Nu 122bn worth of transactions through mobile and internet banking

Don’t worry, scan and offer

Alms seekers have begun using MBoB and QR codes

At around 5.00 pm on a Sunday, Tashi Wangmo, living at Changgidaphu heard the doorbell. Thinking it must be her friends, she opened the door. An elderly layman monk (gomchen) stood at the door, asking for alms. Tashi immediately went to the kitchen and brought some groceries to offer. However, the man said it would be generous if Tashi could give him some money instead. Tashi apologized saying she does not keep cash. The next moment surprised her. “He took out his phone which even had a QR code. I went to my room, got my phone and gave him Nu 50,” Tashi reminisces.  

Tashi is not the only one who experienced this. Tshering Gyeltshen, a resident of Kawajangsa says he had the experience twice. “But they did not have QR codes. They asked me to MBoB to their accounts,” he recalls.

According to the World Bank’s 2021 mobile phone penetration (as a percentage of population) report, reached 100% in 2021 in Bhutan. This is 3.74% more than in the previous year. Historically, mobile phone penetration as a percentage of population in Bhutan reached an all-time high of 100% in 2021 and an all-time low of 0.355% in 2003. Bhutan was 105th within the group of 144 countries that the Bank follows in terms of mobile phone penetration as a percentage of population.

Karma (name change) is a regular alms seeker in Thimphu says he had a difficult time getting a smart phone. “People do not carry money these days, and even if they do, the denominations are Nu 5 and 10 for parking fees. Further, most of my friends (competitors) had phones,” Karma says.

However, fortune smiled and Karma got a second-hand Samsung phone. “I had shared my problem with a “jinda” living in Chubachu, who is very good to me. He had got a new phone from his daughter in Australia and he gave me his old phone.”

Karma says there are advantages when seeking alms with a phone. “Initially, people would give just Nu 5, 10 or 20. When they have to MBoB, most give a minimum of Nu 50.” Karma has also had instances where people asked why he is seeking alms when he had the money to buy a phone. “I always tell them the truth and then they give even Nu 100.”

Sharing his experience, Karma said, he has met people who told him to use his phone for other purposes, too. “I was helped to download prayers and it has really helped me.”

And for now, his most prized possession is the Samsung phone.

The practice of alms round and food offering is an ancient and noble tradition in Buddhism. It is believed to be one of the most important practices for Monks and Nuns to create spiritual bonds with sentient beings through alms rounds—seeking offerings from lay communities. Alms round dates back to over twenty-five centuries at the time of the Buddha. With the Sangha Buddha would hold alms bowls, stay in line in a hierarchical order and walk long distances once every morning to beg for alms from lay people of different families. According to the Sutra, Bhikshus (Monks) just seek alms from the maximum of seven households. Whether they have begged for enough food or not, Monks have to return to their practice place after begging from the seventh family. In another case, Bhikshus can finish their alms round whenever they feel they have had enough food in their bowls, even if they have not gone through all seven families. This takes place until before noon, and the Sangha will return to the practice place to consume the received alms.    

Apparently, the Buddha established this practice to allow His disciples to obtain their daily sustenance through the generosity of lay people. Alms round helps save the Sangha more time for practicing the Dharma. Since the time of the Buddha, lay people have been supporting the Sangha with food, robes, shelter and medicine. These represent the physical conditions that lay Buddhists can support Monks.

On the spiritual perspective, Monks concentrate on their cultivation and practice to purify their minds and reach every step of enlightenment. This is where a spiritual connection comes in, as Monks can sustain their living and health to achieve the noble goals of a life of contentment with few desires thanks to the alms-givers. Therefore, offering alms-food to the Sangha allows lay people to practice generosity on one side, and acquire merits, on the other side, from supporting Monks on their path to enlightenment.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu