A few people recently raised the question of what an appropriate offering for the temple alms bowl might be and I thought I might take the opportunity to mention a few things about that. First, the Dharma is offered freely at our temple and there is no charge for any of the temple events or services: that is the basic thing. Making offerings is a matter completely up to the individual involved.
In our practice from Japan, monks typically wear hats like the ones shown in the picture above and typically the hats are worn in such a way as to cover the face of the individual monk. This makes it hard for the individual monk to be recognized, but it also makes it difficult for the monk to recognize who is making the offering.
I was taught that the purpose of the way these hats are worn is to emphasize that, ideally, the offering is not a personal matter and to emphasize that the offering is made and received from a place of faith in the Three Treasures. Similarly, from our Chinese heritage, there are always little red envelopes next to the alms bowl at our temple which enable those who wish to make an offering to do so more or less anonymously.
Traditionally, monks on alms round will just walk, restrained in body and mind, in meditation, alms bowls extended, through an area, sometimes ringing a bell, to let people know that they are there but not accosting people in any way. Monks (and by extension, the temple) do their best to refrain from questioning the quality of the offerings made.
Also, the Buddha advised that monks receive offerings as a honey bee gathers nectar from flowers, never doing harm to the flower. I take this to mean that the temple should work hard to care for, and husband, the kind donations of people and this means that we need to avoid putting excessive expectations on donors or to use guilt or other emotional manipulation to lever donations from people.
Of course there is a practical dimension to offerings made to the temple; offerings make it possible for us to function as a temple and for people like me to live as monks. That dimension needs to be cared for. We try to keep you apprised of the state of the temple’s fiscal situation and trust that, in your wise discernment, you can recognize the cost of the things. (It is literally the case that I have no other source of income except what the temple, and by extension, you all, give. And I should say that I am content and grateful to be able to live in this way.*)
We (the temple) try our best to live by the traditional intention of practice, accepting what is put into the alms bowl without judgement. I and the temple view making offerings as a spiritual matter. We encourage people to give what they feel is best, based on their perception of what is good to do and what their means allow. It is my intention to do my best to not second guess another person’s offering should I notice what they might put in the alms bowl or how they choose to make offerings to the temple: the longer I am alive, the harder it is for me to be certain that I know what it is like to be someone else.
Each of the different aspects of practice are for our own internal use; generosity, as a practice, is no different. We each have the opportunity to ask ourselves “would generosity be a good thing for me to work on?” If the answer to that question is some kind of affirmative, we have the opportunity (maybe even responsibility to ourselves) to work out how we want to practice it. Giving to the temple is just one possibility.
(*I am able to take advantage of the Oregon Health Plan which is a kind of income for which I am grateful.)