The annual pindapata event organised by the Mangala Vihara Dhamma Fellowship (MVDF), deputed in 2013, held its seventh conservative year event that coincided with the Singapore’s 54th National Day on August 9th 2019.
Lineage and practice of the Buddhas
Pindapata, is the practice of collecting alms food, as observed by Theravada Buddhist monks who have gone forth from ‘home life’ to ‘homelessness.’ They go from house to house to receive food adhering faithfully to the tradition and the lineage of the Buddhas, past, present and the future, as Lord Buddha proclaims: “My ancestors are the Buddhas, in successive order of the Buddhavamsa 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.” (Mahabuddhavamsa).
A Buddhist monk is known in Pali language as ‘bhihkku’ – meaning ‘one who lives on alms’ just like the past, the present or the future alms gathers, living on alms should review himself whether worthy of alms food, like the Buddha teaches Sariputta: ” ….., whatever recluses and brahmans in the past have purified their alms food have all done so by repeatedly reviewing thus. Whatever recluses and brahmans in the future will purify their alms food will also do so by repeatedly reviewing thus. Whatever recluses and brahmans in the present are purifying their alms food are all doing so by repeatedly reviewing thus. Therefore, Sariputta, you should train thus: ‘We will purify our alms food by repeatedly reviewing thus.’ This is how you, Sariputta, must train yourself.” (MN.III,297).
Since the time of the Buddha, lay people have been supporting monks with food, robes, shelter and medicine. In return, monks provide guidance to the laity on Buddhist teachings, thus forging a close, respectful and symbiotic relationship between the two communities. “Bhikkhus, brahmins and householders are very helpful in you. They provide you with the requisites of robes, alms food, lodgings and medicine in time of sickness. And you, bhikkhus are very helpful to the brahmins and householders, as you teach them the Dhamma that is good at the onset, good in the middle, and good at the end, with its correct meaning and wording, and you proclaim the holy life in its fulfilment and complete purity. Thus, bhikkhus, this holy is lived with mutual support for the purpose of crossing the flood and making a complete end of suffering.” (It.8-13).
Why alms gathering at Mangala Vihara (Buddhist Temple) temple ground?
Alms gathering is the means by which Buddhist monks get their food and has been misinterpreted as begging in our local context. A beggar asks or pleads for alms whereas Buddhist monks only present themselves at the door of a potential donor or standing at a spot quietly for a few moments and after receiving something, moves on. The Mahavastu says: “The wise monk asks for nothing, the noble does not hint for their needs. They just stand and let bowls be seen. This is how the noble ones gather alms.”
Since local monks are not encouraged to gather alms outdoor, thus the aim of the MVDF’s annual pindapata day hosted at the Mangala Vihara (Buddhist Temple) is to maintain the Theravada tradition of the ancient practice of alms giving and receiving. It also offers an opportunity for the lay people and the monks to upkeep the practice and reflect upon the true teachings of Buddhism of a meritorious deed.
Monks in attendance
For this year event, we invited 17 brother monks and together with our 2 resident monks who graced the occasion, were:
Bhante Galle Udita residing at Buddha Vihara Society
Bhante T. Sangharatana residing at Buddha Vihara Society
Bhante B. Buddhaghosa residing at Buddha Vihara Society
Bhante Uttara with residing at Burmese Buddhist Temple
Bhante Cittara residing at Mangala Vihara (Buddhist Temple)
Bhante Seewali residing at Hui Yin Lodge
Bhante R. Mettaji residing Buddha Vihara Society
Bhante Nyaninda residing at Burmese Buddhist Temple
Bhante Pannananda residing at Bodhiraja Buddhist Society
Bhante Cakkapala residing at Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple
Bhante Obhasa residing at Burmese Buddhist Temple
Bhante Dooldeniye Gnanarathana residing at Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre
Bhante Batagalle Dhammarathana residing at Ruwan Buddhist Society
Bhante Uditha residing at Bodhiraja Buddhist Society
Bhante Gunasiri residing at Bodhiraja Buddhist Society
Bhante Sirisumana residing at Bodhiraja Buddhist Society
Phra CK with residing at Palelai Buddhist Temple
Bhante Sudanto residing Palelai Buddhist Temple
Bhante M. Suneetha a monastic student.
The alms round
The alms round commenced at mid-morning to enable them with ample time to gather alms as “monks practise eating only one meal a day, abstaining from eating at night and outside proper time, which is between dawn and noon; and from noon until the next dawn only liquids are allowed.” (DN,1.6 and MN,I.180). Maintaining noble silence the devotees, participants and well-wishers lined up in a single row in two files facing each other and symbolically placed a spoonful of rice, with mindfulness, into the alms bowl of the monks as they walked in a single file, according to the seniority by the number of vassas and not by biological age, as they passed by. Each monk is accompanied by a kappia and received requisites from alms givers.
When one offers alms mindfully to the monks should reflect thus, “He gives what is pure and excellent, allowable drinks and food at the proper time: he gives gifts to fertile fields of merit, to those who lead the spiritual life. He does not feel regret, having given away many material things. Those with deep insight praise the gifts given in this way. Having thus practiced charity with a mind freely generous, one intelligent and wise, rich in faith, is reborn in a pleasant, unafflicted world.” (AN,8:37).
Similarly, the monks mindfully observed 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. “Again, a bhikkhus is content with any kind of alms-food, and speaks in praise of contentment with any kind of alms-food and he does engage in a wrong search, in what is improper, for the sake of alms food. If he does not get alms food he is not agitated and if gets some he uses it without being tied to it, infatuated with it, and blindly absorbed in it, seeing the danger in it and understanding the escape from it. Yet he does not extol himself or disparage others because of this. Any bhikkhus who is skilful in this, diligent, clearly comprehending and ever mindful, is said to be standing in an ancient, primal noble lineage.” (AN,II.28).
Once the procession of the monks on alms round had concluded, the formable congregation adjourned to the Shrine Hall for the morning puja and received blessings from the monks. The morning puja session was led by Sister Lee Peng.
After the puja they all descended to the Mangala Hall for the sangkit dana or the meal offering to the sangha sasana. “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” (SN,11.16).
Transferring, sharing or dedicating of merits
The devotees gathered round and touched the tables to receive blessing followed by transference or sharing or dedicating of merits to the departed and loved ones along with the chanting by the monks. “By offering alms to the Holy Order in memory of the departed; the true path of action for relatives has thus been shown, and how high honour to departed if done, and how the Holy Order can be given sustenance as well and how ones great merit can be stored away by you.” [Khp.7 (Petavatthu)]
Once the monks commenced eating the congregation feasted with delight the food they collectively contributed and shared among themselves. When food is needed to satisfy hunger and sustain the body, “they always take delight in food, both devas and human beings. So what sort of spirit could it be that does not take delight in food?” (SN 1:43). However, they consumed food mindfully in moderation reflecting carefully as “a bhikkhu consumes food neither for amusement nor for intoxication nor for the sake of physical beauty and attractiveness, but only for the support and maintenance of the body, for avoiding harm, and for assisting the spiritual life.”(AN 4:159).
Happy and joyful ending
The event ended in a joyful mood for the participants who dana food and requisites for the monks and accumulated merits. “In giving food, one gives five things. What five? One gives life, beauty, happiness, strength and intelligence. And in giving these things, on partakes in the qualities of life, beauty, happiness, strength and intelligence.” (A.III,42).
And for the monks, it offered an opportunity to rekindle the noble practice of alms gathering, albeit in a symbolic way to upkeep an ancient Theravada tradition as practised by the lineage of Budddhas.
A milestone for the MVDF
Incidentally the year 2019 also marks a milestone in the history of the MVDF as it reaches the decade mark, not after having going through a gruesome journey and emerges stronger, wiser and more resilience to undertake more grandeur events in the future.
The success and good crowd turnout at the seventh pindapata day is yet another feather in the cap that would encourage the MVDF to make it an annual hallmark event.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
Contributor: Chin Kee Thou
Date: August 11th 2019.
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Will update with a full video recording of the event when it is ready and available. Do keep a lookout for it.