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The beggar’s bowl

Section titled The beggar’s bowl

The beggar’s bowl is a tradition found, at least, in Buddhism and the Sufi sect of Islam. I lean more toward Buddhism rather than the Kashkul of the Sufi tradition.

The term beggar comes with baggage, however, I think we all participate in this tradition depending on how abstract you’re able to go. Two considerations:

  1. Money is food.
  2. Don’t beg tomorrow’s meal today.

Around 2008 I had a roommate. His family was from Laos. One day we talked about a tradition in his family; going to Laos for a year to be a Buddhist monk. Shave your head and eyebrows.

In the morning you would go into the community and beg for food until noon. Some people would give the food with no other benefit than charity. Others would trade for counsel, a lesson, or labor. Others still would refuse. Once midday came, everyone would go back to temple, cook the food, and eat. The rest of the day was for meditation.

My roommate said he was considering it. I loved the story and he invited me along saying, “You’re more of a monk than I am.” I didn’t take the trip, unfortunately. He, on the other hand, moved to Laos. Started teaching. Met his wife. They have a child.

The you’re more of a monk than I am struck me particularly funny because it made me think of the first time I heard of the beggar’s bowl.

It was around 2005. I was attending college and dating a woman who brought it up in the context of me “wandering from place to place, talking to people, and carrying around my beggar’s bowl.”

These experiences got me thinking about the idea of employment and the idea of “will work for food.” All money exchange is eventually exchanged for food. In this sense we are all wandering around with our beggar’s bowls trading service in the hopes of getting enough food to survive and possibly thrive. Further, we’re all living paycheck to paycheck.