December 8 : The Heart Connection Between Monastics and Laypeople

The practice of doing alms rounds set up a relationship of dependency between the sangha and the lay community in which the lay community provided food and the sangha gave Dharma teachings. We try to duplicate this economy of generosity in a more modern context at the Abbey. People bring food when they come for retreats, but the rest of the time our food is provided by a group of dedicated volunteers in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene who call us once a week and ask us what we need. We tell them what we need and they do the shopping, though we never call them to make requests. Supporters who live far away can also send money for food to our local supporters.

We have made a Dharma practice out of the food offering to remind ourselves of our interdependence and help donors create great merit. Our donors asked us to write a verse they could recite before shopping, which reads: “Offering food sustains the lives of others. I delight in providing physical nourishment to the sangha knowing that their practice and the teachings they give as a result of it will nourish my heart and the hearts of many others. I will have a calm heart and mind while mindfully selecting appropriate items to offer and will have a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that the sangha appreciates this offering. We have a heart connection, and together we will create peace in a chaotic world.”

When the donors arrive, we put a portion of the food in a big alms bowl from Thailand and they recite, sometimes holding back tears: “With a mind that takes delight in giving, I offer these requisites to the sangha and the community. Through my offering may they have the food they need to sustain their Dharma practice. They are genuine Dharma friends who encourage, support, and inspire me along the path. May they become realised practitioners and skilled teachers who will guide us on the path. I rejoice at creating great positive potential by offering to those intent on virtue, and dedicate this for the awakening of all sentient beings. Through my generosity, may we all have conducive circumstances to develop heartfelt love, compassion, and altruism for each other, and to realise the ultimate nature of reality.”

Then the sangha community recites in return: “Your generosity is inspiring and we are humbled by your faith in the Three Jewels. We will endeavour to keep our precepts as best as we can, to live simply, to cultivate equanimity, love, compassion, and joy, and to realise the ultimate nature so that we can repay your kindness in sustaining our lives. Although we are not perfect, we will do our best to be worthy of your offering. Together we will create peace in a chaotic world.” The Abbey has never had to buy any food since it opened in 2003 and we are very grateful to all our donors for their amazing generosity.

“365 Gems of Wisdom” e-book is out now!