Today, in many predominately Theravada countries like Thailand, monks still rely on receiving alms for most of their food. The monks leave the monasteries early in the morning. They walk single file, oldest first, carrying their alms bowls in front of them. Laypeople wait for them, sometimes kneeling, and place food, flowers or incense sticks in the bowls. Women must be careful not to touch the monks.
The monks do not speak, even to say thank you. The giving of alms is not thought of as charity. The giving and receiving of alms creates a spiritual connection between the monastic and lay communities. Laypeople have a responsibility to support the monks physically, and the monks have a responsibility to support the community spiritually.
I had read that the monks came to our resort in the morning between 6:15 and 6:30 to receive their daily food. Tim and I were up early, so walked to the entrance to observe. Three monks arrived together and walked toward us. I asked if it was OK to take pictures and was told that yes, it was permitted.
Several people from another group were also outside and joined into the presentation of alms. Afterwards those that wanted to, knelt in front of them, bowed and listened as the monks softly chanted what I assumed was a prayer.
Afterwards we entered the cafe, ate our breakfast and tried to decide what to do for the next hour until time to get on the bus once again to travel further north to Chiang Rai.
The spirits must be shining down on us because the next few moments were pure magic.
As we exited the building a lone monk approached with his alms bowl. A staff member was about to move forward with an offering. I asked her if I might have the honor of presenting the food to him and she graciously handed me the bowl.
Passing my camera to Tim, I paused a brief moment to reflect.
I walked toward the young monk and carefully spooned the large helping of rice into his container. There were also two generous plastic bags of warm food to be given. They appeared to be perhaps a red curry and a coconut curry dish or similar. The bags of food were inflated and reminded me of the bags one got as a child that held a gold fish, puffy with half liquid and half air.
After emptying my container, Tim and I knelt down in front of him as he offered up a private prayer for the two of us. The monks rarely speak directly to other non-monks, not even to say thank you. Upon rising, he surprised us by asking our names.
I feel that today is starting off VERY well indeed.