Some Uposatha practice questions

Hi all,

I hope I’m not repeating anything here (please forgive me if I do, I did try to search first). I have some very lay and ignorant questions about practicing Uposatha. I only recently started practicing it, and ran into some problems and thus need clarification.

First, would things like coffee, tea, sugar, and salt fall under intoxicants? If not, perhaps it fall under food specifically, would I be allowed to drink coffee and tea after midday or only water?
Second, to abstain from luxurious beds and seats, does that mean that I should sleep on the floor for these nights?
Thirdly, my wife is liberal Christian but very supportive of my spiritual journey, however even though I can explain most of the precepts to her, I struggle to explain why I cannot sleep in the bed with her for the night… How could I help her understand?
Last, I read that the precept about taking money was left out of this practice because of its impracticality for the laity. Is it allowed to modify the practice to fit the circumstances (without making things deliberately easy of course or forgetting the reason for the practice in the first place)? For instance can I take the precepts until a certain time instead of the whole day, or can I wear other colour clothing if I do not have all white clothes?

I’m hoping for some informed (perhaps from the bhante’s) guidance but also some practical advice (from laity) for these questions. Thank you very much

3 Likes

Uposatha in detail

"And what is the Uposatha of the Noble Ones? It is the cleansing of the defiled mind through the proper technique. And how is the defiled mind cleansed through the proper technique?

"There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones recollects the Tathagata, thus: ‘Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.’
As he is recollecting the Tathagata, his mind is calmed, and joy arises; the defilements of his mind are abandoned, .

To Mahanama

Mahanama, at any time when a disciple of the noble ones is keeping in mind the Tathāgata, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with hate, not overcome with delusion. His mind is straightened, based on the Tathāgata.

And when the mind is straightened, the disciple of the noble ones gets inspired by the goal, gets inspired by the dhamma, gains joy connected with the dhamma.

When he is joyful, rapture arises.

When the heart is rapturous, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, he experiences happiness.

When he is happy, the mind becomes composed.

Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of the Buddha while walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. You should develop it while engaged in work and while living at home in a house full of children.

Furthermore

"There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones recollects the Dhamma, thus: ‘The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.’ As he is recollecting the Dhamma, his mind is calmed, and joy arises;

"There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones recollects the Sangha, thus: ‘The Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples who have practiced well… who have practiced straight-forwardly… who have practiced methodically… who have practiced masterfully — in other words, the four types [of noble disciples] when taken as pairs, the eight when taken as individual types — they are the Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples: worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of respect, the incomparable field of merit for the world.’ As he is recollecting the Sangha, his mind is calmed, and joy arises;

Details;

Monks, those monks who are accomplished in virtue, accomplished in meditative composure, accomplished in knowing ability, accomplished in liberation, accomplished in the knowledge and vision of liberation: even the sight of those monks is helpful, I say; even listening to them… even approaching them… even attending on them… even recollecting them… even going forth after them is helpful, I say. For what reason? Because when one has heard the Dhamma from such monks one dwells secluded by way of two kinds of seclusion — seclusion of body and seclusion of mind.

Abiding thus secluded, one keeps in mind that Dhamma and thinks it over. Whenever, monks, a monk abiding thus secluded keeps in mind that Dhamma and thinks it over, on that occasion retention as a factor of enlightenment is aroused by a monk, on that occasion a monk develops retention as a factor of enlightenment, on that occasion retention as a factor of enlightenment comes to fulfilment through development in a monk.
(Other factors of enlightenment become fulfilled as well)

Furthermore

"There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones recollects his own virtues, thus: ‘[They are] untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the wise, untarnished, conducive to concentration.’ As he is recollecting virtue, his mind is calmed, and joy arises;

An example;

Approaching them [monks], I will ask, ‘Venerable sirs, did the master [Buddha] ever come to Sāvatthī?

If they tell me that he did come to Sāvatthī, then I will conclude that ‘Undoubtedly the master used a rains-bathing cloth of mine, or a meal for newcomers, or a meal for those going away, or a meal for the sick, or a meal for those tending the sick, or medicine for the sick, or gruel gifted every day.’

For me, recollecting that, joy will be born. When joyful, rapture will be born. When the heart is rapturous, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, I will experience happiness. When I am happy, the mind will become composed.

That will be the development of my (five) faculties, (five) strengths, and (seven) factors of enlightenment.

Furthermore

There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones recollects the devas, thus: ‘There are the Devas of the Four Great Kings, the Devas of the Thirty-three, the Yama Devas, the Contented Devas, the devas who delight in creation, the devas who have power over the creations of others, the devas of Brahma’s retinue, the devas beyond them. Whatever conviction they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of conviction is present in me as well. Whatever virtue they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of virtue is present in me as well. Whatever learning they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of learning is present in me as well. Whatever generosity they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of generosity is present in me as well. Whatever discernment they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of discernment is present in me as well.’ As he is recollecting the devas, his mind is calmed, and joy arises;

Furthermore one emulates the Arahants, these are the training precepts;

Furthermore, the disciple of the noble ones reflects thus: 'As long as they live, the arahants — abandoning the taking of life — abstain from the taking of life. They dwell with their rod laid down, their knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings.

"'As long as they live, the arahants — abandoning the taking of what is not given — abstain from taking what is not given. They take only what is given, accept only what is given, live not by stealing but by means of a self that has become pure.

"'As long as they live, the arahants — abandoning uncelibacy — live a celibate life, aloof, refraining from the sexual act that is the villager’s way.

"'As long as they live, the arahants — abandoning false speech — abstain from false speech. They speak the truth, hold to the truth, are firm, reliable, no deceivers of the world.

"'As long as they live, the arahants — abandoning fermented & distilled liquors that cause heedlessness — abstain from fermented & distilled liquors that cause heedlessness.

"'As long as they live, the arahants live on one meal a day, abstaining from food at night, refraining from food at the wrong time of day [from noon until dawn].

"'As long as they live, the arahants abstain from dancing, singing, music, watching shows, wearing garlands, beautifying themselves with perfumes & cosmetics.

"'As long as they live, the arahants — abandoning high & imposing seats & beds — abstain from high & imposing seats & beds. They make low beds, on a pallet or a spread of straw.

Today I too, for this day & night — [will be like this or that] By means of this factor I emulate the arahants, and my Uposatha will be observed.

As to why one shouldn’t use imposing seats & beds, i think it is because the Arahants are modest, content with little and their comfort is derived from a mind well tamed & freed from obsessions, not the comforts of imposing beds.

“Always, always,
he sleeps in ease:
the brahman totally unbound,
who doesn’t adhere
to sensual pleasures,
who’s without acquisitions
& cooled.
Having cut all ties
& subdued fear in the heart,
calmed,
he sleeps in ease,
having reached peace
of awareness.”

2 Likes

Here are some practical guidelines:

6 Likes

First, would things like coffee, tea, sugar, and salt fall under intoxicants? If not, perhaps it fall under food specifically, would I be allowed to drink coffee and tea after midday or only water?

No, they are not intoxicants. That I am sure.

Now, if it is the precept concerning food after midday, allowable drinks varied depending on custom, tradition, and your health.

For example, my teacher drink tea with sugar at night.
For example, some drink milk or fruit juice at night.
For example, some only allow water after midday.

My advice is not to drink coffee at night, because its acidity will strengthen gastric acid, and make you hungry.

As what you can drink, my rule of thumb: anything that can pass filter is allowed. And dont forsake your health for the training, do it gradually.

Second, to abstain from luxurious beds and seats, does that mean that I should sleep on the floor for these nights?

It used to be like that, because at ancient times, high bed means luxury. But now simple and cheap bed is still a high bed.
(The traditional rule specify the height of the bed, I think it was 30 cm from ground, cant be more)

I think this one you should adapt according to your circumstances. If you can get air bed or mattress laid down on the floor, great. But if not, then dont think too much about it.
(Because air bed is kinda luxurious and defeat the spirit of the precept)

why I cannot sleep in the bed with her for the night…

You can, but you cant do any sexual activities. No touching.
Surely your wife understand that most spiritual practice is celibacy, so you practice it for certain period is ok?

(i am sure you can sidestep this problem simply by bedding on the floor with mattress. Your wife want to sleep on floor too? )

I am not sure about money. I always use money like usual when I take Uposatha vow.

There is no rule about clothes. It is nice to wear white, but true spiritual practice doesn’t came from wearing clothes with some color. Just wear anything you like, but be modest.

If you want to take the practice for half a day, for example only during the day, or only during the night, it is allowed. There is some stories in Jataka about people doing that.

(Of course, they told us that these people karmic result is mixed, and they only enjoy heavenly bliss for half day)

2 Likes

I am not aware of anyone who thinks milk is allowable at night. That’s a really basic thing, although the world has many different people in it. But it is widely understood that milk is not allowable.

This is also not in line with any tradition I am aware of. The Buddha specifically allowed to have some things in the afternoon. To say only water is creating a “false purity.” Let the Buddha be your teacher.

Somewhere I heard that choosing to sleep on an air mattress is simply delaying the choice to sleep right on the floor :rofl:

5 Likes

In Christianity, where I came from before starting my Buddhist practice, this is called drowning someone in Scripture

2 Likes

Generally no. Buddhist monks are famous tea drinkers! Of course, all things in moderation, etc.

Can. You can also drink fruit juice (except for juices from “large” fruits like pineapples, melons, etc or vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, etc). Honey, butter, oil, ghee are also allowed, as are certain snacks which are considered medicinal, such as candied ginger.

Different communities extend that further in various ways. In some communities, soy milk is allowed, or cheese in some but not in others. Ditto sunflower seeds and prunes and a whole host of other borderline snacks.

In the Theravada world, grains, eggs, meat, (animal) milk, etc are all considered foods and are therefore unallowable in the afternoon.

I’d recommend it! Just lay on a blanket or in a sleeping bag or on a mat or something. It’s really quite refreshing in my opinion!

Well, the idea of keeping the eight precepts is that it gives you more time to meditate by simplifying your life. Ideally this includes staying up late meditating and getting up early. Sleeping on the floor helps to do that. It also ensures you don’t disturb your wife’s sleep as you do so. Sleeping separately also helps protect the celibacy part of the eight precepts :laughing:

It’s your practice, so do whatever you like and see how it goes!

Obviously “I won’t eat in the afternoon… until dinner” is a pretty tame austerity! :rofl: But yes, it’s common for people to start and end the eight precepts at a convenient time, which need not be “midnight” or “dawn” necessarily.

Of course. Especially if you’re practicing at home, just wear whatever is easy and modest and comfortable. The point is to meditate not complicate :slight_smile:

Hope that helps!

5 Likes

I am so sorry. Let’s put eachother on the ignore list so we are neither drowned in scripture nor harassment.

1 Like

tomatoes are fruits. Vegitables are when you eat the leaves, stems, roots or any other plant part other than the material in the body that produces seeds. But yes, some communites consider tomato juice not allowable.

Don’t forget olives. 🫒

1 Like

I never heard about the part with large fruits, whats the logic behind that?

“Great fruits” are those fruits with a high sugar content that can make them ferment easily in tropical Asia, thereby becoming fruit alcohol (meraya). I guess the idea is that it’s hard to know when they become alcohol, so better to avoid completely. (They are listed in the commentary to the word “dhannaphalarasa” in the bhesajjakhandaka, I.e. grain drink, as a prohibited afternoon refreshment.)

I have no idea how prevalent avoiding them actually is in Asia, but Bhante Khemarato’s tradition evidently has this, although it seems that the great fruits never made it into Western Ajahn Chah kor wat (katikavata). Unless you are actually worried that your coconut water may secretly be kava (a less pressing concern if you have refrigeration), I wouldn’t personally lose sleep over it, although I respect the integrity of the commentarial tradition that has given us this concept.

P.S. @prajnadeva the thing about a height limitation on the bed is commentary too. The vinaya gives a specific limitation for new beds, the commentary expands this to a general limitation. IRL the use of a thin mattress on a raised platform is relatively common, I would say the precise height is a cultural thing.

4 Likes

Re: explaining sleeping on the floor to your wife…maybe if she doesn’t understand imitating the arahants, maybe she could understand imitating St Francis, who either slept on the ground or some straw?

3 Likes

Interesting! At least at my Dhammayut temple in Chonburi, we indeed quietly give away (to a local orphanage) any pineapple, coconut, tomato, etc juice that we receive in the afternoon. I have no idea how widespread this practice is or isn’t across Asia beyond my one temple.

Interesting! At my temple, not allowed. On the controversial side, my temple allows seaweed, aloe vera, garlic (!), tamarind, marshmallows, and lotus seeds. My temple doesn’t allow (but I know of others that do allow) yogurt, nuts, and miso. I’d be curious to hear what other “controversial” snacks are allowed in the afternoon at other monasteries!

1 Like