As people in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving, it is Alms Offering season in this part of the world.
Here in Cambodia, more than 96 percent of the population practice Buddhism. Bon Kathin is the feast in this season during which lay Buddhists offer cloth for the monastic monks to make their robes. Besides cloth, alms may include other items such as umbrella, hygiene supplies, etc. and funding to sustain the monastic community and the temple. Bon Kathin comes at the end of the rainy season, after the monks have spent three months inside to study and meditate.
Recently, my friend Niza invited me to celebrate Bon Kathin with her family. In the morning we gathered in the main hall of a local temple for prayers and fellowship with others. Monks and the congregation exchanged bows and said grace before sharing a communal meal. In the afternoon those who were able, took off their shoes to walk barefoot out of respect, and carried their alms offering on their heads in a procession from the main hall around the temple ground to a smaller chapel. The monks led the congregation in prayers of thanksgiving and blessing for all.
This beautiful celebration reminded me of a related, though informal, alms offering moment I witnessed some time ago
At the Phnom Penh Diocesan Community Health Services, where I used to work, most of the patients and staff were Buddhist. But I remember meeting a Catholic woman, who had come with her little granddaughter from the Battambang diocese for a medical check-up. The two often attended Mass at the church next door to the health center.
During the dry season, the Buddhist monks walk the neighborhoods to receive daily alms. One morning the granddaughter was at the front gate as a monk walked his round. She engaged in conversation with the monk and then spontaneously made an alms offering to him.
The young girl was free from any formal rituals or barriers of adults. The monk as well as a woman who was passing by perceived her freedom; their facial expressions spoke volume. The young girl had some small change for snacks, but she offered all without hesitation. How awe-inspiring!
My friend Niza is physically blind, but it was she who opened my eyes to see the beauty of her faith tradition. The little girl’s alms offering to the monk was so remarkable—kind and without fanfare. Both Niza and the little girl have been profound examples and practitioners of loving-kindness to me. Their Alms Offerings have brought new meaning to my Thanksgiving.
Photos by Hang Tran