The monks were offered two meals a day, at about 5:45 AM, and shortly after 10:00 AM. Monks, of course, cannot eat after noon, except for certain things that have medicine or tonic status. In the traditional alms round (pindapata, which colorfully means "dropping a lump [of something into the alms bowl]" monks leave the monastery to walk into a village and them from house to house. This can be seen every day in any village in Myanmar. However, this does not work so well for a large monastery with 400 – 600 monks and no substantial village in the immediate vicinity. Instead, lay people come to the monastery to make offerings, and also the local staff prepares food supported by lay offerings, and the pindapata is staged at the monatery. This is a common arrangement, and in fact before I ordained I was able, with our itinerant pilgrimage group, to participate from the other perspective. There is a special building, Pindapata Hall, constructed with this in mind.
Otherwise the form of the alms round is very traditional. Monks wear their robes covering both shoulders (an art I will describe in a later post), each with alms bowl in hand. What the bhikkhu actually carries is a rather large bowl, a lid for the bowl, a covered cop and a cloth napkin. The lid was added sometime after the Buddha; I can imagine to scenarios that might have motivated this, both involving birds.
One walks through a gauntlet of people offering food. The first generally offers rice. Poper deportment is to focus on the food and avoid eye contact or any kind of interaction, including no acknowledgement of thanks. Most of the offerings go in the big bowl; the bhikkhu just lifts the lid to the side: noodles, sauces, beans, cooked vegetables, … However, by leaving the lid, turned upside down to form a tray, on the big bowl, one can receive something in the lid which you might have trouble envisioning as part of the stew accumulating in the big bowl: mango slices, cookies, soap, razor blades (some non-food items are also occasionally offered), candles. The napkin is necessary to hold under the big bowl in case someone offers a soup or sauce that is really hot. The cup stays in the lid and is filled with a drink, generally coffee or tea. Once we received milk shakes. One must be very mindful in carrying the bowl.
The electricity just went out (for the fourth time today). I'm running on UPS, so I am going to go ahead and send this.