a monk hiding
his begging bowl
© Malintha Perera. From An Unswept Path.
An “alms round” refers to when a monk or a person who has given up mundane life for spiritual ascension, seeks food and water from surrounding people. From the ellipsis, we see that the alms round is not short, but a long process.
In the second line, we are revealed that the monk is hiding something. Usually, monks are transparent people that do not have anything to hide–physical or personal. I enjoy how Malintha plays with the word “hides” and is hiding the surprise for us in the third line by cutting the line off at “hides.”
Then, we are revealed that the monk is hiding his begging bowl. Readers might have several questions. Is the monk hiding the bowl to make people perceive him in a more favorable light or not as a monk? Is the monk hiding the bowl with a feeling of doubt of his begging practice? Or is the monk hiding the begging bowl from himself, to forget that he is begging, and to be more in the present moment by eliminating thoughts about begging? The poet does not say, nor should she say.
The mystery of this haiku gives it power. I believe when Malintha used “a monk” instead of “the monk,” she was pointing towards the selflessness of the monk. The hiding of the begging bowl brings in a Zen idea of not being attached and bounded by thoughts. The monk possibly wants to be in between the state of begging and not begging, so that no attachment to identity can be made.
The “o” sound runs through the haiku with “round” “monk” and “bowl.” It gives the perception of the elongation of the begging and how tiring it can be. It can also give the impression of the bowl itself, with its roundness.
With a few simple words, Malintha has created a philosophical mystery and a chance for us to delve deeper into (or out of) our identity.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky