Reaping Merits Again and Again

Venue: SBS
Special occasion: Visit by Samnak Sambodhi devotees from Kepong

Normally on weekdays we go to the Hokkien Cemetery Pavilion for pindacara, starting our walk down the SBS hill at about 7.15am, to collect our food, walk back up again, and have our lunch before noon. [Note: Most people understand pindapata to mean begging for alms. Strictly speaking however, pindapata means “alms food” while pindacara means “walking for alms”.] It is an age-old tradition for monks to walk for alms. Although we are not following it to the letter, since our pindacara is prearranged according to a fixed plan, benefits still accrue:

  • The daily walk down and up the hill is good exercise for us monks, who do not normally do manual work, to keep us physically fit.
  • The daily event of pindacara at the same place is a means to spread the Dhamma to more people who are curious when they pass the place and see the daily routine.
  • Instead of having cooking done in SBS for the monks, we go down to collect our food, taking only what we need. After that, those devotees present help themselves to the remainder. In this way, any excess food benefits others and there is no unnecessary wastage.

Recently we have added another routine to our usual Sunday pindacara. Normally, we have pindacara in TIMS at 11am, after which we give a Dhamma talk in Hokkien. Now, before we do this, we go for an earlier round of pindacara in the morning markets and hawker centres in and around Taiping at about 8am. This morning we went to the Pokok Assam market. This is because of two main reasons:

  • Begging for alms gives the public an opportunity to do dana and reap merits.
  • It serves to educate people on the proper way of giving offerings to monks.

I’m sure you are all aware of people dressed in monk’s robes plying their rounds in the markets and accepting money in their bowls. In Malaysia, the generosity of the Chinese and Hindu communities is such that it has encouraged more such ‘monks’ to earn money in this way, including those from neighbouring countries. This is so in spite of negative reports in the newspapers about these exploiters. People continue to give, thinking it brings merits, and the exploiters continue to make their rounds.

Last year, one of our monks used to go to the markets for pindacara every morning. Consequently, this discouraged the exploiters from presenting themselves. Then he left for Myanmar to further his own practice and these exploiters have reappeared.

When we go on pindacara rounds in the markets we are accompanied by laymen who will explain to people who try to put money in our bowls that monks do not accept money, but they may buy some food to offer. So we are actually giving people practical education of the right way to do dana. However, these exploiters do not give up easily and it seems that now they go from house to house to collect their alms money. There was an incident in which someone offered a bun to one of these exploiters who came to her house. Later she found the bun in her dustbin!

Some people who are new to Buddhism may wonder what we do with so much food. Well, apart from the two main reasons I spoke of just now, I would like to quote what the Dalai Lama said on the subject. He said that monks do not need so much food but people need the merits.

It happens all over the world – monks receive more than they need. The high-ranking monks in Myanmar and Thailand use the excess donations to build hospitals, schools and other such projects. On our part, after taking what we need, we give the rest to the orphanage.

I would like to refer to a sutta on this subject from the Samyutta Nikaya. It is the Udaya Sutta in the Brahmana Samyutta collection. In it, we are told that the Buddha went to the house of a brahmin named Udaya on his early morning alms-round. The brahmin was happy to see him and put food in the Buddha’s bowl. On the second occasion, Udaya repeated his offering. On the third time, he was annoyed when he saw the Buddha and commented, “This pesky ascetic Gotama keeps coming again and again.”

The Buddha replied with the following verse:

Again and again they sow the seed
Again and again the sky god sends down rain
Again and again the ploughmen plough the fields
Again and again rain comes to the kingdom.

Again and again the mendicants beg
Again and again the donors give
When donors have given again and again
Again and again they go to heaven.

Again and again the dairy folk draw milk
Again and again the calf goes to the mother
Again and again one wearies and trembles
Again and again the dolt enters the womb.

Again and again one is born and dies
Again and again they take one to the cemetery.

When one has obtained the Path
That leads to no more renewed existence.
Having become broad in wisdom
One is not born again and again!

When the brahmin heard this he was pleased and took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha for life.

This is why we go for alms-round again and again. So I hope you will also come to SBS again and again. SBS is a monk-training centre. We believe that there are many Buddhists in Malaysia who need well-qualified monks to guide them and there is a shortage of them in Malaysia.

Monks do not only give you a chance to gain merits. A monk who is properly trained and who understands and practises the Vinaya rules is a good field of merits, as opposed to one who is an impostor and exploits you for his own selfish ends. A monk depends on his supporters for his sustenance. His basic responsibility is to perfect his sila so that his supporters receive great merits. On top of this, when he purifies his mind through meditation, his field of merits is better. Then when he studies and gains knowledge, he can help devotees to put Buddhist principles into practice as well as teach them meditation. There are many temples around as well as monks to perform rites and rituals. Buddhists should not rest content on just rites and rituals but should learn more about Dhamma to improve their lives.

Here in SBS we are trying to train young people to fulfil these roles of the Sangha so that they can pass on the benefits to lay people.

Like you, Ven Balacitta, who is translating this talk into Cantonese for you, comes from Kepong. I hope when he is fully trained, he can go back to Kepong and fulfil the roles of the Sangha I have talked about. He can teach you the Dhamma in the language you can understand.

So I hope you will follow the Buddha’s advice to do merits again and again. Come back to SBS again and again.

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