a natural place here; interestingly evangelical Christians seem to be among the most appreciative of this experience. It simply appeals to common values that each religion expresses in its own way and most people “get it” very quickly.

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