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Downloads: How to Bake an Alms Bowl - Paññobhāsa Bhikkhu

How to Bake an Alms Bowl - Paññobhāsa Bhikkhu


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The ancient rules of monastic discipline specify that a Buddhist monk is required to own an alms bowl made of earth or iron, and that this bowl is to be baked in a fire from time to time. The commentaries state that an earthen or clay bowl should be baked at least twice, and an iron one at least five times.


How to Bake an Alms Bowl

by Paññobhāsa Bhikkhu, May 2013



The ancient rules of monastic discipline specify that a Buddhist monk is required to own an alms bowl made of earth or iron, and that this bowl is to be baked in a fire from time to time. The commentaries state that an earthen or clay bowl should be baked at least twice, and an iron one at least five times. One of the skills that any junior monk should learn before becoming free of dependence on a teacher, along with sewing and dyeing robes, memorizing (and following) the Pātimokkha, and of course meditating, is the art of bowl baking.

However, most alms bowls aren't baked any more, and the art seems to be dying out. When I first came to Burma more than twenty years ago, clay bowls were already rare, and the "regulation" monk's bowl sold at Sangha supply stores was pounded, so I was told, out of the bottoms of 55 gallon oil drums and then coated with black lacquer. Over the years fancier bowls became more and more common, a typical model being made of iron or steel and somehow processed with a matte black finish very like that found on military hardware. Expensive stainless steel bowls imported from Thailand are becoming almost the standard; and some Burmese monks, and apparently most Thai ones, leave the shiny stainless steel unbaked and unblack.

Some years ago a book on Buddhist monastic discipline in the English language was published, which seemed to imply that to bake a bowl one simply sticks it into a fire. However, this would certainly not prevent an iron bowl from rusting, nor would it turn it any blacker than it already was. Bowl-baking involves coating the bowl with an enamel-like black finish that prevents iron bowls from rusting, and presumably would prevent clay bowls from being porous enough to absorb liquids from the monk's food, and thus would prevent them from becoming stinky and gross.

Even though most Western monks nowadays seem to use stainless steel bowls that are immune to rust, still it may be useful to monks who wish to follow the ancient ways, to see a method much used in Burmese forests for baking an enamel coating onto a bowl. It also may be useful to a few artsy-craftsy type laypeople who would simply like to know how to cover implements with a glossy black finish that was favored in ancient India before the invention of spray paint. Anyway, here is the method. The entire process, not including the cooking of the oil, takes about two hours or a little less...


Generously given to shar further by Paññobhāsa Bhikkhu
Dhamma Dana: Not for commercial use.


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