Our Early Morning Alms Giving to the Laotian Monks: A Time Honored Tradition of Mystery & Meditative Calm

"Accepting the miracle of the moment, this breath, this day, this life..."—Terry Patten

Just before the sun rose in Luang Prabang (Laos), we passed locals waiting for the procession of around 200 monks that were getting ready to make their alms rounds for the day called “tak bat.” It is a time-honored tradition that dates back to the 14th century that is done silently. We ourselves positioned ourselves, along the roadside near a local monastery in town waiting in anticipation for their arrival. It was a rare opportunity to experience this ancient Lao tradition. We each had a small covered weaved basket of sticky rice. As a sea of monks in their orange robes passed us one by one (oldest first) in a meditative state I dropped a small portion in their bowls which are attached to a strap hanging from their shoulders. 

Once we were finished giving out the rice, we were permitted to take photographs from a distance without a flash so as not to disturb the monk’s meditative peace. It is a uniquely, spiritual experience. The daily ritual is a collaborative effort between the monks and the laypeople. It is not charity the way the West interprets it. Rather it is a symbolic connection between the monk who requires daily physical sustenance and the layperson who gets to practice generosity and loving-kindness to a monastic who provides spiritual sustenance to the community.

I had been a recipient of offerings (sticky rice and mango) by locals during my monastery stays in Burma as a gesture of gratitude to us Westerners for coming thousands of miles away to study meditation and Buddhist, mindfulness teachings. However, this was only the second time I made an offering of rice to a monk. The first time was when my son Jason and I travelled to Southeast Asia more than 16 years ago. During the Alms offering we were invited to quietly recite a loving-kindness chant to ourselves for the benefit of "all beings everywhere" ending with "may peace, love, kindness and compassion be revealed in the world and in ourselves.

After alms rounds, the monks returned to the monastery and one of them was designated to take a seated cross legged position in front of the entryway with a platter to receive other food goods that we offered to the monks as a group after which he did a closing chant.