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Are we ever bad at observing the Uposatha

I was skimming some favorite suttas today and came across AN 3.70 “Uposatha/Sabbath”.

Here’s a list of things (highly summarized) that the Buddha told Lady Visakha that were needed to be recollected each Uposatha, to make it “Noble” (which would yield a huge bounty of merit, described at the end of the sutta):

  • Qualities of the Buddha
  • Qualities of the Dhamma
  • Qualities of the Sangha

(OK, I guess an Iti Pi So would cover that, if you recollect it carefully. Then comes the parts we seem to rather suck at):

  • Our own virtuous behaviour, to the extent that we become joyous
  • That the virtuous behaviour that resulted in various deities attaining to their own heavenly rebirths is similar to the virtue one posesses, as in, presumably the very same joy mustered up from the previous step (making one furtherly joyous).
  • Recollecting the virtues of the arahants, namely how they no longer:
    • steal
    • are unchaste
    • lie
    • consume alcohol
    • eat more than once a day
    • partake/observe dancing, singing, music, and seeing shows; and beautifying and adorning themselves with garlands, fragrance, and makeup
    • sleep on high and luxurious beds

So who here on discourse.SC can remember the last time they actually did everything on this list, consciously, on an Uposatha?

PS: Here’s the big cornucopia of merit from observing this “Noble Uposatha”:

That’s the sabbath of the noble ones. When the sabbath of the noble one is observed like this it’s very fruitful and beneficial and splendid and bountiful.
How much so? Suppose you were to rule as sovereign lord over these sixteen great countries—Aṅga, Magadha, Kāsī, Kosala, Vajjī, Malla, Ceti, Vaṅga, Kuru, Pañcāla, Maccha, Sūrusena, Assaka, Avanti, Gandhāra, and Kamboja—full of the seven kinds of precious things. This wouldn’t be worth a sixteenth part of the sabbath with its eight factors. Why is that? Because human kingship is a poor thing compared to the happiness of the gods.
Fifty years in the human realm is one day and night for the gods of the Four Great Kings. Thirty such days make up a month. Twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the gods of the Four Great Kings is five hundred of these divine years. It’s possible that a woman or man who has observed the eight-factored sabbath will—when their body breaks up, after death—be reborn in the company of the gods of the Four Great Kings. This is what I was referring to when I said: ‘Human kingship is a poor thing compared to the happiness of the gods.’
A hundred years in the human realm is one day and night for the gods of the Thirty-Three. Thirty such days make up a month. Twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the gods of the Thirty-Three is a thousand of these divine years. It’s possible that a woman or man who has observed the eight-factored sabbath will—when their body breaks up, after death—be reborn in the company of the gods of the Thirty-Three. This is what I was referring to when I said: ‘Human kingship is a poor thing compared to the happiness of the gods.’
Two hundred years in the human realm is one day and night for the Gods of Yama. Thirty such days make up a month. Twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the Gods of Yama is two thousand of these divine years. It’s possible that a woman or man who has observed the eight-factored sabbath will—when their body breaks up, after death—be reborn in the company of the Gods of Yama. This is what I was referring to when I said: ‘Human kingship is a poor thing compared to the happiness of the gods.’
Four hundred years in the human realm is one day and night for the joyful gods. Thirty such days make up a month. Twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the joyful gods is four thousand of these divine years. It’s possible that a woman or man who has observed the eight-factored sabbath will—when their body breaks up, after death—be reborn in the company of the joyful gods. This is what I was referring to when I said: ‘Human kingship is a poor thing compared to the happiness of the gods.’
Eight hundred years in the human realm is one day and night for the gods who love to create. Thirty such days make up a month. Twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the gods who love to create is eight thousand of these divine years. It’s possible that a woman or man who has observed the eight-factored sabbath will—when their body breaks up, after death—be reborn in the company of the gods who love to create. This is what I was referring to when I said: ‘Human kingship is a poor thing compared to the happiness of the gods.’
Sixteen hundred years in the human realm is one day and night for the gods who control the creations of others. Thirty such days make up a month. Twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the gods who control the creations of others is sixteen thousand of these divine years. It’s possible that a woman or man who has observed the eight-factored sabbath will—when their body breaks up, after death—be reborn in the company of the gods who control the creations of others. This is what I was referring to when I said: ‘Human kingship is a poor thing compared to the happiness of the gods.’”
“You shouldn’t kill living creatures, or steal,
or lie, or drink alcohol.
Be celibate, refraining from sex,
and don’t eat at night, the wrong time.
Not wearing garlands or applying fragrance,
you should sleep on a low bed, or a mat on the ground.
This is the eight-factored sabbath, they say,
explained by the Buddha, who has gone to suffering’s end.
The moon and sun are both fair to see,
radiating as far as they revolve.
Those shining ones in the sky light up the quarters,
dispelling the darkness as they traverse the heavens.
All of the wealth that’s found in this realm—
pearls, gems, fine beryl too,
horn-gold or mountain gold,
or natural gold dug up by marmots—
they’re not worth a sixteenth part
of the sabbath with its eight factors,
as all the constellations of stars can’t equal the light of the moon.
So an ethical woman or man,
who’s observed the eight-factored sabbath,
having made merit whose outcome is happiness,
blameless, they go to a heavenly place.”

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Maybe it’s just my overactive skepticism, but in line with my attitude to many parts of the Anguttara Nikaya which seem to describe very elaborate and fully developed lay practice traditions, I have trouble believing that the historical Buddha, who was no friend of rituals, actually prescribed all that stuff.

If you’re wondering when to celebrate the Uposathas, the following calendars help!

I really appreciated this lovely .ical file which allowed me to import all the Full Moons/New Moons/Buddhist holidays etc., into my Calendar app, which came from this page:

https://forestsangha.org/community/calendars/year_planners/2018

There’s also a nice PDF there, which shows the Uposathas used pretty much all throughout Thailand (vs. actual astrological full moons/new moons), at least in the Maha Nikaya sect of Thai Theravada Buddhism.

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There seems to be a full moon this weekend, the night between Friday and Saturday.

If I get a chance to observe it, I will try doing everything on the list consciously and report back.

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The ical file says, for this upcoming full moon: “Full Moon - 15 day Gimha 2/10”

Any monks/nuns on this forum (who participate in a Patimokkha recitation) might appreciate that the ical file contains which traditionional Buddhist (actually Hindu) season it is (right now it’s “Gimha”, meaning “Hot Season”), and this next Uposatha is the 2nd out of 10, in the season of Gimha. The “15” means “there were 15 days since the last Uposatha, not 14”.

Whichever monk recites the Patimokkha must get these parameters correct in the chanting, as “season-telling” is a duty which must be fulfilled during the Patimokkha recitation.

A monk friend of mine in Sri Lanka also made a neat low-tech wall calendar, which can help keep the day and date using several push-pins (which you change daily), shoved into the small black dots. Here is that calendar, for those who are interested (although only he can explain it perfectly well):

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I’m generally quite bad at observing the uposotha :slight_smile: I find myself sometimes thinking excessively about what I’m going to eat the following morning…

Thank you for the reminder. Uposothas are awesome opportunities for us to deepen our practice and work with our minds!

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Wasn’t the Buddha a master of prescribing pinpointed teachings to each and everyone, and wouldn’t teachings like that also be considered a personal ritual if followed?

Different uses of the words “rituals”.

Brushing one’s teeth is a ritual.

When monks would go out begging with their bowls, that is most certainly a ritual.

These are different kinds of rituals. Proscriptions against rituals are, IMO, moreso against (wrongly) ascribing them salvific power than them just being “evil/bad things to do”.

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So maybe we can put it this way:

There are wholesome and there are unwholesome rituals, and the practitioner have to decide what is best for his or hers pathwalking

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Thank you so much for this really wonderful topic, Ven. Subharo.

For some circumstantial constrains I’ve found observing the Uposatha not entirely feasible in practical terms and this has given rise to a general forgetting about it/slackness with regards to it. I’ll endeavour to use your post as a corrective and seek workable options.

In terms of the practices themselves, I’ll pause on two:

As a general point (rather than one specifically linked to the Uposatha), I’ve previously considered raising this as a topic and inquire if there is anywhere it is handled in technical detail. Embarrassing though it is to admit, I’ve always found this a bit of a stumbling block and never really managed to rouse any notable joy in connection to observing the precepts - they’re just obvious (from my pov) undertakings to commit to. Naturally, it’s a bit of a tricky issue to me as, as far as my reading of the Buddha’s teaching goes, joy from virtuous conduct is pretty foundational.

One thing I find a bit intriguing about AN 3.70 is that it seems (might just be my reading) to advance aspiring to rebirth in the heavenly realms as a the key point of focus for lay folk, which just strikes me as odd. For me, such an aspiration makes a lot of sense in eg. MN 60 which is addressed to householders as a broad group. But AN 3.70, quite clearly seems to have disciples of the Buddha (who teaches a total end of suffering is way superior to rebirth as a deva) as its audience. In turn, I’m wondering how to interpret this, as the prospect of rebirth as anything (knowing that it ultimately entails suffering) doesn’t readily inspire joy.

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I’m guessing that if a given layperson/monk/nun was able to attain to any sort of Brahmivihara or Jhana on an Uposatha (and not necessarily Brahmaviharic-grade joy), then the Uposatha would be acceptably “ennobled” (for example, see AN 1.394-401). Visakha in particular was known to be a really big donor towards the Sangha, so she had lots of past merit to easily remember and get joyous about.

The other parts of the Uposatha seem to serve the functional purpose of recollecting who it is in Buddhism who is the most worthy of respect, and why (as in, the Buddha, and the Arahats, and how it is that they’ve perfected themselves which is apparent, and super-normal in virtue, compared to average people). Furthermore, the ability to attain to Brahmaviharic and Jhanic states (which will lead one onwards to a heavenly rebirth, if not Nibbana) virtually always do not exist in a vaccum. They originated from somewhare (The Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha), so credit should be given where credit is due.

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I don’t like to preach. First of all, I’m not qualified, but second of all, I find that thats what “Buddhisming” on the internet all too often turns into, and often unintentionally.

We all want to find “the truth”. That involves hypothesizing as to that truth and testing.

These posts are just my idle hypotheses, as I’m sure your’s are your hypotheses. With that in mind, IMO, there is no wholesomeness or unwholesomeness to ritual. It is the mindset of the practitioner regarding that ritual that makes it wholesome or unwholesome.

I don’t know if the Buddha also said that. Thats just me trying to put things together.

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It’s all just IMO, and thats fine by me - and when it comes to rituals that is regarded as insignificant by most of the western practitioners (that i’ve heard and met in person) - i have my own experience with by just forgetting about what is thought and said by others, and just done them - and the positive results for my own practice is sure, so in that sense is my take on this matter that no rituals are “bad” or unwholesome, it’s all up to how one “holds” them in one’s overall practice of the eightfold path

Be a lamp on to oneself

And I like to add that I don’t care if anybody finds me preaching … , because i see that being also a kind of “ritual” …

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I find this difficult too. Sometimes I get around it by recollecting the feeling that comes right after a good act, or the general feeling of periods where my behavior has been particularly good.

Or for example with generosity, recollecting the feeling from being generous rather than any particular events or episodes.

In this way, a specific memory is more like a pointer to remember the feeling of inspiration and joy that comes during/after a good act. And then just focusing on that, building it up in the mind.

Something to try maybe if you haven’t already :slight_smile:

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I liked what I read of your essay, I skipped the rest after the reference to the four great kings.
Is the uposatha the new moon and full moon days? Thanks for the info bhante.

Yes. Some really devoted Buddhists also celebrate the half-moons as well.

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Using the above Buddhist Calendar (best mounted on a cork-board, I guess), here is today’s date (according to my Sri Lankan Monk friend):

According to my door chart, today is
(Wed) April 11 (2018)
Year 16 Soṇa 2561
Gimhāna Utu (its Hot)
Vesākha Māso (last month of the year)
Kālapakkha (moon is waning)
3rd Uposatha approaching, 2 have passed in this season and 7 remain (because of the leap-month, otherwise would be 5)
Ekādassamaṃ (11th)
Budhavāro (aka Odin’s day aka Wednesday)

So if I had some red push-pins, here is what the wall calendar would look like today:

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If you want to be a Buddhist super-nerd and understand the Vedic way of using lunar calendars (which apparently originates from the Greeks, I’m informed), then reading Appendix III in this PDF is recommended (drink like 2 coffees first, or you might fall asleep), see PDF’s pages 189-207, internal numbering pg. 171-189:

Mode Of Veneration of the Buddh - Ven. Nauyana Ariyadhamma Maha T.pdf (15.4 MB)

That’s the default Pali chanting book of Na Uyana, BTW, a monastery where I stayed in Sri Lanka.

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Thank you Venerable Subharo :smiley:

Uposatha is rarely kept even in traditionally Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, AFAIK. There may be monthly 8 precept observance days where a lot of dhamma teachings take place, with a little bit of meditation. These are monthly ‘Sil’ (morality training) days, supplanted in more western settings by meditation day retreats.

I don’t know if Uposatha has run its course- except for those who do keep it of course. Buddha even had problems getting people to keep it - even people like Mahanama who was well renowned in the dispensation.

With metta