Tuesday, 14 October 2014

"The Nuns' Alms Round: A Good Time to Practice Equanimity"



The following is a beautiful reflection from a Chinese meditator who practiced in the tradition of S.N. Goenka before coming to Burma. After taking just one ten-day course in Malaysia, she found herself with the overwhelming desire to seek a life of purity, even if only temporarily, where she could devote herself to spiritual practice. She left her job in finance in China, and made her way to Burma after taking a second course at the Chinese Vipassana center. After staying at Shwe Oo Min monastery briefly in Yangon, she took robes as a nun at the highly esteemed That Kya nunnery. In the stunning narrative that follows, she describes how her mindful practice has informed the alms rounds taken as a Buddhist nun. Her description offers yet another example of the profound Dhamma experience that await those foreign yogis who come to the Golden Land for serious practice. 

A photo of the ordination of the Chinese meditator/nun at That Kya Nunnery, which took place in October 2014

"I learnt from Venerable Goenkaji's discourse that when the monks or nuns go alms rounds, it is good time to practice equanimity. Whatever they get, they need to keep equanimous.

Suddenly I got chance to go alms rounds. Oh I felt excited not because I intended to practice equanimity but to experience a totally new thing. Not many can do it in this life.

My friend Ma Rupasiri borrowed nun's umbrella and alms bowl for me. I borrowed Ma Devamani's longyi which was made in Vietnam with the upper end tied by an elastic rope. This was very helpful for a new longyi dresser. After breakfast, we started in queen well-armed. :)

Just when we got out of the gate, Ma Rupasiri following behind me murmured to me Ma Khemartheri don't make friction sound between the slippers and the ground. Oh actually I could not move fast wearing longyi. The longyi was too long and tight to make a big step. But I got to be careful not to make that sound and tried my best catch up the queue.

It seemed we walked for a long distance till we got our first alms offerings. I saw monks holding their bowls walking on the road. Most of them are very slim. Some monks went alms round in group. Some others did it alone. I felt respect for them from the bottom of my heart. Every time we received givings, Sayalays chanted paritta to send merits to the giver for Dana. Most of the offerings were raw rice. Sometimes people offer cash, candies, cakes or other requisites, such as soaps. I kept high enthusiasm along all the way and observed my mind to some high extent. Well I have to say that I recognized myself as a new person with some evil wills and shameful prejudice. There is a big 'self' related to every thought flow. Especially during the first time, I judged all the way. The mind was like a naughty baby. It is swift and conditioned in many negative ways. I am lucky in that I started to learn mindful meditation. No matter what happens, just observe it. If I took all the ridiculous thoughts as 'my', I guess I would not want to go alms round again!

I paid attention to how much rice people offered and labeled with' less' or 'more'. Also when people donated cash, I noticed the denomination or sometimes when donator gave every nun cash, I thought this man is so generous! Sometimes we waited at the gate and the householder just sit in the yard, she did not move. Oh in my mind' she does not move'! ....When we came back to the nunnery the first day, I was told that all donations except for rice and money belong to you now. Oh that was a big surprise. I thought we were supposed to hand in all donations. So the second day when going alms round, I was thinking 'why no people offer cakes today'. But I found I did not care about the rice and cash as much as the first day. And the cake relevant thought came to my mind once or twice. Then I did not pay much attention to the donations. It seems I began to feel grateful for their Dana. At my third time, when we got full bowl, I was thinking oh this is enough for one week. It was no easy to carry the donations with nuns special dress under big sun walking for hours. Sometimes I felt drowsy just following the queen moving without thinking too much. Or probably I did think a lot. Just the mind is too swift and subtle to see.

There were not only negative feelings or thoughts. Sometimes compassion arised when seeing poor families. Or I felt quite happy for little children who did Dana with the help go their parents. They are brought up at such a religious environment worth of veneration. I sincerely wished that they have a happy and peaceful life.

We stopped for twice or three times to unload the donations and gained some energy by enjoying the householder's traditional Desserts (juice in the afternoon). The golden hearted nuns took care of me as their baby. And they said so: I was like their daughter. :) 

There is no lacking of happiness and smiles here. We are happy nuns.
At this very moment, I feel gratitude to all givers. As Buddha's teaching shows we should recollect on the donations both when receiving it and using it. I hope I can be a better one. 

May all beings be happy. :)"