Singapore celebrated her 48th birthday on August 9th 2013, also known as National Day. MV Dhamma Fellowship celebrated the day by organizing a pindapata, the practice of collecting alms food, as observed by Theravada Buddhist monks who have gone forth from ‘home life’ to ‘homelessness.’
A Buddhist monk is known in Pali language as ‘bhihkku’ – meaning ‘one who lives on alms’ and a monk living on alms should review himself whether worthy of alms food, like the Buddha teaches Sariputta: “….., all those recluses and brahmans in the distant past who completely purified themselves for alms-gathering did so after having reflected over and over again in this way. And, Sariputta, all those recluses and brahmans in the distant future who will completely purify themselves for alms- gathering will do so only after having reflected over and over again in these ways. And, Sariputta, all those recluses and brahmans who at present completely purify themselves for alms-gathering do so only after having reflected over and over again this these ways. Wherefore, Sariputta, this is how you must train yourself: ‘I will completely purify myself for alms-gathering after having reflected over and over again.’ This is how you, Sariputta, must train yourself.” (Majjhima Nikaya, Pindapataparisuddhisutta, Sutta 151: Complete Purity for Alms-Gathering, I.B. Horner, PTS edition).
Lineage and Tradition
“When the Bodhisatta Prince Siddhatta renounced the world to be a recluse Ghatrikara Brahama brought the eight requisites for his old friend, the Bodhisatta Prince, an alms bowl among them. The Bodhisatta after spending seven full days in ascetic bliss in the nearby mango grove called Anupiya, travelled a journey of thirty yojanas on foot in one single day on foot and entered the city of Rajagaha. He went round and collected food just enough for his sustenance. The food, which he received, included all kinds of eatables, course and fine of various colours mixed up together. Thereafter he sat facing east at the entrance of the cave on the mountain and tried to eat the mixed meal of course and fine food he had received. As he was about to put the morsel into his mouth, he felt miserable and almost vomited with the intestines turning upside down, for he had never seen such kind of food in his life and found it particularly disgusting.
“Then he admonished himself by saying: “You, Siddhatta, in spite of the fact that you have been reigning supreme in a palace where food and drinks are available at your pleasure and where you have meals of three-year-old seasoned fragrant rice with different delicacies whenever you like, you on seeing a recluse in robe of rags contemplated: ‘When shall I eat the meals obtained by going on alms-round from house to house after becoming a recluse like him? When will the time come for me to live on meals thus collected?’ And you have not renounced the world and become a recluse with such thoughts? Now that your dream has come true, why do you like to change your mind?” Then without the slightest revulsion, he took the meal that was so rough.
“When Lord Buddha after His enlightenment visited his home town of Kapilavatthu went on alms round, and when King Suddhodana learnt of it, he rushed out of the palace to see Lord Buddha and stood in front of Him and made this remarks: “Most Exalted One, why do you put us to shame by going around for alms-food? Do you think that enough food for such a large number as twenty thousand arahats cannot be provided by your royal father?” The Buddha said in reply: “Royal father, such a practice of receiving alms from door to door is the precedence set by an unbroken line of we Buddhas.” King Suddhodana replied in these words: “My son, we are descents of the Khattiya lineage, great elected rulers I unbroken succession from the beginning of the world cycle? And all along this line of great Khattiya rulers, there was never one who went around begging for alms.” The Buddha then made this reply: “O Royal father, the lineage of Khattiya rulers is your linage; my ancestors are the Buddhas, in successive order of the Buddavamsa from Dipankara, Kondanna, Mangala down to Kassapa. Beginning with Dipankara and ending with Kassapa, my preceding elder brethren Buddhas, twenty-four in number, and with all the thousands of Buddhas as many as sands of the Ganges, had always gone to each successive house to receive alms. This very practice of receiving alms from one door to the next had always been our means of livelihood.” (Mahavamsa, The Great Chronicle of Buddhas, Singapore edition, pages 277, 281 and 476).
What is pindapata? The word “pindapata” is elucidated in the Visuddhimaga as: “Alms food is any sort of food or nutriment is called “alms food” or pindapata – literally means “lump dropping,” because of its having been dropped (patitatta) into a bhikkhu’s bowl during his alms round (pindloya). Or alms food (pindapata) is the dropping (pata) of the lumps (pinda); it is the concurrence (sannipata), the collection, of alms (bhikkha) obtained here and there, is what is meant.” (The Path of Purification, Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Part 1, Paragraph 89, BPS).
In Buddhist countries such as Thailand and Myanmar, it is a daily ritual for monks to go on pindapatawhere they walk through a village from one house hold to another, allowing devotees to make food offerings. With pindapata, Buddhist monks need not worry about food and this affords them the time to practise the Dhamma.
“From householders the homeless receive
These basic necessities of life,
Robes to wear and a place to dwell
Dispelling the hardships of the seasons.”
(Itivuttaka, 8-13 Bahukara Sutta, John D. Ireland, BPS).
Since the time of the Buddha, lay people have been supporting them with food, robes, shelter and medicine. The act of alms giving assists in connecting the human to the monks. In return, monks provide guidance to the laity on Buddhist teachings, thus forging a close, respectful and symbiotic relationship between the two communities.
“Householders and the homeless alike,
Each for support of the other,
Both accomplish the true Dhamma –
The unsurpassed security from bondage. ”
(Itivuttaka, 8-13 Bahukara Sutta, John D. Ireland, BPS).
Practice varies in different countries and vihāras (monasteries). In those vihāras where meditation is practised, the bhikkhus will have arisen early, sitting long in the cool darkness of the meditation hall. Not only must the bhikkhus allow the laywomen (upāsikā) time to cook food, they also have to consider the dangers of going out while it is still dark. In counties where snakes, centipedes and scorpions abound, it is wise to be able to see the ground under one’s feet.
The aim of organizing Pindapata
To uphold and maintain the Theravada Buddhist tradition for our monks to practise pindapata, MV Dhamma Fellowship organised a session at MVBT on National Day, in a similar way as the Sanghika Dana which is held on the first Saturday of each month. It also gave our devotees an additional occasion to perform dana and accumulate merits. “Where should one give a proper gift? Where does a gift bear great fruit? How, for one bestowing alms, does an offering bring success – just how?” “[The Blessed One:] “One who has known his past abodes, who sees heavens and the plane of woe, who has reached the destruction of birth, a sage consummate direct knowledge: ”Here one should give a proper gift, here the gift bears great fruit. That’s how, for one bestowing alms, an offering brings success – just so!” (Samyutta Nikaya, Sutta 7, Brahmanasmyutta, Stanzas 676 to 678, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications). “For those people who bestows alms, for living beings in quest of merit, performing merit of the mundane types, a gift to the Sangha bears great fruits” (Samyutta Nikaya, Sutta 11, Sakkasamyutta, Stanza 917).
When is Proper Time?
As “Samana Gotama takes only one meal a day, not taking food at night and fasting after mid-day” (Digha Nikaya, Brahmajala Sutta, Sutta 1: Discourse on the Net of Perfect Wisdom, Burma Pitaka Association edition); and also for safety of the monks Lord Buddha forbade the consumption of food and monks going for alms ground outside the proper time: “It has happened that bhikkhus wandering for alms in the thickness of darkness of the night have walked into a cesspool, fallen into a sewer, walked into thorn bush, and walked into sleeping cow; they met hoodlums who had already committed a crime and those planning one, and they have been sexually enticed by women. Once, venerable sir, I went wandering for alms in thick darkness of the night. A woman washing a pot saw me by the flash of lightning and screamed out in terror: ‘Mercy me, a devil has come for me!’ I told her: ‘Sister, I am no devil, I am a bhikkhu waiting for alms.’ – ‘Then it’s a bhikkhu whose ma’s died and whose pa’s died!’ ‘Better, bhikkhu that you get your belly cut open with a sharp butcher’s knife than this prowling for alms for your belly’s sake in the thick darkness of the night!’ (Majjhima Nikaya, Latukikopama Sutta: Sutta 66 The smile of the Quail, Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications).
In keeping with the practice of monks going on alms round in the morning and consumed the food collected at the proper time, which is before noon, so our pindapata session was held at the Mangala Hall immediately after the eleven o’ clock morning puja, keeping in mind: “He practices eating only one meal a day, abstaining from eating at night and outside proper time.” (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 27, Cŭlahatthipadopama Sutta: – The Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint, Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications). (According to the Vinaya the proper time for bhikkhus to eat is between dawn and noon. From noon until the next dawn only liquids are allowed).
Many devotees also contributed food items like cooked vegetarian dishes, fruits, desserts or beverages. Raw food items are prohibited for alms food offering as: “Samana Gotama abstains from the acceptance of uncooked cereal, uncooked meat, livestock like goats and sheep, chickens and pigs, elephants, cattle horses and mares, cultivated or uncultivated land, storing up cooked rice, beverages, … and eatables,” (Digha Nikaya, Sutta 1: Brahmajala Suttta and Sutta 2: Samannaphala Sutta, Burma Pitaka Association edition).
About 150 devotees participated in the pindapata and each was given a small bowl of plain white rice and a spoon. They queued up in 2 row s facing each other and when the Sangha walked pass with their alms bowl, each devotee scooped a spoon of rice and placed it joyfully, mindfully and respectfully into the alms bowls of the Sangha and observed noble silence while doing the offering.
Offering alms food to monks allow devotees to acquire merits as a result of their kind intentions and actions. Doing good deeds daily is a way of self-cultivation and to live a noble life. “One who respectfully gives timely food to those self-controlled ones who eats what others give provides them with four things: life, beauty, happiness, and strength. The man who gives life and beauty, who gives happiness and strengthen, will obtain long life and fame wherever he is reborn.” (Anguttara Nikaya, The Book of the Fours, The Second Fifty – The Streams, Sutta 58(8) Sudatta, E.M. Hare, PTS edition).
The pindapata session held at MVBT reminded devotees to understand in real life the monks go for alms round either singly or in a group. In a group they walk in single-file according to seniority based on ordination date order. They walk barefooted into a village and then from house to house, not favoring rich or poor neighborhoods, accepting, but not requesting, what is freely dropped into one’s bowl. “Then again, a monk is content with any sort of alms-food and speaks in praise of such content. For the sake of getting alms-food he resorts not to what is unseemly and unbecoming. If he gets not alms-food he is not dismayed thereat: and if he does get it he is free from the bond of selfishness, of greed, of craving for it.” (Anguttara Nikaya, The Book of Four, Chapter III, Sutta 28, Lineage. E.M. Hare, PTS edition). Monks mindfully observe noble silence not to engage in talking or chatting or to endear themselves to the lay followers with the intention of improving their intake during alms rounds, not to ask for anything directly except in an emergency, not to express thanks for donations received, and to receive without establishing eye contact. “Herein, sister, a monk takes food with reflection and judgment, not for sport, not for indulgence, not for personal charm, not for beautifying, but just enough for the support, for the upkeep of body, for its resting unharmed, for helping the living of the God-life.” (Anguttara Nikaya, The Book of the Fours, Chapter IV, Sutta 159, The Nun. E.M. Hare, PTS edition).
Amidst the hustle and bustle of modern living, it is most joyful and inspiring to still be able to witness this ancient Theravada Buddhist tradition of pindapata being practiced, what more to have an opportunity to participate in it.
“When they give out of faith, with a heart of confidence, food accrues to (the giver) himself both in this world and the next?” (Anguttara Nikaya, Chapter 1, V. Ablaze 43(3) Food, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications).
It would be wonderful to make Pindapata Day an annual event jointly with the Sanghika Dana on every 1st of January for our devotees to have an additional avenue to practise and also to maintain the Theravada Buddhist tradition.
With the support of the devotees, well-wishers, students, MV Dhamma Fellowship, Mandarin Buddhist Studies Fellowship and MVBT Committee I will end with a positive note and look forward to see more participants and you all again for the next Pindapata Day.
I would hereby propose to MVBT, MVDF and MBSF to reach a unanimous decision to hold an annual event of Sanghika Dana & Pindapata Day on every 1st of January.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
Contributor: Chin Kee Thou
English Dhamma Class &
Associate Member, MVDF
August 11th 2013