The Food of Kindnessby
My alms bowl is central to my life. A symbol of the Theravada Buddhist monastic tradition in which I trained, it is the soul of my mendicancy — coming empty-handed before the laity to receive material nourishment and responding to their generosity. Sometimes that means reciprocating with a teaching from the Buddha, sometimes with a blessing chant or simply an expression of gratitude and kindness.
I am a beggar, and I must also be true. It is not easy to be a true beggar. I have to be worthy to be fed by the kindness of others and have all my needs provided. This way is rare and precious, as are acts of generosity in a world so driven by greed and selfishness.
Cultivating the spiritual path with integrity demands much of a beggar, primarily a faithful allegiance to the Vinaya, the code by which I live, as well as a sincere appreciation and respect for my supporters, their devotion and hard work to obtain, prepare and bring offerings, even at considerable sacrifice. It also calls for contentment with little — a simplicity of being and a commitment to renounce on many levels.
These qualities develop through a vigilance of heart that is difficult to practise in a large, well-funded institution. In those days when my monastic requisites, especially meals, were complete, assured and generally abundant, I used self-abstinence to remind myself of the value of all that was given to us. On occasion, we also went on tudong or walked for alms in the nearby villages, accepting whatever we received as our meal for the day. But these were temporary privations — not a sustained way of life. They bore the flavor of heroic adventure but could hardly reflect the daily grind of spiritual endeavour.
It was only after I left the mother monastery to live on my own in New Zealand, a non-Buddhist country, that I came to know true choicelessness, at times facing physical hunger or a powerless isolation. This propelled me into a level of faith not demanded of me before, especially on days when I received very little, if anything, that would serve as a meal.
And so I learnt to meditate on the emptiness of my bowl... more ->http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/medhanandi/foodofkindness.html