SIGNS OF CHANGE
Over the past few years monks and nuns from the western monasteries have begun to practice pindapata - walking for alms in local towns or villages. Some samanas describe how it feels to be living 'on the edge' in this way.
Ajahn Candasiri wrote from India:
|Ajahn Sucitto writes:|
The pain in my back is running down my leg like liquid fire. I keep easing it by relaxing the lumbar muscles, swivelling slightly and rotating my heel on the pavement. The concern that it not be seemly for a samana to be standing on the street in any posture, other than that of sentry duty, struggles with the pragmatism of doing the best that circumstances will currently allow. Tudong makes you pragmatic, and if the classical alms-round procedure that I learned two decades ago in Thailand has to be tweaked a little to suit what my body will allow, so be it. This is Britain - West Sussex to be precise - and the devotees are not flocking to cram rice and curries in my bowl. I have to stand, in a way that is evident but modest and undemanding - bowl covered to prevent people casually tossing coins into it - on the off-chance that someone will know, guess or inquire into the purpose of our presence.
On this tudong around West and East Sussex, Samanera Nipako and I are living on alms-food, frequently that which is spontaneously offered, on the streets that have never seen a samana. Seaford, Hailsham, Heathfield etc. The walking works up an appetite which however disappears beneath a mind-state of open faith. It is something that the mind has shifted into over years of alms-rounds in Thailand, Britain and India. It's not that I think anyone is going to give me food; it's just that the mind stops thinking. And also wonderfully, that my attention goes out in non-specific kindness to the many folk, here manifesting as shoppers on Haslemere High Street. To my mind this is the prime motivation for tudong and for alms-rounds. And it is achieved and surpassed in the one in ten-thousand moment when someone marches up illuminated with delight, and hastily pushes a pastry or a cake into my bowl. With three of those in an hour's alms-round, our physical needs are quenched in a flood of faith.
The street scenario is a gentle domestic comedy. One person in two hundred will make a brief connection to us, an inquiry maybe, or an offer of money. "I'm sorry, we don't accept money," says Nipako; people recoil, embarrassed or apologetic: "Well what are you collecting, then?" "Alms-food" "Oh..." Generally the inquirer will then shuffle off down the street. I wriggle surreptitiously with my back problem. But it actually seems to frighten people less if we do relax a little.
However today, now we are nearly back at Chithurst, samanera Nipako has a problem. Being a samanera he can, when needed, keep food overnight on behalf of a bhikkhu; and today he has a loaf of bread and some buns from yesterday. So he is wriggling with his own ache: should he be looking for alms-food if he already has some food? Because of this he's been disengaged and `not there' this morning. His apathy has made me feel a little irritated. This is not a shopping trip, as far as I am concerned, it is a sacred act. (But in a few weeks he will be taking bhikkhu ordination: he has to figure this one out for himself.) A woman stops and talks to me, a nurse. Some of our monks had visited a terminally ill patient of hers. She is interested in us, wants to get us something to eat. What food would we like?
She goes off to get us some cheese to go with the bread. Things open up; Nipako and I have a dispassionate exchange of contradictory views about this alms-round. For my part I think of the times when I would have to lug a heavy bowl of rice around a Thai market town, with people urging me to accept more so that they can feel they started the day with a meritorious deed; only to give all the food up to the temple boys when I returned to the monastery. This is important for lay people. Isn't it? I wouldn't have left Chithurst if I thought this was just about filling my belly. I feel the fire jumping in my leg, and a wave of despond.
The woman returns with an entire shopping bag full of food. Her unambiguous happiness as she hands it over: "I've got you a few things more than cheese; look here's some marmalade!" - pushes the pain away. We talk a little about the monastery and her patient, then she moves back into the street's stream. It's more than enough for the day. Thankfully I crouch down momentarily to ease my back, and then we can get walking. We give away all the food that we don't need to a local supporter in her baby-clothes shop and find somewhere where the threatening rain won't get us. Eating the meal digests the aches.