|Boudhanath stupa, Eyes of Wisdom, Kathmandu, Nepal (~anup/dreamynomad/flickr)|
|Monks and novices, Burma (Serena Ranieri)|
|The Blessing of Almsround|
Eight Precepts: intensive practice
- to refrain from killing living creatures
- to refrain from taking what is not given
- to refrain from unchaste conduct
- to refrain from false speech
- to refrain from intoxicants which occasion heedlessness
- to refrain from eating outside the time
- to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, smartening with perfumes, and beautifying with cosmetics
- to refrain from high or large beds and seats.
|Theravada monastics, Thailand, (flickr.com)|
|Korean monastics, Haeinsa (Joonghijung)|
|Buddhist monks at doorway of monastery, Punakha, Bhutan (Donatella Venturi)|
|Monks, Hemis Gompa (Rishabh Asthana)|
Origin of the Observance Days
At that time wandering ascetics of other doctrines were in the habit of meeting together on the half moons of the 14th and 15th and the quarter moon of the eighth and talking about dharma (their doctrines about proper practice and spiritual theory).
|Maitreya Buddha, Himalayas (flickr.com)|
|The Life of the Buddha (pariyatti.org)|
We can see from this that the lunar observance day was already popular at that time. In fact, India [separate republics and kingdoms from Afghanistan to Burma influenced by the once great Indus Valley Civilization of modern Pakistan, a realm of influence which later came to be called "India"] already had a lunar calendar.
But we should understand clearly that the Buddha's Dharma in its various aspects was not taught out of conformity with pre-Buddhist traditions. (How often one sees misguided statements like, "The Buddha accepted and taught the Hindu doctrine of karma and reincarnation"!)
|Golden Thai Buddha (nippon_newfie/flickr.com)|
But if the timing of the observance days in Buddhist tradition were fixed merely to coincide with the existing lunar calendar and the traditional observances connected with it, then today when most people work in countries which do not follow a lunar calendar it would seem sensible to have days for special Buddhist observance during the weekends.
Is there any other significance to the days falling on the phases of the moon? A fairly new branch of biology called chronobiology studies the rhythmicity in nature and appears to support the importance of the uposatha days, particularly the full moon observance.
|Theravada monastics (Nicolas Journey)|
It seems as though the keeping of the uposatha days by large numbers of lay Buddhists until recent times will have helped to limit the growth of the population in Buddhist countries.
Some people have also observed that sexual desire peaks with the full moon. Those who understand that restraint in this and other sensual appetites is beneficial will see that there is a good cause for keeping at least the full moon as an uposatha day.
Chronobiologists are now working on the assumption that as the oceans are affected by the moon, so the water in the body is also affected: "As our bodies are about two-thirds 'sea' and one-third 'land,' we must sustain 'tidal' effects" (Dr. Menaker).
This seems reasonable looked at from the teaching given on the elements by the Buddha:
"Whatever is internal liquid element and whatever is external liquid element, just these are the liquid element" (see the Maharahulovada Sutra, MN 62). The context for this quotation is the development of insight. At any rate, development in the Dharma goes in the direction of becoming less affected by physical and sensual desires. Such desires arise, not because of the body but based on defilements of the heart/mind.
The defilements and passions can best be controlled when they can be seen -- when they are strongest. It is impossible to restrain defilements in oneself when they are not apparent, although they may operate underneath awareness.
For instance, a person who is well-provided with wealth and comforts may not be able to see greed or aversion at work in oneself; these defilements have not yet surfaced since the sea of satisfied desires in which they swim is deep.
But place this same person in a bare hut with poor food eaten only once a day and a strict discipline to control his or her actions, and then see what happens! The monsters of the deep all rise to the surface and clamor for more extensive waters in which to sport.
On the other hand, the attitude of good meditators and monastics shows the optimal way to deal with defilements.
Some of the strongest -- sensuality and sloth, lust and laziness -- manifest themselves at night, so the night was recommended by the Buddha as the time when they can be tackled most effectively.
A near enemy that one has not seen and known cannot be defeated. But an enemy well known and confronted with the tools of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Mental-Collectedness (Concentration) has no hope to win.
It is the same on uposatha days. The defilements that show themselves can be restrained and limited with the aid of the observance day discipline, which includes the Eight Precepts.
Let us consider it from another point of view. Letting go or renunciation of what is not beneficial is a thread which runs through all Buddhist practices.
If one practices giving, one renounces the pleasures that could be bought with wealth. When the Five Precepts are practiced, one renounces the actions (unwholesome karma) covered by them, which may be pleasurable or thrilling to some but are, in any case, unwholesome.
And when effort is made to meditate, the earnest practitioner will soon find that certain pleasures and distractions offered by the world just do not go with a calm and mindful heart/mind, so one renounces, abandons, lets them go.
|Good karma leads to beauty (AH)|