Raising a Mala

Statue of Buddha with malasIn practices like Street Plunges and Bearing Witness Retreats, participants engage in “raising a mala” — they gather the necessary funds by reaching out to others for support, instead of using their own resources. Raising a mala connects us to the ancient monastic practice of begging rounds, and while it’s enriching and deeply moving, it can also challenge some of our firmly held beliefs. We are deeply ingrained with notions of self-reliance and who deserves to receive and who should be asked to give. Raising a mala can reveal our deep-seated beliefs about our worth, independence, and the complicated role money plays in our relationships, culture, and society. The process is not just about raising funds; it’s a way to fully embrace the truth of our interdependence.

How the Money Is Used

In bearing witness to life on the streets we are usually supported by social service agencies and public nonprofit organizations. About a month after the retreat ends the participants will give two-thirds of what we collectively raised to organizations that supported our lives. We will decide together how to give this money away. The remaining one-third of what was raised will support the social action work of Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community, which means paying for the costs of leading the retreat, supporting Gather, and supporting the sangha’s other social action projects.

Getting Started

This process begins about a month before the start of the retreat, with your asking people in your network of family, friends, community members, and acquaintances to contribute money to your retreat. You can do this by asking them in person, writing a letter, or launching a funding campaign. However you choose to do this, remember that the point is to make a practice of asking others to support you. A personal request of another person allows you to articulate the purpose of a street plunge and it invites others into the process with you. This is one way in which you expand the circle of belonging. It starts close to home. We will ask that you attempt to raise a designated amount from your network. For a street retreat, this us usually $500. Please do not use your own money to raise your mala.

We suggest you ask at least five people to support you. More would be great. As you ask and receive, you will “assemble a mala,” which is a string of  prayer beads in the shape of a bracelet or necklace. Each bead you add to the string represents a person who has given to your mala. You will bring your mala with you on the retreat. We ask that you make a sincere commitment to your benefactors that they will be traveling with you on the retreat and that you will personally tell them about your experience when you return home. It is a lovely gesture to label the beads with your donors’ names and wear them during your time bearing witness.

Collecting the Funds

Your donors could give you cash or checks made out to you. Then, once you have raised the funds (preferably prior to the start of the retreat), please make out one check payable to

Bread Loaf Mountain Monastery (attn. Street Retreat – name city)
PO Box 818,
Middlebury VT 05753.

Donors can also use this form to make an online donation or give through our website via PayPal. They should specify on the donation page that their donation is supporting your street retreat.

To give others the opportunity to give is a true gift. Don’t doubt it. When we are truly and selflessly motivated, people will support us. Trust in this always.