Laypersons’ Duties

Because of the nature of the vinaya, or the rules of discipline all monks are sworn to follow, the monks are dependent upon laypeople for daily necessities – food, clothing, shelter, and medicine.  In Burma, monks traditionally obtain their food through one of two ways: the first option is to perform an alms round and go from door to door with a bowl, asking for food.  The second and more common version is that people bring food and money directly to the monastery.  One couple that I talked to said that they tried to donate to a monastery in Burma, but the line was so long that they were unable to make the donation.  At Sitagu Dhamma Vihara, a weekly schedule posted in the kitchen dictates which family comes to prepare food for the monks on a daily basis.  The kitchen is alway busy around 11 AM, when women prepare food for the monks who are to eat before noon.  Monks are not allowed to eat food unless it is directly offered to them by laypersons.  Instead of offering each of the individual small plates, which are numerous, laypersons lift the entire table in order to uphold the vinaya.

The monks are also dependent on laypeople to provide financial contributions to cover mortgage payments and costs of medicine.  Several posters are hung throughout the monastery with bright orange dots on them, indicating whether monthly donors have contributed their promised amount that month.  Dhamma talks and celebrations also serve as occasions where laypeople can make contributions.  Robes as clothing are mostly dedicated at the khatina ceremony, but they can also be offered at dhamma talks and at special ceremonies requested by members.

Aung Koe says, “We don’t have paid employees.  All of them are volunteers, so nobody gets paid whatsoever.”  So why is it that people spend time and money to maintain the monastery?  There seem to be two main reasons why people contribute so generously.  The first is that supporting the sangha, or community of monks, is a central tenet of Theravada Buddhism.  Through supporting the monks, members can build merit that will contribute to good kamma (Sanskrit: karma) that will help them to eventually break the cycle of rebirth.  The second is that the monastery serves as a cultural center, providing a space to share and eat Burmese food, speak in Burmese, and build a community.  The monastery cares for its members, even providing a yearly flu shot clinic for those who do not have insurance.  Koe hopes that in the future, they will also be able to provide Burmese language classes and have a shop with traditional Burmese wares.