You have to be early, and you have to be quick, to catch Theravada Buddhist monks on their morning alms rounds.
For over 2,500 years, since the Buddha decided that monks and nuns should not cook or store their own food, Buddhist monks have walked alms rounds. The practice was intended to free religious monastics from the worldly burden of cooking and to make them dependent on the generosity of the lay community, thus encouraging humility. It also enriches the spiritual lives of lay people, as the act of giving freely from a generous heart creates “merit” (puñña): that which accumulates as a result of good deeds, acts, or thoughts and which carries over throughout the life or the subsequent incarnations.
Over the years, in many Buddhist communities, the practice of collecting alms has been adapted to the modern world. It may be that only some monks or novices from a community go out on alms rounds, sharing proceeds with the rest of the religious community. Or, alms rounds may only be conducted on particular days. In many monasteries, lay people bring food in and cook it on site (e.g.: Lining up for Lunch; Monks and Nuns).
But, the alms bowl is still an enduring symbol of the monastic order for all Buddhists, and it is not uncommon to see monks, with their begging bowls, singly or in groups, silently walking the streets of their communities (e.g.: Sangkhlaburi, Thailand; Luang Prabang, Laos).
But, you do have to be up early. Monks and novices take no food after twelve noon, and alms rounds typical start around 6am.
The last time I was able to participate in an alms round was in Nyuang Shwe, Myanmar, where I was on a tour with photographer Karl Grobl and local guide Mr MM. We got up in the low-light of a pre-dawn to be ready in time.
For the Buddha, the alms round was an important feature of the monastic life.
Being part of the morning rounds is a reminder of simple human generosity.
It always makes me feel better for the rest of the day.