An American Abroad

Laos: Morning Alms-Giving

I had a long, late conversation about Buddhism with Manichan, the proprietress of the guesthouse where I was staying. She’s very devout, very sincere. Her face glowed as she spoke about the Buddha. She was a very good teacher and persuaded me and four other travelers to get up at 5:00 in the morning to witness the daily giving of alms to the monks.

And so it was that, bleary-eyed and uncaffeinated, the five of us found ourselves on the street that runs along the Mekong at about 5:35 to see a procession of monks troop by.

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A number of older women had laid prayer mats out on the sidewalk and were kneeling on them. They’d brought rattan containers of sticky rice, which they had presumably cooked themselves even earlier that morning. The monks all had large jars that rested in slings that went over one shoulder. As the monks passed by the women, each woman took some sticky rice with her fingers and placed some in each monk’s jar. The monks murmured something and then moved on to the next woman, who would add more rice, and so on.

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Manichan said that it is important that the women give the rice with their fingers, that the rice residue was a tactile reminder of the joy of giving.

We then shifted our location closer to the center of town, where a much larger group of monks, alms-givers and spectators had gathered.

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I couldn’t help but think of the monks I’d seen with Nikon DSLRs and Samsung phablets, but it was still a moving ceremony. I noticed, too, that some poor children trailed the monks, who gave some of their rice to them. Kind of a trickle-down charity.

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