Monks on Hollywood Boulevard

Don’t come to my part of Hollywood to eat unless you like Thai Food. I mean, really like it. Because that’s all we have now. Five solid blocks of Thai restaurants. I haven’t counted them but there must be at least 25. Maybe more. Don’t get me wrong, I like Thai food, but I like variety too. Taco Bell moved out several years ago. Maybe that was a public service. There’s a Thai place there now. Sizzler left last summer. The salad bar was pretty good. It’s standing empty at the present time, but I am laying odds as to what it turns into. And the last bastion of Americana, Daily Donuts (run by a Thai couple) has been replaced with, guess what?

Well, this is Thai Town after all, but it’s also kind of overkill, if you ask me. And no one has. The epicenter is a strip mall where the aforementioned donut shop was, and there used to be a handy Laundromat, too. Now it is a strip mall with a Thai massage parlor, a Thai perfume shop, Thai insurance, Thai restaurants and valet parking.

One Saturday a month, people gather in the morning at the Thailand Plaza next door (it’s not really a plaza, just a Thai grocery store with a Thai nightclub above it) to offer food to monks from the various Thai temples around town. Not being that intimate with Theravada or Thailand, one time as I watched the rite, I asked a Thai guy who looked like he might speak English, “What do you call this ceremony where you offer food to the monks?” He replied, “We call it offering food to the monks.”

Actually it’s called Tak Bat which means “alms giving”. By offering rice, soft drinks, cakes and so on, people are doing good deeds or Tham Bun. This is a daily ritual in most Theravada countries. I don’t know about Mahayana. I don’t recall ever seeing Mahayana monks do this, although I have see them receive offerings in a temple setting. The alms giving/receiving, of course, is a tradition that dates back to the Buddha’s time.

The ceremony is very short, only about an hour. The people show up, set up their tables, and wait. Then the monks show up and they wait until everyone is there and then they begin their procession, holding their alms bowls, accompanied by someone with a shopping cart for the overflow. After the food has been distributed, one of the monks gives a short talk, followed by some brief chanting, and then everyone goes home. Short and sweet.

Here some photos I took from this month’s Tak Bat with a link to the full set at the bottom. Saturday was nice and warm. It climbed up to 80 in the afternoon. Some monks came in from as far away as Riverside, and there were monks from Wat Thai in North Hollywood there, as well as Dharma Vijaya over on Crenshaw.

“Did you hear the one about the two monks from Laos . . .”

“Hey, dude! How ya doin’?”

Dancing while the monks are talking is usually frowned upon.

I wasn’t the only one snapping pics.

You can see the rest of the photos here.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A good time to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and the principle of non-violence:

Nonviolent resistance is also an internal matter. It not only avoids external violence or external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. And so at the center of our movement stood the philosophy of love. The attitude that the only way to ultimately change humanity and make for the society that we all long for is to keep love at the center of our lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
June 4, 1957


2 thoughts on “Monks on Hollywood Boulevard

  1. This is what I’ve always liked about the Thai forest monastery tradition, something that I haven’t always seen in Mahayana sanghas (that’s not saying it doesn’t exist at all, it just doesn’t appear to be a strong tradition in the U.S.). The alms round is a simple exercise of interdependence. The monks rely on the lay community for food and other material support, and the lay community relies on the monks for keeping the Dhamma. It’s a great balance, particularly for the monks, because if the sangha becomes too arrogant, it will lose the support of the lay community.

    1. Thanks for you comment, Richard. No, I don’t think this is done much in Mahayana. The way you put is rather interesting. I have never quite thought about it as “a simple exercise of interdependence.” I usually have mixed feelings when I see this. I’m not real comfortable with the subservience on the part of members of the lay community to the monks. Perhaps I am just project my Western sensibilities onto it, my I have also always liked the spirit of many of the American Indian tribes where the chiefs would always eat last, etc. Your short observation has given me something new to think about.

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