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Why do people give food to Monks in Thailand? (alms giving)

Alms giving is one of the most common practices among Thai Buddhists. It’s a way to support the monks, who study and practice the Buddha’s teachings, by offering them food.

At the same time, we learn to give and to let go.

Alms Round

From dawn until around 7 o’clock, monks walk bare feet with their alms bowls in the area round the monastery. The most senior monks walk in the front of the line, while the juniors follow behind.

Monks don’t prepare their own meals. Monastics depend on the generosity of the lay community. As a result, any food is accepted by the monks.

Since rice is the most common Thai food, we normally offer the monks rice and other dishes.

In the north and northeastern provinces the rice is replaced with sticky rice.

Offering The Best Food

Alms offering to Buddhist monks in Thailand

Thais highly respect monks for their devotion to the Buddha’s teachings, that liberates us from suffering. After years of studies, the monks pass on the teachings to the lay community.

Consequently, Thai people always offer them the best food we have.

Those who have the time, cook rice and prepare food early in the morning.

When the rice is freshly cooked, we scoop some of it from the pot and put it aside for the monks.

This also applies to the other dishes that we have prepared, such as curries and deep-fried fish. We put a few portions aside in plastic bags for alms giving.

Fruits are also carefully selected for the monks.

Many Thais believe that they will be reborn with beautiful looks if they offer the nicest foods.

Giving Alms

Thais give food during alms round in Thailand

Devotees, whose houses are along the alms-round circuit, wait in front of their homes. Others, go to a spot along the road where the monks pass.

To indicate that you would like to offer food, remove your shoes, lower your upper body and put your palms together in front of your chest. In Thai, we call this hand gesture wai.

If the alms bowl is not full, the monks open the lid for you.

First we offer rice, followed by food, desserts, fruits and water or other drinks. If the bowl is full on the other hand, we put the offerings on the lid instead.

Some people also give a bouquet of flowers to put in front of the Buddha image at the temple.

Finally, we wai the monks, who often give a short blessing.

Contemporary Problems

It’s no surprise to anybody who has lived in Thailand that Thai food is very sweet!

This can be a problem for monks, since their alms bowl are often filled by well meaning people with sweets and deserts. It’s estimated that this has led to a third of monks being obese.

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