Every morning at dawn, Buddhist monks walk silently in saffron lines down village lanes and through city streets all across Southeast Asia. Carrying a metal bowl covered with orange cloth, they accept offerings, or “alms” from laypeople.
These are typically gifts of food, such as boiled rice, fruit, eggs and curries – flower garlands are also a popular gift. Monks don’t get paid, so they rely on these alms to subsist, and since they only eat breakfast and lunch (some monasteries will restrict their meals to only breakfast), a single alms round in the morning provides enough food for the day.
Monks aren’t permitted to take offerings directly from people as it could be seen as stealing, so alms are received on a small plate then placed into the bowl. Once back at the monastery, food offerings are served for breakfast.
To offer alms to monks on their rounds, you should first observe how locals behave. Respect is paramount as this is a centuries-old Buddhist tradition that should be treated with reverence.
Be dressed appropriately – covered shoulders and clean attire. Remove your shoes – if you are a woman you should kneel. Wai the monks when they approach. Place your gift onto the tray or in the bowl – whichever is offered – and wai them again as they leave. Take care not to touch the monks. If you’re just observing, do so from a distance, especially if you are taking photographs.
To experience this beautiful Buddhist tradition or to inquire about trips through Southeast Asia, contact one of Backyard Travel’s local Travel Specialist.