An ancient practice in a modern world
The Buddha laid down the rule that monks and nuns may not cook or store their own food. The intention was for monastics to be free from the worldly burden of cooking and to make them dependent on the generosity of lay followers. This was both to simplify the lives of monastics and to enrich the spiritual lives of lay people. Thus, the tradition of the alms round was started: instead of cooking, monastics would wander the village to collect their daily meal. In the Pali language this is called pindapata.
The monastics at Bhavana continue this ancient practice of going for alms once a week from April to October. Some go to the nearby town of Winchester, VA and walk in the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Some walk in our own neighborhood. Because Theravada monastics do not eat after solar noon, alms round is done in the morning. In Winchester you can find them on the Loudoun Mall downtown between 11:30 and 12:00. If you’d like to offer alms, feel free to call Bhavana ahead of time to set up a time and location to meet. If you live or work in the down town area you can make an invitation for a monastic to stop by. You can also arrange to prepare and offer a meal at the monastery itself. Please see the page about providing meals.
The practice of offering alms food
To offer food to a monastic on alms round, approach him or her and present the food. The monastic will open his or her bowl. Simply put the food inside. Typically monastics walk alms round in silence with a downward gaze, but alms is not a ceremonial occasion. There’s no need to be intimidated. Feel free to talk or ask questions. Alms can be a time for discussing meditation or Dhamma as well if the monastic has time. The Buddha intended alms round as an opportunity for generosity and spiritual contact for lay devotees.
What can you offer?
It is ideal to offer food that can be eaten without being cooked. Monastics on alms round will eat the contents of their bowl as their main meal of the day. Theravada monastics are alms mendicants and therefore accept whatever is given. There are only a few very obscure items that cannot be accepted. If you are in doubt, just ask.
Please be aware that monastics do not use and cannot accept money.