Bindabat – The Real Meaning Behind the Thai Buddhist Alms Round
by Hope Rehab Team
The Buddhist Practice of Bindabat
If you happen to be up and about in Thailand in the early morning (between 5am and 7am), you will almost certainly come across orange-robbed figures walking slowly carrying bowls. These are monks who are engaging in a practice called ‘Bindabat’ that dates all the way back to the time of the Buddha. They are collecting donations of food (tak bat) that they will then take back to the temple to eat. For many of the monks, this will be their only meal for the day.
‘Bhikkhu’ is the proper title for a fully-ordained monk in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, and it can be translated as meaning ‘one who lives on alms’. The idea is that by getting support from lay people (the community outside the temple), the monks will not need to work. This means they can then focus all of their attention on their spiritual practices in pursuit of enlightenment. As well as offering food, lay people also provide other essentials such as clothing, medicine, and give donations to pay for the upkeep of temples.
How Does Bindabat Benefit the People Providing Alms?
It is easy to understand how the monks benefit from being supported, but what is in it for those providing the alms? Well, it is actually a situation that benefits both parties. Because the monks can focus all their energies on spiritual practices, it allows them to gain insight and wisdom that they can then share with the lay people. The temples provide regular dharma (Buddhist teachings) talks and other opportunities for the local community to progress spiritually, and it is also common to go speak with a monk when looking for advice on personal matters.
So, providing alms is a way for lay people to show gratitude for the teachings they get from the monks. This works out well because most people don’t have enough time to devote to a serious meditation practice, so it is like the bhikkhu are doing it on their behalf.
Bindabat and Paramita
The word ‘paramita’ can be translated as ‘perfection’. It refers to noble qualities that people can develop that will eventually lead to them becoming enlightened beings. If lay members of the community don’t have the time to gain insight through practices like meditation, they can instead just focus on developing some of these qualities that include:
Living a simple life (e.g. not controlled by greed)
The ability to be resolute (determined)
It is a common Buddhists belief that it is possible to develop these perfections over many lifetimes, so by practicing things like generosity in this lifetime, they are making progress towards the final goal of enlightenment. Providing alms to the monks can be one way of doing this.
Giving Alms as a Way to Make Merit in This Life
The Thai term ‘tam bun’ means to make merit. This is tied in with the Buddhist understanding of karma. If you do good things like practicing generosity, it is like planting a seed that will later grow into something beneficial. In other words, if you do good things, good things will start to happen to you.
I think most of us recognize that we benefit from being generous – it makes us feel good. This alone is a fantastic reason to do it.
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