Every now and again, people try to offer Ajahn some money during alms round. Now the code of conduct established by the Buddha 2,500 years ago strictly forbids monks from earning, owning or handling money. This is one of the most fundamental rules in the Vinaya (code of conduct), one of the pillars of the Buddhist monastic way of life. By detaching from money, monks affirm their dependence on the laity. This helps them let go of the mind’s need for security and personal preferences. It is an act of surrender and humility which promotes faith toward the practice and toward life itself. Ultimately, it supports and contributes to inner peace.
Nowadays, very few monks follow this rule, and the overwhelming majority of them own and use money like everyone else. And they obviously accept money during Vindabat (alms round), as the donors who approached Ajahn were clearly used to making monetary offerings to monks. When it happened again this morning, Ajahn told the man with a friendly smile that he doesn’t accept money because it is against Vinaya. The man immediately understood and put his money away. The exchange was brief and friendly, no one took offence, and we went our separate ways.
As we walked away, Ajahn told me that many Western monks in Thailand complain that Thai laypeople get upset when they (the Western monks) refuse money offerings. He said this is because their way of refusing the donations is offensive to the would-be donors. He said it is important to know how to refuse the offering while accepting the intention of generosity. This way, the other person feels acknowledged and respected even if their gift is turned down. Ajahn does this so naturally, with such warmth and care and gentleness that there is no way the other person would feel rejected. The gift is refused, but the kindness is accepted, and the donor walks away with his dignity intact and most likely with considerable respect for this rare monk who actually follows the monastic code of conduct.