Luang Prabang & The Tradition of Alms-Giving

When our local guide, Mr. Chan,  said he would meet us the next day at 5:30 am to attend a monk ceremony, I really had no idea what to expect. What could possibly be going on in the small town of Luang Prabang at sunrise? He did tell us that he would be getting up at 4:30 am to begin making sticky rice and told us to dress as if we would be going to a temple.

So we met Mr. Chan just before sunrise to experience this ancient tradition of the Lao people.

Now, each day at 4:30 am the local lay Buddhist family will awake and begin the preparation of making sticky rice in their homes. At sunrise, a member of the family will gather with others on the streets of Luang Prabang for the giving ceremony. The locals kneel and show their respect to the monks by giving the rice as part of the monk’s daily meal. This ceremony is referred to as “alms giving”.

By giving food, the lay Buddhist believes that they will gain merit and it will improve their karma in life.  It is not an act of donation as many westerners believe.

Who are the Buddhist monks of Luang Prabang?

Lao Buddhism in the Theravada tradition has been around since the 7th century. The beliefs are tied to ancestral spirits, particularly in rural areas.

Buddhists of Luang Prabang are very devoted and almost every Lao man joins a monastery, or temple, for at least a short period of their lives for education and religious reasons. Many men become monks for the rest of their lives. The monks are highly respected members of the community.

What is the history of the Alms Giving Ceremony?

For over 600 years, locals have been waking up before dawn to begin preparations for the “tak bat” (alms giving ceremony). Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage City that is comprised of 58 adjacent villages of which 33 are part of the UNESCO town.

As the sun rises, the locals will take their place on the sidewalk to wait for the monks to begin their procession. As it begins, locals will put sticky rice in their “alms bowl” for contribution to part of the daily meal.

 

Best Way To Observe The Alms-Giving Ceremony As A Tourist:

  • only participate if you are genuinely interested.
  • remove your shoes
  • kneel
  • wear a scarf across your body off the left shoulder as a sign of respect
  • turn off your camera flash and take photos at a respectful distance
  • keep your phone on silent
  • don’t talk to the alms givers or monks
  • don’t touch the monks or get in their way
  • women must keep their heads lower than the monks at all times
  • bow your head to show respect to the monks

All in all, the morning was a moment that I stood in awe of the beautiful traditions of the local people of Luang Prabang.   We spent 4 days in this city in Laos.  We traveled the Mekong by boat, visited rural villages, temples, jungles and street markets.  This experience with the monks will remain with us for many years.

Each morning we are born again.  What we do today matters most.           Buddha

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