Monday, November 21, 2016

2016 Almsgiving Checklist & Schedule

Very briefly, an almsgiving is a Buddhist religious ceremony in which alms (or donations) are offered to the poor (in this case, the monks, who have taken an oath of poverty),  I have written more about it previously, here and here.

I usually budget a certain amount for the event, divide that total amount by 12 and that becomes the monthly amount I set aside during the year towards the event.  I do the same for the rosary/prayer gathering dinner I host in October and Christmas/New Year gifts.  This way, the money for the event is evenly distributed across the year and there is no need to find the money for a large expense in any given month.  

I know I have said this before, but I rely on my rather detailed checklists and schedules when it comes to preparing for an event.   Each year, I revise and update previous lists and schedules as dates, etc. change.  This year, I also need to be mindful of the fact that my stamina has changed and I tire more quickly (and take longer to recover).  This year, the almsgiving will be held on Sunday, December 4.   As of today, I have just under two weeks to prepare for it. 

2016 Almsgiving Checklist & Schedule:

Do in early November:
- Set date/invite monks/invite participants - DONE
- Bank to withdraw money saved for the event - DONE
- Decide on donations/get them ready - DONE (Monetary donations put into envelopes and kept near the altar so there's no last minute rushing around looking for them!)
- Make a tentative menu /check supplies/make a grocery list - DONE
- Check supplies (non-grocery - incense sticks, paper goods, etc.); make shopping list - DONE
- Check table linen, chair covers, etc., wash if needed, iron, etc. - DONE
- Shop for non-perishables - DONE

Week 1 (November 20- 27):
- Start cleaning the house (Dust/vacuum/tidy living room, dining area, family room, kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms) - STARTED
- Buy chocolates
- Take down dishes used only for almsgiving and wash them (daughter to help when she comes down for Thanksgiving)

Week 2 (November 28-December 4):
- Confirm date with monks
- Finalize menu/grocery shopping list
- Remind invitees; share menu/assign dishes
- Rearrange furniture - sofas, coffee tables, tall round side table (for reliquary), trolley (for plates of offerings), remove blue & white vases near fireplace (so I can set the small sofa in front of the fireplace)

Friday, December 2:
- Grocery shop for perishables
- Buy flowers
- Take down dishes used only for almsgiving and wash them (if not done earlier)
- Take out serving dishes, basins used for washing hands, jugs used for pouring the water; serving spoons, etc.
- Final cleaning - dust, vacuum, etc.
- Put cashews to soak

Saturday, December 3:
- Clean bathrooms/set out guest towels, etc.
- Set out items needed for the transfer of merit: teapot, cup, and water basin; fill teapot with water
- Take out chair covers, table cloths, napkins, etc.; cover chairs, tables
- Candles/incense sticks & holder; lighter/matches
- New bottle of water for blessing; bowl to catch drips when blessed water is poured out
- Set out items for washing hands: fresh cake of soap, hand towels, jugs & basins
- COOK!  Cashews, garbanzo beans, lentils, hard boil eggs, fry lentil wagers (pappadum)
- Pick up friend
- Clean kitchen
- Take out plates, bowls, etc. for guests
- Take out frozen sweets and keep to thaw

Sunday, December 4 (Day of Almsgiving):

- Arrange flowers in vases
- Cut up fruits and arrange in saucers (approx. 5 types of fruits per saucer); cover
- Arrange a variety of sweets in saucers (approx. 5 types per saucer); cover
- Dish out yogurt into bowls; cover
- Pour palm treacle into sauce boat (to be served over yogurt)
- Make pudding, dish out into bowls, cover
- Cook rice (2 types - white and red)
- Make salad (hard boiled egg halves, sliced tomato, cucumber, red onions, green chillies)
- Warm up curries; dish out into smaller serving dishes for serving to monks; bigger serving dishes for guests (keep bigger dishes in oven to keep warm)
- Serve up offerings to the Buddha and offerings for the Order of Monks
- Boil water for those monks who prefer hot water
- Pour water and juice into glasses
- Spot clean bathrooms
- Fill hand washing bowls and jugs with warm water

10:30 a.m. - Everything should be done and ready; guests arrive and their contributions added to offerings to the Buddha and the Order of Monks

11:00 a.m. - Monks arrive; Offerings to Buddha, Order of Monks, etc. take place and service begins with devotions being recited.

11:30 a.m. - Lunch is served to the monks (they need to finish eating by 12 noon).

12:00 noon - Monks finish their lunch, plates are cleared, a sermon is said, blessings are chanted, merit gained from almsgiving is transferred to departed loved ones, donations are presented to the monks.

1:00 p.m. - the monks leave, the religious ceremonies are concluded, lunch is served to all those who participated.

Followed by washing up, cleaning, and putting things away until the next time!   My family and friends usually help me with the washing up, putting away the food, and putting the furniture back in place.  This year, my biggest helper, my daughter, won't be here, so things might take me a bit longer to do.

I might cook the cashews, garbanzo beans and lentils at the end of this week and freeze them, if I can find room in my freezer!  I'll see how it goes.  The freezer is rather full, at this time.

2016 Almsgiving Menu:

- Rice (red rice and white basmati rice)
- Cashew curry
- Spicy garbanzo beans
- Lentil curry (dhal)
- Pumpkin curry
- Green beans curry
- Shredded leafy greens cooked with grated coconut (mallung)
- Salad of hard boiled egg halves, sliced tomato, cucumber, red onion, green chillies
- Fried lentil wafers (pappadum)- Tomato chutney

- Sweetmeats (candies) - an assortment
- Fresh fruits - an assortment (grapes, kiwi, papaya, strawberries or blackberries, tangerines, apples, etc.)
- Yogurt and treacle
- Pudding

One of my friends has offered to cook the pumpkin curry, green beans and the leafy greens for me.  I am counting on another friend to come and help me make the salad, assemble the saucers of fruit, etc.  A cousin said she'll try to come over on Friday morning to help me clean, etc.  Hopefully, all will be able to help out.  I plan to take Thursday (December 1) and Friday (December 2) off from work, so I'll have more time to get things done.


  1. You are very well organized so things should go well. Almsgiving is a new thing for me. Do the monks travel around from alms events to alms events all year? Or do they take place during a certain time?

    1. They travel to almsgivings throughout most of the year. There is one period, which usually lasts about 3 months, between July and October, which is the rainy season in India, that the monks are required to take a retreat and travel is restricted. They will not travel to almsgivings during this period and almsgivings are held at the temples.

      My mother started this tradition of having a year end almsgiving in our home, the year my stepfather died. He passed away in the apartment in which we were living at the time and she saw it as a form of blessing our home. And it just continued. This will be the 30th annual almsgiving at our home.

  2. Thank you for this post, Bless! My grandmother was asking me about Almsgiving and I told her that I remember you mentioning it before and I would look it up for her- now I can just read her this post so she knows.
    Your menu sounds wonderful and I love how organized you are. I feel inspired to make detailed holiday lists like this for myself, I feel like lists take some of the pressure off when I start to get overwhelmed. I'm sorry your daughter cannot be there but I am glad that you are reviving help with the cooking and cleaning. :)

    1. Oh, that is very sweet of her to have asked about it! The menu, as you can see, is all vegetarian. Some people will prepare fish for an almsgiving (just as fish is OK during Lent, but not meat; similar line of reasoning, I think). But I prefer it to be all vegetarian (the eggs are considered OK because they are unfertilized eggs).

      Lists and schedules are helpful. Don't have to remember everything and don't need to worry about forgetting something. I once made a schedule for one of my friends for Thanksgiving, based on when she was planning to serve dinner and how long she needed to cook the turkey. She had been fretting about when should she make the various dishes so everything gets done on time. She said she used it for years!

      Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family, Dawn.

  3. *receiving help with the cooking and cleaning (auto correct changes my words sometimes!)

    1. Ha ha; I guessed that's what you meant to say. :)

  4. I love the sound of the almsgiving. I think you sound really organised. I'm gently hinting that you are still on the mountain, but I'm sure you'll be fine. hugs x

    1. Thank you, Lyssa! Your gentle hints are much appreciated! I know. I need to take it easy. I am trying hard to pace myself, and not leave too many things to do at the last minute. I do tend to get a bit carried away, at times! :D

  5. That's a long list of things to do Bless, but if you pace yourself I'm sure you'll achieve everything you set out to do. Glad to hear you're taking all the help you've been offered.

    Are all the people you've invited on the day Buddhist or do you invite friends who don't follow the religion as well? I'm thinking to the lunch after the monks have gone for example and because you've put so much effort into the event.

    I'm also interested to know if the monks have to have finished lunch by 12 noon for a particular reason? xx

    1. It is a long list, isn't it? I was looking it over this morning, trying to see if I can shorten it a bit. I think I can eliminate the need to buy chocolates, for one thing. I have an unopened container of chocolate covered raisins I can offer, instead.

      I might also do some of the taking out of things a bit earlier than Saturday (don't want to take out too soon because then, the counters and tables look so cluttered).

      Actually, almost all the people I have invited are non-Buddhist! They are Catholic! My cousins from my mother's side of the family are all Catholic. My friend who has offered to help with the cooking is Catholic. My friend who will be helping me with the salad and other things is Catholic. Only my relatives from my father's side are Buddhist and the few who are here are unable to attend the event. I am keeping this to a very small gathering of only family and the closest friends, almost all of whom seem to be Catholic! :D

      The monks need to finish eating by 12 noon because it is part of their disciplined way of life. Buddhists are supposed to select the Middle Path, between extreme self-denial and over-indulgence. For the monks, part of this means refraining from eating at "unseemly times", usually taken to mean in the evenings and at night. They have two meals a day - breakfast and lunch. No solid foods after 12 noon until breakfast, the next morning. They may drink tea (usually without milk) and herbal teas. I am not sure if they are allowed juice and broth, but as far as I know, they don't take anything solid after their mid-day meal.

      When we, as lay-people, occasionally go on a religious retreat, we, too, take a pledge to abide by some of these rules, and one of them is to refrain from eating later in the day. It's been awhile since I did a retreat; I was considering it, earlier this year, but didn't feel well enough. Maybe next year.

  6. Love your detailed list, you are a true organizer! I hope you will have all the energy you need to prepare everything.
    It must be a very rewarding form of hospitality.

    1. Thank you, Bushlady! Especially for the energy wishes! That's what I am going to need the most! But I do get a deep sense of satisfaction from this particular event; that's my reason for doing it.


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