Bin Tha Bhat: Giving Alms to the Monks of Chiang Mai

 

      I woke up very early the first morning we were in Chiang Mai.  We were lucky to stay in a boutique hotel right in the main street that leads to the main gate of the Old City of Chiang Mai, Tae Pae Road.  This is the street where the Buddhist Monks walk early in the morning for “Bin tha bhat” (บิณฑบาตร) ,  the daily practice of giving alms to monks. This  practice has been on-going for centuries in this same street.  So we were extremely privileged to experience this tradition!

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      The giving of alms start early, at around 5:00 am.  The Monks carry their wooden bowl with both hands, close to their body.  This is where people put their offerings (usually food) to the Monks, a tradition believed by Theravadan Buddhists to be a means of earning merit that may lead to a better next life or lessen the number of times they must be reincarnated before achieving nirvana.

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      By keen observation, I noticed that Thai women kneel while Thai men stand when giving their offerings.  I also read somewhere that Thai women should take extra care not to touch the monks, or any part of their clothing or effects, including the rim of their alms pots when depositing food, as monks who have contact with women must go through a purification process. But I saw some who actually helped the monks transfer the goods into a grocery bag when their wooden bowls were full.  Hmmmm, signs of the modern times perhaps?

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      This is what makes travelling fascinating for me … observing firsthand local traditions and appreciating them up close.  Although Chiang Mai is a top tourist destination in Thailand, this ancient Buddhist practice of Bin Tha Bhat remains un-touristy here (only locals participate), unlike in Luang Prabang or even in Bangkok where tourists are made to buy stuff which they offer to the monks.  In Chiang Mai, the tradition maintains its’ sacredness.

 

 

 

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