Luang Prabang: Morning Alms Giving Ceremony    

Monks at morning alms giving
Around 4 AM the monasteries wake up and beat the huge drums in the wat. I dozed off and woke up around 5:30. Since I was awake I decided to seen the Tak Bat or the Morning Alms Giving. We'd seen this from our balcony in Vang Vieng but here with the large numbers of wats and monasteries, it is very large. However, it has also become a tourist attraction. Signs around the town report the problems of tourists getting in the way and distracting monks and alms givers with obtrusive flash photography.

The tradition is a very beautiful one. We arrived early and I really wondered if it had completely become a tourist thing since there were lots of vendors on the streets carrying baskets of sticky rice, bananas and flower offerings. We declined their offers and instead walked up the street. The noodle shops had big kettles simmering on clay fire pots. Shop and hotel owners were busy sweeping the streets and sidewalks in front of their businesses. The sandwich vendor on the corner of our hotel street had wheeled his cart in place and set out his sign. We walked back and forth. The sky began to become lighter but the clouds still kept the light level low. We saw the orange robes of a group of monks down the street. They disappeared into a back street and emerged closer to where we were. They waited then went up to a woman kneeling holding a basket of rice. She gave them each a bit and they continued down the street. Up the street we saw a large procession of monks-- perhaps from the monastery of Xieng Thong and the other wats in that area. A man came out of his house carrying a large basket of rice and joined a small group kneeling on mats. Some had flowers and candles lit.

A procession of monks receiving alms
They knelt with baskets of food and the monks walked by opening their bowls and receiving the food offered. An older woman deftly took what looked like a roll or dumpling from a basket, held it to her forehead in a sign of respect and thanks, then quickly tossed one into each monk's bowl. I thought how beautiful a way to start the morning it was-- not just kneeling in prayer or meditation but helping someone by giving them food. Steam rose from one woman's rice basket as she scooped out portions of fluffy steamed rice. The monks quickly passed the group receiving the offerings. Next to the offering group was a withered man and 2 kids who held out empty bags. In turn, some of the monks would drop some of the food they received into their bags. I thought how nice it would be to distribute food to hungry people in the morning. Another group of monks went by accepting offerings of a group on the corner (perhaps some of the people trying to sell offerings to tourists). There was also a little girl begging. A monk dropped a banana leaf package into her basket. Her face lit up as she picked up the package clapping her hands and showing a woman (perhaps her mother). I hoped the monk saw her happiness at receiving this but maybe monks are supposed to be beyond this.

Morning alms offerings

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Dr. Hema Goonatilake - posted on 9/10/2010
I am a Buddhist from Sri Lanka, IOt was one of the best religious experiences I have had in Laos.
Dr Hema Goonatilake

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