Sunday, December 17, 2017

Almsgiving on Sunday

Tying blessed thread on the wrists

Today, I held the almsgiving that I had been planning for the past several days, if not weeks. 

My day began at 7:00 a.m., when my alarm went off and my aunt called to say she was at my doorstep!  This is the aunt who had told me earlier that she wasn't sure if she'd be able to make it, but her daughter had been able to bring her, after all.  We were both glad she was able to attend.  She brought a pecan pie as her contribution to the almsgiving, so we had plenty of desserts!  I made us both a cup of tea and aunt helped me assemble the saucers of fruits and desserts, etc.

Later, around 9:00 a.m., my friend R came to help.  The three of us worked well together and went down my list of things to do until it was all done.  My goal had been to have everything ready by 10:30 a.m. and I almost met the goal!  I was done with all my work by 10:45 a.m., but my friend S who was bringing the green beans curry and the sauted kale hadn't arrived yet, although she came just before the monks arrived!  There was just enough time to add a spoon of her items to the plates of offering I had prepared.

At 10:00 a.m., there was a phone call from the temple; it was the senior monk, calling to confirm that they will be here at 11:00 a.m. and to tell me not to get too stressed with the preparations.  He also asked if I was aware of the fact that one of the monks who is attending is unable to eat curries as the spices upset his stomach!  Oops!  No, I hadn't been aware of that!  This monk is a newly ordained monk and isn't of Sri Lankan descent.  The only "non-spicy" dish I had prepared was the salad and even that had green chilies sliced and sprinkled on top!  The monk who called quickly assured me that it would be alright, not to worry, they will bring some non-spicy food from the temple for him!  So much so for my well-planned menu!  LOL!  But I quickly opened a can of garbanzo beans and warmed it up and prepared a plate of bread and butter, as well.  All the while, I was wondering if I had enough time to prepare some non-spicy dish for him, but I didn't.  I'll know, next time, to ask if there are any special dietary needs!

One of my cousins came over around 10:30 a.m. and she was able to help, as well.

The monks arrived at 11:00 a.m. and brought the reliquary which was placed on a tall side table.  Then, we began the almsgiving.  First, the tray of food offerings to the Buddha was passed around so everyone could participate in the offering and placed on the altar and I lit the candles and the incense stick.  Then, my aunt and I, who were the only Buddhists present, other than the monks, recited the five precepts that are meant to guide our daily lives:

- to abstain from harming living beings
- to abstain from taking what is not given
- to abstain from sexual misconduct
- to abstain from false speech 
- to abstain from taking intoxicating substances that lead to carelessness

Then, the monks chanted blessings.  By 11:30 a.m. the lunch was served to them.  The monks code of conduct limit them to eating two solid meals a day - breakfast and lunch.  They are not supposed to eat at "unseemly times" which is taken to mean after 12 noon.  This is part of their abstemious way of life.  Somehow, they always manage to end their meal exactly at noon.

After the dishes were cleared, one of the monks gave a brief sermon.  Today's sermon was on the topic of friends.  On the importance of good friends, who are there for you through the good times and the bad, who you can depend on for help, and who give you good counsel even if you don't like hearing what they say.  As opposed to friends who are there for the good times only, or who always seem to take and never give, or give once and remind you of it at every opportunity, or say "yes" in order to stay on your good graces, even if doing so might be harmful to you.   It was an especially appropriate sermon, I thought, given that I was supported today by some of my very good friends (as well as family members) who have always been there for me.  I also mentioned my blog to the monks and told them about all of you who read my blog and have been so interested in my almsgiving preparations and so supportive and encouraging throughout my health challenges.
After the sermon, there was more chanting of blessings and during this chanting, the water was blessed.  One end of a special strand of thread was dipped into the bottle of water and the thread was wrapped around the bottle three times and the spool of thread was passed along so that each monk and each person present at the almsgiving held the strand of thread in their hands with the last person holding the spool, itself.  During the chanting, we were all connected to each other by this thread and the thread absorbed the sound vibrations of the chanting. At the end of the chanting, the thread was rewound around the spool. 

After the chanting was over, the merit accrued during the almsgiving was transferred to departed relatives and loved ones, so that they, too, may benefit from the almsgiving.  To transfer the merit, water (representing the accrued merit) is poured from a full pot (representing ourselves who are full of the accrued merit) into an empty cup (representing the departed who are in need of the merit) while a stanza is recited and the monks chant, until the water in the pot is emptied and the cup overflows into a basin placed under it.  Is anyone else reminded of Psalm 23.5?  " cup runneth over."

At the end of the ceremony, a little bit of the blessed water was poured into the cupped palm of each participant (to be drunk) and the blessed thread from the spool was cut into lengths and tied around the right wrist of the participants.    It is a visual reminder of the blessings that were chanted. 

Finally, I gave the monks the donations I had prepared earlier, including food to take back to the temple.

Then, after they left, we all had lunch.  Then, my friend S had to leave as she was scheduled to work in the afternoon.  A short time later, my aunt left, too, as her son-in-law came to pick her up.  I served a plate of food for her to take to her daughter (cousin called me later, to thank me).

My cousin and friend R stayed and helped me put away the food and wash the dishes.  I did some in the dishwasher but the rest had to be washed by hand.  Cousin helped me put the furniture back in place, so that is done, too.  Cousin's daughter came over for a few minutes and had some dessert.  After cousin left, I drove my friend home.  Of course, I sent plates of food home with both of them.   

After I came home, I had a cup of tea and rested.  I made myself an egg salad sandwich with one of the leftover hard boiled eggs for dinner and am having a slice of pumpkin pie for dessert.  I am not doing anything more, this evening!  I have the day off from work, tomorrow, and I will put away the washed dishes, etc., then.

I am so happy I was able to hold the almsgiving, this year, unlike last year.  In fact, I mentioned it to the monks as they were leaving and I felt so overcome with emotion that I started to cry! 

Sunday, Dec. 17 (Day of Almsgiving):
- Cover chairs and tables/Keep Dancer away! - DONE
- Take out the dishes and plates in the dishwasher - DONE
- Fry the lentil wafers if time permits  - DIDN'T DO (nobody missed them)
- Clean the kitchen/clear the counters - DONE (did very late last night/very early this morning!)
- Pick and arrange flowers in vases - DONE - 2 red roses and 2 or 3 stems of paperwhites
- Cut up fruits and arrange in saucers; cover - DONE
- Arrange a variety of sweets (candy, cake, brownies, etc.) in saucers; cover - DONE
- Dish out yogurt into bowls; cover - DONE
- Pour palm treacle into sauce boat (to be served over yogurt) - DONE
- Cut up pies, arrange on saucers, cover - DONE
- Cook rice (2 types - white and red) - DONE
- Make salad - DONE
- Warm up curries; dish out into smaller serving dishes for serving to monks; bigger serving dishes for guests  - DONE
- Serve up offerings to the Buddha and offerings for the Order of Monks - DONE
- Boil water for those monks who prefer hot water - DONE
- Pour water and juice into glasses - DONE
- Sweep my bathroom and put down new bathmats - DONE
- Remove family room sofa covers - DONE
- Remove chair covers from living room sofas after the event - DONE
- Put new chair covers on family room sofas - DONE
- Wash dishes - DONE
- Put away leftovers - DONE
- Take friend home - DONE

Monday's To Do List:
- Call service garage to schedule car maintenance (tried to do this on Friday, but kept getting cut off!)
- Put away washed dishes
- Water the back garden
- Take the trash cans to the curb
- Do laundry

Today, I am grateful for:
- I was able to hold my almsgiving!
- It went off well, even with the one hiccup of not realizing that one monk had a different diet
- The monks provided for the one monk who needed a different diet
- My family and friends who helped me with the preparations and the clean up afterwards
- All of you, my blog friends who have been so supportive of me

The only picture I remembered to take of the food - after the fact!
I hope you all enjoyed a lovely day.  May you all be well, happy, and peaceful.  May you have no problems or difficulties.  May no harm come to you.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing all the details and meanings behind the rituals. I find is fascinating and do love learning about other religions and customs.
    I am glad everything went well and very glad you had some help.

  2. As Anne said, thanks for sharing the details. I too found them very interesting. I hope you spend today relaxing with a little knitting or anything else you want--like napping. :)

    1. Thank you, Live and Learn. I was too keyed up to fall asleep till after 3:00 a.m., but I slept in till 10:30 a.m. I am definitely taking it easy, today, although Dancer decided to regurgitate his food, right by my bed, just after I woke up, so I had to clean that! I think I will do a little putting away of stuff and maybe a little vacuuming. But a nap in the afternoon might be doable, too! ;)

  3. Glad everything went well and your aunt was able to join in after all. It seems that there was enough food to keep the monks full until breakfast the next day. I hope they eat breakfast early :) Do they go to Almsgivings such as yours very often?

    1. Thank you, Nathalie. I believe they do eat breakfast fairly early.

      The monks usually go to almsgivings at people's homes fairly often - mostly during the weekends. During the week, many people bring alms to the temple. Very often, because they are working and unable to come to the temple during the day, they will bring the food in the evening, for the next day's meal, and keep in the temple fridge; the monks will warm it up and serve themselves at lunch time. I believe they usually call the temple ahead of time to coordinate the date on which they should bring the food. I used to do it monthly, on the first of each month, back when I was more able to do things.

      Traditionally, the monks are required to beg for food - in Sri Lanka and in many Buddhist countries in Asia, you will find them going from door to door with their begging bowl in hand. They are not supposed to actually ask, verbally. They are supposed to stand silently at the gate or door for a few minutes. If they are noticed and someone brings them food, then they are supposed to accept it. After a few minutes, if they are not noticed or ignored and no one brings them anything, then, they are supposed to move on to the next house. Usually, in Buddhist countries, people are well aware of the custom, so food parcels are prepared ahead of time and someone is on the lookout for the monks.

  4. You must have hit the ground running when you got up today. I had a bit of a chuckle when I read that the senior monk told you not to stress over the preparations. That is like someone offering to help with the dishes after they are all done. Ha.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the whole Alms giving. I appreciate all the work and preparations you put into such an event for it to be so successful. Thank you for all the explanations and for all the blessings you have extended to us.

    1. Well, it certainly wasn't a morning when I could sit and relax over a cup of tea and take it easy! :D

      I'm glad you enjoyed reading about it, Susan. And you are quite welcome.

  5. I'm so glad you were able to hold the service Bless. I can imagine after last year it was even more meaningful and emotional for you. And the sermon sounds perfect - some very wise words in there that we could all take heed of.

    Reading about the day itself was really intersting especially the meaning behind the rituals.

    Have a good rest now, you deserve it. xx

    1. Thank you, Suzanne. I rested, today, and put away everything. Now, I need to get ready for Christmas!

  6. How lovely to see the photos of those holy men! I'm so glad it all went well and was so full of meaning. The sermon was beautiful, and the 5 precepts that you recited. In my faith we also pray for departed loved ones. The blessing of the alms giving must really bring a deep peace to your home!

    1. Thank you, Bushlady. It is more work to hold the almsgiving at home, rather than take the alms to the temple, but I do it because I feel doing so blesses my home. And I like to do it in December, towards the end of the year, to give thanks for a good year, before moving on to the New Year.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed reading explanations and details about the almsgiving. Thank you for taking the time to share it all with us, especially after DOING it all! It sounds like a very spiritually-moving event. I must confess, when I got to the end and you mentioned being overcome with gratitude for being able to do the almsgiving this year, I realized that I was tearing up as well. I am very grateful as well.

    1. I am very happy that I can share the event with you and all who read my blog and it has been so well received. Being unable to hold the almsgiving last year made being able to do it this year all the sweeter.


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