Cultivating Merit Through Generosity
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There are many ways you can assist in the running of the temple, for instance offering meals to the monks, offering donations, volunteering to help with gardening, cleaning, driving, painting, office work, teaching English or whatever your particular skill or talent happens to be
The Buddha talked about at least four benefits that come from offering meals to the monastic community, namely:
- Temples are completely reliant on donations from the general public. Without donations, temples would cease to exist. But when people who appreciate the work the temple does, out of gratitude want to give offerings to the temple, it helps the monastic community to have the strength and health to go about their daily duties of study and outreach of peace values, which indirectly brings benefit to the wider world community
- It helps the giver of the meal to store up merit or spiritual wealth so that they will be well provided for in this lifetime and the next
- It is a way to dedicate merit for loved ones of yours who have passed away, so that they may have a better and happier state of existence wherever they have been reborn
- It is a good example which helps to instil in the minds of members of the younger generation who see you offering the meal of valuing generosity – so that when they grow up they will want to perform generosity in the same way. Witnessing adults who practise generosity is like a gift to those young people of the pathway to heaven and Nirvana for their future.
For the Thai and Asian community, making donations to the temple is usually so commonplace that no real explanation is necessary. Most of the core supporters of the meals in the temple are Thai restaurants or professional cooks with years of experience in Thai restaurants. Usually they adopt a day of the week to offer a meal for the whole temple (say every Tuesday lunchtime) and provide ready cooked meals fresh to the table of the monks (usually 5-6 persons) and the lay community (another 5-6 persons) together with themselves and however many other people come along with them on the day. They do not offer a single dish, but usually rice + five different curries + soup + dessert + fruit. All of these are freshly cooked and ready to eat (e.g. the fruit is already peeled and chopped, the curries are warm and decanted into serving bowls). The sponsor of the meal either prepares the food at their restaurant and warms it up at the temple or buys the ingredients and cooks it at the temple. As you can see, offering a whole meal is quite a major undertaking. It can take several hours to prepare and roughly £50 in ingredients alone (it usually works out at about £10 per monk). It is not the duty of monks to be fussy about their food, but generally speaking, food offered should be of a professional standard (our temple is subject to hygiene inspections from time to time!) and as the majority of the monks are Thai, Thai, Chinese or Japanese food normally goes down the best.
For all the good reasons to be generous mentioned above, increasingly the temple has had enquiries from non-Thais interested to offer meals at the temple. Given that relatively few are professional cooks, our advice for starting out is to keep it simple. Maybe aim to offer one or two dishes to supplement a meal of rice and curries etc. offered by the regular daily sponsor. You might have a particular dish which you know you are particularly skilled at making. The food does not need to be vegetarian or Asian – it could even be a cake, fruit or soup. It should be ready to eat – and the temple can provide the crockery for serving. If in doubt about how the monks are likely to respond to what you are about to offer (most sponsors of food feel gratified if the plate comes back empty) check with the volunteers in the kitchen in advance. If you want, perhaps attend a meal offered by someone else first (yes, join us for lunch!) to give yourself some idea about the sort of things people offer.
Simpler still, you can offer any of the supplies listed on the left – which the temple is always running out of. These can be offered before or after a mealtime or at any other convenient time of the today.
As for the basics, the food is offered at 11.30 a.m.. If the food you have chosen to offer is ready made and just needs warming (e.g. pizza or soup) you should turn up at around 11.00 a.m.. If you need to cook the food from ingredients at the temple, you might need to arrive as early as 9.30 a.m.