Offering Wisely to the Sangha

Venue: SBS
Special occasion: Kathina Day

Today is Kathina Day in SBS and the Abbot addresses a huge crowd of devotees comprising those from Singapore, the Klang Valley, Kota Bahru and other such places as well as local devotees.

Sadhu to those of you who have come all the way from Singapore and other different parts of Malaysia.

We follow a new concept in the observance of Kathina here. Besides the offering of the kathina cloth and requisites, beginning from last year, we have also incorporated an hour of education for the public — delivered in an entertaining and meaningful way. This year’s kathina sponsors, Buddhist Fellowship of Singapore and Bandar Utama Buddhist Society presented educational songs and a sketch respectively.

Some people may wonder if it’s appropriate to have music and songs in such an important ceremony like the Kathina. According to the commentaries, dhammagita — songs connected to the Dhamma — are allowed, but not gitadhamma, which are just songs without any Dhamma content. Music and playacting are acknowledged as effective tools for education.

Today’s mixture of Buddhist hymns, songs and a meaningful as well as creative sketch, which many of you appreciate, are all connected to the Dhamma.

One way of meaningful communication is through plays and songs as compared to reading dhamma books and listening to tapes.

The sketch by BUBS touched on a very important issue in Malaysia concerning the image of Buddhism in the eyes of the public. The subject has been in the air for a long time but till now the issue has not been solved. The sketch highlights the problems faced by Buddhism, caused by people in monk’s robes who take advantage of the public’s generosity and go around collecting money in public places. It is one way of introducing to people the problems faced by Buddhism as well as teaching people the proper way of offering food to monks on almsround. It is all the more effective because it was performed in the Hokkien dialect. Malaysian Buddhists should remember that a person does not become an arahant overnight just by shaving his head and putting on yellow robes.

The inherent generosity of Malaysian Buddhists among the Chinese and Indian communities is being exploited by locals and foreigners dressed in yellow robes, irrespective of whether or not they are real monks. People are motivated to give because of the belief that dana to the Sangha brings a lot of merits. However the magnitude of the merits depends a lot on the recipient. If he is virtuous and has high spiritual attainment, then the merits are great.

As the master-of-ceremonies said, SBS monastics have been frequenting the markets and hawker centres in and around Taiping giving practical lessons on the correct way to give offerings. On such almsrounds, we are accompanied by a group of kappiyas who stand near us to reject money which is offered and who advise the would-be-donor to buy something to offer instead.

An interesting incident happened last week when a man came up to us with a few ringgit notes in his hand to offer. When the kappiyas advised him to buy something to offer instead, he protested and said that he could give more in cash than in kind, as buying something would not incur as much expenditure from him as compared to giving in cash.

Another thing that I noticed was the overwhelming response from people. We just stood in a few spots and people came with packets of foodstuff, cooked food and canned food. In spite of seeing the amount of food given to us, they still continued to give. Do they, I wonder, stop to think, “How can three monks consume so much?” Are they giving wisely? Therefore, it’s no wonder that some people prefer to give money to monks to buy what they lack, which seems more logical.

There are actually two issues here:

  • Why don’t monks accept money since it involves less trouble for the people?
  • Monks are not able to eat so much anyhow.

I would like to address the second question first. The main purpose of the almsround is to educate the people on the proper things to offer. This is to try and redeem the bad image of monks caused by ‘bogus’ monks. After we have collected the food, the dana group will keep some to be re-offered on successive days. Other food is given to the needy.

Now let me return to the first issue: why don’t monks accept money since it’s more convenient to people? The Buddha prohibited monks from accepting money, but allowed them to ask for allowable requisites from kappiyas who have been entrusted with the money. The master-of-ceremonies led you all in the recitation to offer potential requisites donated today. These potential requisites are obtainable from the angpows entrusted to the kappiyas. The angpows are not donated to the monks, but the monks can request for allowable requisites from the kappiyas entrusted with the angpows.

Thus this explains why we have to go through this procedure.

Sadhu to all of you who have donated in cash and kind, as well as to those in the organising committee. On behalf of the Sangha and all devotees, I share our merits with our deceased relatives, our guardian devas, the guardian devas of SBS, of this locality and of the world, as well as with all other beings.

May all beings rejoice in this sharing of merits and therefore be happy, well and peaceful.

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