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Eighth Precept: What Constitutes "High and Luxurious"?


#1

Hello, I’m working on preparing myself to practice the eight precepts while living in a van. One thing that has felt ambiguous to me is the eighth one and what constitutes a violation of it.

ATI Lists it as:

Uccasayana-mahasayana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

The linked sutta has this paragraph:

Whereas some brahmans and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to high and luxurious furnishings such as these — over-sized couches, couches adorned with carved animals, long-haired coverlets, multi-colored patchwork coverlets, white woolen coverlets, woolen coverlets embroidered with flowers or animal figures, stuffed quilts, coverlets with fringe, silk coverlets embroidered with gems; large woolen carpets; elephant, horse, and chariot rugs, antelope-hide rugs, deer-hide rugs; couches with awnings, couches with red cushions for the head and feet — he abstains from using high and luxurious furnishings such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

If I’m reading this correctly does that mean “coverlets and quilts” basically encompass all kinds of blankets or blanket type things on a bed? Or would a short-haired cotton mono-brown without fringe or design blanket be acceptable? Or is the rule here to sleep upon either the ground alone or a narrow (“regularly” sized) mattress without covering?

How does this apply (or not apply) to sleeping bags? Some of which can be opened to essentially function as a stuffed quilt.

How is this actually done in practice? I think particularly of areas where sleeping in severe cold is hazardous to health. I imagine also the conception of luxurious has changed drastically in the thousands of years since this precept was made, so what’s the underlying intention here and how does it assist the practice? Buddha often talks about the benefits of such and such practice, so if anyone has a passage where he states that, it would be helpful. The climate of India factored into this too I imagine, as (as far as I know) it’s generally not horrifyingly cold like Canada or New England tends to get, where homeless people can and do die from sleeping in the cold.

Thank you


#2

Hi Ms Potato, what an awesome intention! All the best for your experience maintaining the 8 Precepts. Many years ago, keeping 8 Precepts at home for 6 months changed my life.

I believe the description of “high & luxurious” you quoted was meant to be illustrative of some of the general gist of fully-ordained monks’ renunciation, not a list of rules that must be followed, particularly not by 8 Preceptors.

I’ve seen different Theravada communities set various expectations as to how their 8 Preceptors should follow Precept No 8. From Thai nuns & devout ladies I learned to sleep only on a mat on the floor, not in a regular bed. (When I kept 8 Precepts at home all those months, I diligently dragged my heavy comfy futon off its frame each night to floor sleep.) Yet at a temple in Thailand, all us meditating 8 Preceptors were given wooden beds raised well off the ground without any bedding - so it seemed that height was ok so long as it hurt!

Later, having joined my home monastery, I was told that Rule No. 8 simply referred to avoiding luxury seats & beds such as found in, say, a honeymoon suite, that is, furnishings conducive to sensual desires. (The beds provided to us there were simple rustic handmade wooden twin beds perched on legs far above the floor, with a comfy foam mattress.)

Sometimes a community’s take on it is found in how they translate or describe the rule. See for example Sati Saraniya’s 8 Precept instructions for new guests, where they give No 8 as “Alertness: not indulging in sleep or laziness.” So they don’t even make reference to seats, beds or bedding - just forbidding indulgence in sleepiness & laziness!

(The Vinaya bed height rule for monks limits the number of inches the legs can have if monks are making the bed for themselves. And yet I once saw a bunk bed - very high - for monks at Amaravati. I don’t know their reasoning, but mention it as another example that suggests you’re fine not sleeping on the ground.)

You may feel most comfortable that you are doing the right thing if you consult a knowledge person at whatever community has inspired you to keep these 8 Precepts, and just follow this rule in whatever way they advise. And not sweat it. This isn’t about perfection.


#3

This is wise advice. At the Thai wat I attend in the United States the laypeople just finished building a lovely new residence hall for the monks. The laypeople, in all their generosity and sincere desire to please the monks, furnished the new dormitory-style building with twin beds for the monks with sheets and comfortable blankets (this being the Pacific Northwest where nights can get cold). The monks, returning the kindness, sleep with the bedding provided by the laypeople. To decline the gifts provided by the laypeople I think would be a greater offense than to insist on an interpretation of the Eight Precept which demands accommodations that neither would be wise in this climate nor would show sensitivity towards members of the Thai and Lao immigrant community who are sincerely and genuinely concerned for the monastics who have traveled so far to provide then with spiritual support in their adopted homeland.


#4

@Potato, you posted a great question, and it’s good to see people training under eight precepts. You may find that your general levels of happiness rise, and your meditation improving, with this 8 precept practice.

As these precepts are training rules, it seems to me that choosing a simple form of bedding with simple (but adequate covers for the climate) covers is appropriate. As Ayya mentioned, there are many variants, and I, too, enjoyed a lengthy period of time sleeping in a Thai wat on what was a coffee table-like wooden platform bed, with no mattress. I took a few days to adapt to sleeping on a hard wood surface, and I admit I cheated a bit by placing one of my T-shirts under the one shoulder blade that contacted most heavily the hard wood surface.

Living in a van is certainly a minimalist life! https://youtu.be/bXk3teJpzGU I feel that with this training, we must balance this renunciate practice with a bit of common sense. Don’t have a sleeping surface that causes you to suffer, or have back problems. Don’t use thin blankets, and find yourself ill in the winter. Like the tuning of the strings of a lyre, don’t adjust your living circumstances to be too ascetic, or too comfortable. Find a perfectly tuned balance that cultivates a sense of renunciation, and allows for the sense of simplicity and skillfulness that aids in meditation.


#5

Great, congratulations on going for 8 precepts :anjal: Good luck on the path :dharmawheel:

I think you received great advices here :slight_smile:
I’ll just add that we’ve asked same question to Venerable Ajahn Khemasiri at one meditation retreat, and he said that 8th precept is generally to be interpreted as metaphor for “not indulging in oversleeping”.
He generally said it meant to be not indulging in laziness, which “high and luxurious beds” can be a symbol of, just as Ayya mentioned as well.

Personally I find sleeping on the floor with 3 blankets underneath much more comfortable than any bed. It is better for the spine also :smiley:

Once again, good luck :heart: :slight_smile:


#6

When you read the Vinaya sections about cleaning a kuti for example you can see that back at the time of the Buddha they had beds and mattresses and all. The beds also had legs underneath—which certainly served the purpose of protecting them from insects and other creeping creatures.

But the beds had no high legs. There are also some concrete measures given as to how high exactly they can be, and what would be too much. But measures found in those ancient texts cannot easily be transferred to what we know today; it’s not entirely clear what exactly they mean.

But generally I think it would not be much out of scope to suppose that a bed can be a thing that reasonably serves the purpose, and is not fancy or luxurious—the latter at the time of the Buddha mostly meaning being very high and broad, and with much decoration and blankets made of special material.

Probably, any normal bed would do, and since a bed primarily serves the purpose to allow for a rest and a good sleep (and not to torture you), the individual’s health should also be considered.

I am joining the others’ wishes for good luck with the practice you are choosing! :pray:


#8

And, @Potato , I didn’t mean to be satirical of your van home…I myself have opted to have a small motorhome in a 1.6 acre forested area as my primary residence/meditation refuge. Many people these days, including in the USA, are opting to downsize their residences to RVs/vans/tiny homes, or upfit vans as homes. It’s economical, cozy and simple…and mobile. See https://youtu.be/53_CwfdBBpg


#9

Thank you all for your answers, this confirms my basic concept at the moment. My plan is to have a 2ft wide foam mattress (like 7ft long) just above one of the wheel wells of the van. Sheet, blanket and sleeping bag as my three things of staying warm. Small enough not to feel luxurious, not so small or harsh as to leave me in pain.