22 April 2008

Letter 1.16

…Essentially the Buddhist Order is supported just like any church, shul, etc. - by donations from the laity. Since monks don’t (or, at least, ought not to) handle money there are a few differences. But the Hermitage is supported by a committee (in Colombo) which makes all the arrangements needed. They fix dates on which supporters (called dáyaká - a=plural) can bring us a prepared meal – there is apparently something of a waiting list - and in addition provides salary for the servants, pays taxes, provides whatever else is needed – i.e. postage, fuel, books, etc. When a dána (offered meal) is given - which tends to be an elaborate affair and, curiously, always includes a dish of curds and honey - often some small item will be given each monk - as, for example, a towel, a bar of soap, a spool of thread (pillows are an unexpectedly popular item), simple medicines, etc. (There are numerous restrictions on giving robes to individuals but none on giving to the Order so robes, along with other items, are given to the Order and when a monk needs something of this sort it is given to him from 'stock').
In addition to this if a layman wishes he may offer to support a monk individually - if a monk wishes to live in seclusion other than at a hermitage or meditation center he almost certainly needs this - as does Ñánasumána, the other American monk, who lives alone in the jungle - and those monks who cater to the Laity - i.e., who function as priests rather than as monks - often have such dáyaká, after some years. (I have two dáyaká myself - one in Calcutta and one in Ceylon - but that’s only because of status involved in supporting a Western monk – native monks have a more difficult time of it.) Since monks are not allowed to ask for anything until they have been invited to do so (with the immediate family excepted) this system is necessary. So my simple needs are more than satisfied (if I sunk all the soap I've stored up into the lagoon the suds would clean out San Francisco bay) - with the exception of a few products not available here or many of inferior quality…

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