Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Uposatha performance (3)

To what extent the Burmese way of Uposatha observance differ from the time of Buddha?
Burma is a distinguished theravæda country in the world where there are totally nine legally registered monastic branches, having a number of other individual theravæda branches dismantled by 1980, of theravæva sects holding firmly their own disciplinary rules in the area of their sects in conformity with the teachings of Buddha in addition to original monastic rules and regulations. The aims and objectives of all branches are definitely the same in all aspects in spite of different rules in their own monasteries.
According to the original canonical texts, just before uposatha is performed on the uposatha days there are four preliminary duties (pubbakara¼a) which must be done prior to collection of monks in a sømæ: the uposatha hall to be swept, a light to be made, water to be set out and seat to be prepared. 
The purpose of these four duties is not only for the sake of resident monks but also those coming from different places. These duties should be managed by the most senior resident monk who can have assists or could order any other junior monks to fulfill them. At the time of Buddha the number of sømæ was very limited and extremely large in size as well. The possible minimum size of sømæ is as small as the space which can hold nothing but only 21 monks in it, while the maximum of it is as large as three leagues (3 yojanas). That is what the Buddha thoughtfully allowed as regards sømæ. When uposatha day comes round, a huge number of monks from diverse places congregate in an appointed space in a sømæ. If the floor of it is soiled, mess and unclean the visitor-monks might get more tired by seeing it in addition to their long trip. The resident monks are also supposed to be blamed due to irresponsibility. Thus the observance hall needs to be clean earlier than the action. Furthermore, if it is done before sunset, the availability of sunlight helps monks view each other so clear that they can be avoid of collision within a sømæ. For that reason a light needs not be made at daytime, but when it is held at night dark enough, it must be lighted up in order to prevent any causality among them. Moreover, drinking water and water for common use must be prepared well for all of the monks who assemble which of whom might come through either muddy way or dusty way so that they probably muddied their feet and also could feel thirsty. In addition, the seats for participants must be ready so as to protect the robes from being dirty.
From the point of view of Burmese tradition, in the majority of big monasteries the duties are done in turn amongst residents without management of abbot. Sweeping the observance hall is exactly in accordance with canonical texts, but last three duties are prepared differently. Neither drinking water nor water for general purpose nor light nor seat is set out for the participants. They are thought to be just for the Buddha statue, not for any others.  Several cups of drinking water and candle lights are only arranged on a desk in front of the statue. It is very confusing whether these are for the Buddha or for the participants. Among younger generations the purpose of uposatha is obscure and they likely think the water and light are offered right to the Buddha. Moreover, the monks who assemble in a sømæ to participate the ceremony usually bring the sitting clothes for themselves. On the other hand, it can be said that the water is not necessary for the participants because they are not from outside; the uposatha is mostly performed by the residents only at present time; none comes from different far places. Therefore, they might not feel thirsty and are not soiled. The light is also enough for the whole sømæ due to the sømæ being small. The ready-made sitting clothes for the monks are abundant and easy to carry place to place nowadays. For that reason, Burmese tradition slightly differs from the tradition of canonical texts.
Another issue concerning with electric wire connection to a sømæ is quite controversial. A sømæ must be isolated without being connected from anything outside. In ancient era no electric power had been created, so such a problem was completely zero, but in modern period, the power is so essential for different use that the wire is connected even to a sømæ. Relevant to it, Dr Candævaræbhivaµsa, Professor of Vinaya department of ITBMU comments that if the wire itself is being linked through underground without covering with any materials such as fiber, plastic pipe and so on, it can be regarded as earth.  Yet, if it is being linked with aforesaid equipments, it cannot be regarded as earth since there is space between wire and earth. The comment of Dr Sølænandæbhivaµsa, former Rector of ITBMU also goes that nowadays most of Sømæs are being linked with electric wire. It is one of the major issues among monk-audiences. Therefore, any formal acts should be done after taking the electric wire off in order not to have any doubt, but some monks persist in doing it without being wire removed.
Further five duties (pubbakicca) are still to be done if necessary before recitation of pætimokkha and after collection of monks in a sømæ: giving consent and purity, announcing season, number of monks and what bhikkhunøs asked.
Among above five, only third and fourth are practised today, the rest are virtually out of function. If there is an ill monk within a large sømæ and he could not attend the uposatha ceremony, he must give his consent and purity, after making himself pure, to a monk who is going there. At the present time in Burma, sømæ is not as large as ancient one, and it is established within a monastery compound separated from other buildings. The ill monk living in other buildings cannot affect the formal act of uposatha performing in a sømæ, therefore the consent and purity are unnecessary to be given.
 The announcement of the past, the present, remaining fortnight in each of three Burmese seasons and a number of attendants are still using in Burma as original as its advent. Burmese calendar and ancient calendar are slightly different, but the relation of uposatha is the same in counting.
When uposatha day comes, two or three bhikkhunø have to approach the monastery to ask one of the monks for the purpose of receiving admonishment. A monk who is asked by bhikkhunøs should declare about it in the middle of the monk-assembly. Burmese Buddhist society, however, does not accept bhikkhunø order at the moment; hence it is needless to perform it.
 According to canonical texts uposatha is categorized into nine kinds. Of them the sæmaggø uposatha is basically performed when divided members of monks rehabilitate again. That event happened during Buddha’s life time when kasambø monks are reconciled after their division. It is thought that the same situation has not occurred in Burma.
A monk must confess his offence before other monk prior to ceremony which emphasized the purity of entire samµgha (a group of monks). The vinaya canon says that the offence what a monk committed should be named when he makes confession, for example if a monk incurs pæcittiya (expiation) offence because of taking alcohol, he must confess like that, “I have committed pæcittiya offence due to using alcohol”. In contrary, Burmese way of confession is, believed to be adopted from both pæ¹i canons and commentaries, formulated in convenient style encompassing all without revealing the exact offence.
There are seven types of offences described in vinaya canons. Apart from pæræjika offence all are curable, but the same offence cannot be confessed, otherwise they entails dukka¥a offence.  Burmese monks, nevertheless, used to confess whether same or different offences by giving a reason that the same offence with different base, for instance taking intoxicant and dinner is pæcittiya offence with different bases, can be confessed.  Even the same base is possible showing an example that two-dinner-eaten-monks confess each other one of whom acknowledges the confession of another; both commits dukka¥a offence, but the former has exempted from pæcittiya offence when the latter incurs both dukka¥a and pæcittiy offence. The difference is that the dukka¥a of the former is due to confession-base and the latter, owing to acknowledgement-base: same offence with different bases. When the latter confesses again before the former, his both offences are remedied. The former again has to confess his dukka¥a offence with confession-base in front of the latter. After that his offence is also cured. That is the way of Burmese tradition regarding confession not relevant to pæ¹i canons but commentaries.
The whole pætimokkha should be recited if there is not any one of ten conditions. Even encountered with it, at least the first main section among five must be recited followed by a brief conclusion. The majority of the monastery in Burma, however, recites the patimokkha only in brief without any proper reasons except the tiredness of long sitting.