On our first day in China, I ask our Beijing tour guide if China is still a communist country. Only in name, she says.
But I think it’s more than that.
Everybody has a job, she tells us. If you are too young or too old, you are given a simple job. The old ones get the job of pushing the last person onto the bus, for instance. Begging is not tolerated because everybody should be working a legitimate job.
Fast forward several days to our time in Tibet. Begging is common here, occasionally to the point of being a nuisance. Locals of all backgrounds seem to have endless pockets. They readily hand out small bills to beggars and children. They leave money in every nook and cranny in the temples. Nobody coming behind them picks up the bills, though I suspect if they did it would be interpreted as an act of desperation.
I don’t know for sure about Tibetan Buddhism, but in Thailand, for instance, the monks beg for every meal they get. Begging is looked upon as creating an opportunity for others to give, to improve their karma. It’s an opportunity for grace.
At the very least, begging functions in Tibet as a redistribution of wealth. It’s somehow their working out of: “From each according to his means, to each according to his needs.”
20 July 2014