The collecting of alms dates back to the earliest times and continues in many spiritual traditions to this day.
In Buddhism, this practice was an opportunity for monks, who renounced worldly possessions, to receive their daily meals from villagers in exchange for teaching the Dharma.
Although such spiritual begging did not guarantee the success in obtaining food or monetary donations, it was always an opportunity to deepen relationships with communities and enable lay people to create good karma through donations and listening to Dharma teachings.
In Japanese Zen schools, the practice of begging is called Takuhatsu (托鉢) and is associated with Zen Buddhist monks and nuns roaming the city streets, standing on street corners, or visiting various businesses and residences, where they chant sutras in exchange for donations .
All with the aim of generating merit.
And while donations play an important role, especially for small Zen monasteries that are not subsidized by the state, Takuhatsu goes beyond collecting alms and should be viewed more as a practice aimed at cultivating generosity and gratitude. As a way of bringing Dharma into communities and enabling lay people to touch higher levels of their own nature through encounters with bearers of spiritual teachings.
Rev Nakagaki, New York Buddhist Church
Zen Buddhism, as a spiritual school, is relatively young in Western culture and, unless associated with a Japanese religious center, is usually not funded by either the local or the Japanese government. As a result, Western Zen centers and monasteries usually rely entirely on the support of their students, visitors, and the Western Sangha.
Also, donations are collected in a way that is closer to the local culture, which is why traditional Takuhatsu is rarely seen in the west. As a result, the essence of the practice of Dana (generosity), which underlies Takuhatsu, is often seen only from a Western perspective that has been taught to view giving and taking through the lenses of conditioning.
But this very difficulty also offers the possibility of spiritual development, if the dana practice is integrated into regular Zen training, if its purity is maintained, and if its full understanding is insisted upon.
TAKUHATSU AND GIVER
Donations to monks help givers (lay people) to overcome cultural conditioning and Ego that affect perceptions of Buddhist monks and their alms-giving rounds. Indeed, in different cultures, monks can either be idealized or viewed as useless members of society. Dana practice helps to overcome these impulses, thereby opening the way to the cultivation of unconditional generosity. As a result, there is also an understanding that the giver is actually on both sides - while monks, with intense spiritual cultivation contribute to raising the level of collective consciousness, lay people also contribute to the same purpose by providing them with material support .
TAKUHATSU AND RECEIVER
Receiving donations helps monks to assess the level of their own Ego whose structures have been built during cultural conditioning. Namely, asking for alms can trigger the ego and cause emotions such as shame and pride or even envy, expectation, anger, irritation or greed. Dana practice, however, transforms every receiving into a powerful tool that weakens the Ego and raises the monk's consciousness. But the practice also helps the giver (lay person) to see that during his act of giving he is also the recipient, where his Ego is receding to make way for growing consciousness. As a consequence, the mutual dependence of the giver and receiver is seen, and insight attained that tangibles and intangibles flow into each other simultaneously and in both directions. This, in turn, helps cultivate deep gratitude and respect, regardless of which end of the receiving or giving the person is on.