Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Uposatha performance (2)

The meaning of uposatha and its outset
Firstly the real sense of uposatha is to be understood. In connection with the meaning of it, it is somewhat at variance with individual likings. Thanissaro bhikkhu articulates that the word uposatha derives from Sanskrit upavasatha, a day of preparation, usually connecting particular observances, for a formal procedure. I.B Horner states that uposatha means a formal act of observance when Melford E. Spiro defines it the collective recitation of the rules whereas G.S.P. Misra explicates that uposatha is clarified as the most unifying factor.  Somdet Phra Mahæ Sama¼a Chao, one of the Thai scholar monks also interprets the word uposatha as entering to stay. The definition of uposatha according to grammatical point of view, however, identifies it living in purity.

Canonical texts explain that wandering ascetics held assemblies on 14th or 15th ansd 8th days of the fortnight to deliver their Dhamma (teachings) to the lay devotees who came to attend it. The Buddha adopted this custom when King Bimbisæra requested to do so. The Buddha allowed monks to meet in unison and teach the Dhamma on those days. In later period the Buddha launched a purely monastic uposatha performance only twice a month limited to the final day of the lunar fortnight and thereafter formulated that the recital of pætimokkha, what he laid down for the monks, was to be used as a formal act of uposatha performance.  Naturally the Buddhas with longer life-expectancy never promulgate rules and regulation for the monks and bhikkhunøs and not allow uposatha performance to the monks due to the state of purity of the order.

What the longer-life-span-Buddhas generally do is to admonish monks occasionally with three verses starting with Khantø paramaµ tapo titikkhæ (forbearing patience is the noble practice).
The Buddhas whose life spans are short, nonetheless, always lay down disciplinary rules for their order and uposatha practice is allowed as well. The Gotama Buddha had a shorter life span, therefore he laid down the rules for monks and bhikkhunøs and made allowance of uposatha observance to the monks. He practised ovædapætimokkha amidst monks every full and new moon day, but owing to that an impure monk was permitted to participate in the ceremony of ovædapætimokkha, the Buddha stopped practising it within his first period of twenty years after the achievement of enlightenment (pathamabodhi). Some years from this event the Buddha permitted the recital of pætimokkha for uposatha performance.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Uposatha performance (1)

[The Uposatha performance: the significant differences between Burmese practice and early canonical tradition]


The uposatha performance, comprising and collecting all the monks in the same territory of monastery compound, is commonly carried out throughout the Buddhist lands every full-moon-day and new-moon-day. In the process of uposatha ceremony, the whole disciplinary rules are recited by an experienced and competent monk with the permission of the most senior monk. The locality of doing it is within the jurisdiction (sømæ) like all the common affiliation of formal acts which is regularly held in it. The valid territory of the monks’ congregation needs to be noticeably fixed in the monastery in order that all types of formal acts can easily be done with straightforwardness. The advent of uposatha performance in relation to saµgha  society(members of monks) formulated by the Buddha himself is a key to solidarity and tranquility beneficial to all of monks, bhikkhunøs and lay devotees who are graspingly under the influence of Buddhist laws and orders. It is important to note that it is not just to show the integrity of monks in a manner of mental volition and physical actions but also to gain respect and appreciation of lay followers. The features of harmony among some of the monasteries in Burma can be seen in terms of particular disciplines in addition to original monastic rules such as, all monks and novices within same territory of monastic compound, regardless of a huge number, wearing robes neatly with the same colour, shaving the hair in the same day, having a meal quietly and so on. Even when they go alms-round quarter to quarter in stead of arranging themselves in procession according to seniority, they get in line beautifully with their heights fittingly so that the scenery view of thousands of monks with a series of fit height, same colour of robes, same shaved-head under the dawn sun that encourage lay people to respect Buddhist monks increasingly. That is what unity surpasses all the figures of different community individually. As a record of mahævagga canonical text mentions, the function of uposatha performance is an excellent paradigm of a strong integration of Buddhist society.

Buddhism carrying several types of duties on its back has walked a long journey since the inception of its original appearance occasionally faced with disastrous experiences and unavoidable situation all along with its long trip. Therefore, it has produced difference and discrepancy of branches accepting some rules and regulations, rejecting others and adding a few theories in large measure. Theravæda which is generally and widely accepted closest to early Buddhism, however, is thought to be preserving genuine all the teachings of Buddha.  Burma is one of the distinct Theravæda countries where a large number of ethnic groups, the majority of them are Theravæda Buddhists, have been settling for many years. Among about 60 million of population, the availability of monks and novices are over 400,000. All the monks in Burma unanimously perform uposatha in particular places relevant to the instruction of Buddha himself. Some facts and figures, nevertheless, meet merely afield from the original sources of Buddha’s direction. This paper will outline some of the key differences between Burmese practice and early canonical tradition related to the uposatha performance.