Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

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Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby Kabouterke » Fri Jun 14, 2013 5:25 pm

Hi everyone. I've been trying a few Theravada temples out in my area recently and found one that I really like with an abbott that I really resonate with. This Saturday is going to be the temple's monthly alms giving Dana-session (specific Pali/Thai term?), where the laity can donate food to the monks.

Like I've said in other posts... I like my lists :tongue:
1. What do you give to monks?
It's obvious that it's got to be vegetarian and can't be too rich, but what is typically given? He said most lay followers just give fruit. But, I mean, they can't live off fruit alone.
2. And what do you put it in?
Do you just bring it in tupperware and dump it in his almsbowl, or do you just put the entire tupperware container in there?
3. Does it have to be served/prepared in any certain way? Cut up in a specific way?
4. Is there any particular ritual or gestures (in Thai Theravada) that you have to do when you actually give it to them?

I think my strategy is going to be to just to stand at the back of the line and do what the others do. :jumping: The abbot is a really great guy and I'm sure that he'd appreciate anything I gave him, but you know, you don't want to look culturally uninformed.

Thanks for your help!
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Jun 14, 2013 6:19 pm

It would be best to ask one of the other lay Buddhists who give alms at that temple regularly.

A lot of western monks in the Thai Forest tradition are vegetarians, but most Asian monks are not. If you are vegetarian, then it is fine to donate vegetarian food, and fruit is probably the safest, as nearly everyone eats fruit.

However, only those with local knowledge will know what the temple gets too much of, and what is likely to be most appreciated.

It is also OK to ask the monks what kind of food is most suitable for them. Perhaps some are diabetic, or have other special needs?

Don't dump a plastic container into the bowl. Cut the fruit into bite-sized pieces, and present it on a plate, or put some into each monk's bowl.
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby Anagarika » Sat Jun 15, 2013 6:29 pm

My sense has been that Bhikkhus sometimes do not get enough protein in their diets. I have spent some time at Wat Metta (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) and note that the almsfood from the laity is varied; I have brought meat dana for preparation by the lay staff as I understood that Wat Metta does not proscribe meat. I don't buy red meat for myself, but so long as the Wat permits it, I want to be sure to provide dana that is meaningful and useful to the monks.

So, a chicken curry or other meat curry might be nice, and this tends to blend reasonably well in the alms bowl. Keep in mind that the food all goes into the bowl at once, so it's important to remember that 'liquidy' or mushy foods may not hold up well thrown in with fruit and salads.

If your Wat does not permit meat, then I might suggest a meat substitute like a tofu curry with potatoes, or a seitan meat dish. Some grains like quinoa also bolster proteins and can be part of a substantial salad or curry.

The monks for example, at Wat Metta eat only once a day, well before noon. Therefore, it is important that they get their necessary calories during this meal, as well as the needed vitamins and nutrients that come from proteins. Most lay people bring plenty of leafy salads and rice dishes...I'd go with the proteins.
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby dhammapal » Sun Jun 16, 2013 2:35 pm

Hi Kabouterke,

I reckon brown rice is a good idea as monks don't seem to get much fiber in their diet.

With metta / dhammapal.
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby Kabouterke » Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:56 pm

Thanks everyone, good ideas. Is there any certain tradition (bowing, phrases) or something that you say/do when you give the food?
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jun 17, 2013 1:18 pm

OK this is a subject I almost qualify as an expert on, having spent at least a year living at western Therevada temples as both a lay person, temple boy and monk(briefly) The monks start by saying prayers, with the lay people praying or joining in on the Pali chanting. Then the monks are presented the food, just present it the same way you see the Asians doing it. Unlike begging monks in Thailand, lay people cook their very finest best and tasty exotic dishes specially for the monks, to be honest with you you probably shouldnt try to make your own Southeast Asian dishes as you'd have to be a pretty good cook to compete with the natives, Fruit is OK but theres usually no shortage of it, believe it or not you couldn't really go wrong with vegeburgers, or even hamburgers(I'm a vegetarian so I would recommend vege) They will even eat fast food as a break from their everyday Asian food,' as the monks at the temple get very few opportunities to eat western food, they might really like to try vegeburgers and fries even, We had one guy bring donuts to the temple, he was my saviour, I was getting so burned out on Cambodian food. And don't be at all offended if the monks don't eat your food, after the monks are done eating everyone else sits around and eats what the monks didn't, at my temple this was a veritable feast, maybe 8 different dishes plus rice of restaurant quality Cambodian (or Thai ) food, all you can eat, with leftovers.

And yes the previous poster is right, you're not going to run into too many vegetarians in South East Asian culture. But the head monk might be.

But my point is it doesn't have to be vegeburgers, but some of the monks, maybe not all seemed to like it when someone brought western food to the temple as it didn't happen that often. I wouldn't bring them some cooked up entre of ?????? as they're not going to know what it is and trust it. Fried Chicken might be an option.

I've never been to Europe, so I can't guarantee this will work the same way it would here, but if it doesn't work, and no one eats your food, maybe next time try the fruit, or the Donuts, or pastries, I'm sure you have lots of them in Belgium!!

If your worried about the cost for 20EU in food for the monks, you'll get to participate in a 20EU restaurant quality meal with the lay people, at least thats how its worked at all the Thervada temples I attended, I've never seen them turn Buddhists away, or refuse to feed them. One last thing small bite taste test the food before you serve yourself a serving, you're presumably no going to like every dish they have and some, not all will be very spicy, so be forewarned.

And last you don't even have to bring food, but it would be seen as a friendly gesture, whether they like your food or not, also bring a small donation; the good southeast Asian inscense, the dark kind not the much cheaper yellow kind(it smells bad) a minimum of 3EU, and some small candles for the altar(try an asian market) these are traditional gifts, and by bringing what's traditional for Asians, it shows you have a sensitivity to their culture and customs, and they'll be more likely to accept you and be friendly, especially if you know to bow three times to the head monk(saying NAMO TATSAH PAQOUWATOE ARAHATOH SAMHAH SAMBUDDHASSA)not outloud or very quietly. And you need to pay attention to their sitting posture, you start out sitting kneeling on your feet, then sitting sideways with both your feet going to the left or the right, then finally when its too hard to sit that way, crossed legged. They are going to be a little bit suspicious of westerners coming to the temple, and making at least an attempt to do things traditionally will help them open up to you, because when they do you'll have friends for life. sincerely former monk John

Oh and don't point your feet towards the monks even when stretching, its a sign of disrespect.
Last edited by lyndon taylor on Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jun 17, 2013 1:42 pm

Just a correction to my post on temple etiquette, food etc. In going back and reading the OP's post its clear that I shouldn't assume a Therevada temple in Belgium is run just like a 99% Refuge Cambodian temple in Southern California. I was refering to the everday 11am lunch for the monks and lay people, at a local temple where all the people come from Asia, and things are run almost exactly like they are in Asia, so forgive me if your temple is more catering to Westerners, things might be very different than what I recommended, which is basically the best way to visit and bring food to my local Therevada Temple. Even in the case that your situation is very different to my temple, I hope my advice in part at least is of benefit to you or anyone else visiting a South East Asian tradition temple.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby alan » Tue Jun 18, 2013 2:31 pm

Best food is healthy food. This applies to Monks as well as everyone else.
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby fivebells » Tue Jun 18, 2013 5:18 pm

Is it inconsiderate to bring really tasty food which the monks will take delight in and may crave later? :)
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jun 18, 2013 7:39 pm

Hi fivebells,
fivebells wrote:Is it inconsiderate to bring really tasty food which the monks will take delight in and may crave later? :)

That's a good question. I have some experience of being on retreat, and being treated similarly to the monks, with lay people figuratively falling over each other to make sure some of their food is on my tray. As you say, there is plenty of room for overindulgence, craving, and so on ("Why didn't they give me some of that food - it would have been really great?"). I think that seeing this for oneself is an important part of the training.

:anjali:
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby lyndon taylor » Tue Jun 18, 2013 8:25 pm

fivebells wrote:Is it inconsiderate to bring really tasty food which the monks will take delight in and may crave later? :)


Good question, I don't think you should have a different attitude for the monks from how you might treat honoured guests or relatives coming over for dinner at your house, I don't think its our business to be encouraging the monks to eat bland, boring(but perhaps healthy) food that we don't even eat ourselves(a monk that wants to eat that way will do it himself). And I also don't think for a one time donation you need to be too worried about the healthiness of the food, as the monks are used to eating a quite healthy Asian food diet, most of the time, at least at the temples I have been to. I mean many of us, not including myself! eat very healthily, but then once in a while treat ourselves to Ice Cream, which brings up another very interesting suggestion. After 12pm the monks are allowed only to drink liquids, but for some strange reason, Ice Cream is considered a liquid. The monks might really like some Ice cream, low fat if you like, and fruit juices or healthy yoghurt drinks.

Remember the goal of this exercise is to bring happiness and sation of hunger to the monks, not to force the monks to be healthier by your own criteria of whats healthy, which may be bacon, fried eggs and hash browns if you're on the Atkins diet!! For instance the idea about brown rice sounds good, but I'm going to guess it will just go uneaten, Asians are well aware brown rice exists, they just mostly choose not to eat it.

So try to put all the ideas not just mine together; Western food, healthy food, tasty food, something they don't get too often. And see what you come up with.

Another example imagine you take a date out for the first time, do you buy him/her brown rice and beans because that's healthy, or do you buy something of a treat something really good that they'll enjoy, even if you don't eat like that every day, I would encourage you to think of feeding the monks the same way you would feed someone very special to you.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby Anagarika » Tue Jun 18, 2013 8:32 pm

fivebells wrote:Is it inconsiderate to bring really tasty food which the monks will take delight in and may crave later? :)


I was a samanera in Thailand for a short time. Whenever I would get a nice curry (in a pouch) in my almsbowl, it was a nice plus. I was mindful that the next day, I might get only sticky rice and some odd things like sweet rice wrapped and steamed in leaves. The idea is that you don't get a high from tasty food, and you don't get a low from only sticky rice...so, it never hurts to give something good and tasty and nutritious. I should note that most all of the monks would pool our food received and make sure that we delegated some for the hungry who came by the Wat in the afternoons. We never suffered for lack of dana in the town where my Wat is. Your tasty, substantial and nutritious dana might end up in the stomach of a homeless person, and that is real merit.
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby alan » Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:21 pm

You're not dating the Monks, lyndon.
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:50 pm

Please see the section on "Two Kinds of Donation," in my booklet, Money Makes the World Go Round, which is based on the Venerable Ledi Sayādaw's Manual of Donation (dānādidīpanī).

The duty of the donor is to maximise his/her benefits from giving alms, by giving well and reflecting wisely.

The duty of the recipient (the monk), is the reflect wisely on the use of requisites.
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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby puppha » Fri Jun 28, 2013 12:19 pm

Hi Kabouterke,

Just my 2p worth. I live in the UK, and I noticed that lay people do their best to prepare the finest food for monks, and that tend to be quite rich food with a lot of fat and sugar.
Initially, I was also preparing nice food, like lasagna, etc. But after a while I decided to prepare salads or vegetables. There will always be tasty rich food from other lay people, so the monks will have the choice. At least, I know I offered some healthy options!

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Re: Dana: What type of food do you give to monks?

Postby Kabouterke » Sun Jun 30, 2013 1:14 pm

Thanks for the feedback, everyone!
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