On the morning of Sunday, December 30, 2012, a great gathering of 12,999 Buddhist monks was assembled in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a food offering ceremony. For weeks prior to the event you could see signs all over town advertising the event. The number 12,999 was featured very prominently on these signs. Nine is considered an auspicious number in Thai culture, so that is no wonder why they chose to invite this particular amount of monks.
The event took place beginning at 6:09 in the morning (there’s that lucky number nine again) along the highway between Theppanya Hospital and the MeeChok Plaza intersection. The faithful Buddhist laypeople came right on time (many dressed in white) with supplies prepared. Normally Thai people offer fresh cooked rice and food to monks in the morning. But in this case everyone brought non-perishable food items such as uncooked rice, ramen noodles, bottled water, cookies, crackers, canned tuna, Nescafe packets, etc.
After the people got settled into position on either side of the road, they were led in prayers via loudspeaker. This included taking Refuge in the Triple Jewels and reciting the Five Lay Precepts. The purpose of the food offering ceremony is to honor the 2600th anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. The food collected will not only be distributed to the home temples of the monks in attendance, but some of it will also go to assist Buddhist monks in the 3 Southern-most provinces of Thailand. The far South of Thailand is going through a difficult period do to a violent separatist movement, which makes it dangerous for Buddhist monks to collect alms in the traditional way.
As expected, there was far more food offered than all the monks could possibly carry in just their alms bowls, so military cadets were on hand to assist by transferring collected alms into large plastic bags.
The crowd offered alms while barefoot and from a sitting or kneeling position. This is a way of showing proper respect for the monks. It is hoped that by practicing generosity, one will build a store of merit, or positive karma, which will benefit oneself and others later in this life and also in the next.