Upgrading Your Uposatha Observance: five then eight and beyond

The Dhamma is internally consistent and truthful. It is amazingly complete and flawless.  It is possible to take almost any aspect of the Dhamma and see relations with most other aspects of the Dhamma.
Some people misunderstand precepts and think that more is better. Thus someone practicing ten precepts might be considered more virtuous than an eight preceptor and even more superior than a five preceptor. According to this incorrect understanding, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be inherently more virtuous than lay people because they are obliged to practice over 200 or over 300 rules respectively.  Think about it though: are bhikkhunis more virtuous than bhikkhus because they have more rules?  The first five bhikkhus (pancasaavakaa) and maybe even the first few hundred thousand bhikkhus did not have any rules. Vinaaya rules were created over time to guide worldling-putthujana monastics. Many of these lacked mindfulness and may have been motivated to join the Sangha for because the Buddhasangha was popular, well supported by lay benefactors and rapidly growing in size and influence.  So the number of precepts or rules is not a measure of virtue. 

Virtue-siila, concentration-samaadhi and wisdom-pa~n~naa are all related and integrated parts of the eightfold noble path.   Virtue and other aspects of the path are qualities rather than quantities.  Greater virtue necessarily implies deeper concentration and profounder wisdom. The three go together simultaneously developed and improved as qualities. 

We need to focus on the practice and the results, the cause and effect of actions – kamma.  Wholesome/skilful – kusala actions such as observing Uposatha precepts will lead to pleasant results and visa-versa.   The precepts are guides to daily life that help us reduce the chances of unwholesome/unskilful akusala actions that lead to harmful results.   Monastics who are supposed to be free from the usual distractions of sensuality, earning a living and supporting families are able to use the observance of so many rules to develop deep concentration – samaadhi and with that concentration are able to gain insight into the Dhamma and find liberation from suffering.  Lay people can do this as well. The principles are the same though the lifestyle may be different.    

First five precepts. By not taking life, we are compassionate and loving toward all beings that fear death and prefer to live. We also give the gift of life. By not taking what is not given, we reduce the fear that other beings have for losing their belongings.  We also give material things to others. By refraining from sexual misconduct or indeed any sexual conduct, we reduce opportunities for our minds and the minds of our lovers to be flooded with extreme emotions which reduce mindfulness and create conditions for suffering.  We also give social harmony to our communities.  By refraining from lies, abusive speech other wrong speech acts, we avoid harming other’s reputations, we avoid inflaming their anger and confusing them with ignorance.  By refraining from intoxicating drinks and other substances, we keep our minds relatively clear and sharp so we can remember the Dhamma and act wisely in all situations.   Intoxicated people are more likely to break the other precepts due to their degraded senses. 

The perpetrators and victims of acts of violence, theft, molestation, slander and so on are at least temporarily mentally disturbed and restless. Without a perspective of the Dhamma and some degree of Right View (sammaadi.t.thi) the victims may seek revenge and due to their confusion, harm others.  By doing so, they perpetuate the cycle of suffering and rebirth.  Only by love is hate quenched. Only by renunciation is lust abated. Only by wisdom is ignorance destroyed.  

Other beings will feel less fear in our presence due to our practice of virtue-siila.  This wholesome behaviour will immediately increase environmental peace and safety.  Our good example may inspire others to practice .  Imagine how peaceful our lives would be if we did not have to worry about murder, theft, molestation of self and family, verbal abuse and so forth. Thus with quieter and safer environmental conditions, people will be better able to see clearly what is happening in mind and body. There will naturally be more opportunities for developing the higher mind and possibly achieving a breakthrough in the Dhamma

The last three Uposatha precepts. Most lay people temporarily observe the last three Uposatha precepts either on meditation retreats or on Uposatha days.  Not observing these last three precepts doesn’t obviously lead to harm for ourselves and others so why observe them?  We observe the other three precepts in order to simplify our lives and avoid indulgence in sensual pleasure.  Sensual pleasure is the practice of the lay person in daily life, not the practice of a someone intensifying their progress on the eightfold noble path.  In itself, sensual pleasure is not wrong so don’t get all guilty about having fun.  However, sensual pleasure is distracting, reduces concentration and reduces the opportunities for wisdom to arise.  In other words sensual pleasures slow you down your progress on the spiritual path.  The suttas have many references to sensual pleasures being inherently disappointing and unsatisfactory with only the most fleeting sense of gratification.  Thus by observing the eight Uposatha precepts we can create more conditions for environmental peace and concentration (samaadhi). 

The last three precepts are like an upgrade on the first five. The reduced indulgence in sensuality will help us to maintain a clear peaceful mind in which samaadhi and the other controlling faculties (panc’indriya) can develop.   The difference between an enlightened being and an ordinary worldling is the development of the controlling faculties.

The benefits arising from observing the last three Uposatha precepts is highly dependent on successfully observing the first five precepts. The first five precepts are the basic foundation and the last three are the more advanced practice with more profound results.   

Upgrading Uposatha.  
Some Buddhists may not have convenient living conditions to formally observe Uposatha precepts in all respects. For example, they may feel obliged to wear cosmetics and jewellery to work and may have to eat an evening meal with non-Buddhist family.  Perhaps a non-Buddhist lover may seduce us or demand services on Uposatha day.

Some Buddhists may observe Uposatha precepts regularly but feel they are not making much progress or struggle to see how it is beneficial.  It is inconvenient and maybe they feel dissatisfied.  So how do we upgrade or revive our spiritual life in these two sets of circumstances?   

I suggest below a few ways to give some focus to your observance of Uposatha whether you can practice eight precepts or not. This should give you some ideas which you can adapt for your particular lifestyle and background.

Loving-kindness/friendliness – mettaa and compassion – karunaa. It is helpful to deliberately observe five precepts and Uposatha precepts with mettaa and karunaa in mind. Restraining ourselves from harming others is loving and compassionate. We wish other beings were happy and well. We wish other beings were free from harm and suffering.  It would be odd to attempt mettaa and karunaa practice while not keeping at least the first five precepts because in breaking any of these precepts, we would be directly harming others or intoxicating the mind so that it is unable to concentrate. Beware the near-enemies of mettaa and karunaa.  Beginners in the practice or those who are intoxicated may confuse mettaa with lust or karunaa with pity. 
Observing the five precepts or the Uposatha precepts is practicing love and compassion towards ourselves because we don’t create unwholesome/unskilful kamma that will result in our suffering.  Lord Buddha said that sincerely observing the five precepts will result in a heavenly rebirth, how much more beneficial would be the results of observing Uposatha precepts.  Note that aiming for a heavenly rebirth would be a ‘wrong aim’.  It is better to aim for liberation from the cycle of rebirths altogether.

Sympathetic joy – muditaa. When we go onto Facebook or attend the temple, we may come to know about other Buddhists who practice the five precepts or the eight Uposatha precepts. We can deliberately practice muditaa for these fellow Buddhists, recollecting that they are excellent, practicing in the good way, the true way, the straight way and the proper way.  By recollecting that these fellow Buddhists will be happier and will benefit greatly from this practice we also share in their merits. We say “saadhu, saadhu, saadhu…” congratulations, well done!  Beware the near enemy of muditaa is pride in the achievements of others. Pride in the achievements of others includes attachment.  Muditaa is similar to mettaa and karunaa because it has no aspect of attachment.

Equanimity – upekkhaa. In daily life we will meet many people who do not consciously practice the Uposatha precepts or any precepts. As a result these people wander about in ignorance and suffering. It is not easy for anyone to lead another person to follow the right path. There may be small chances here and there to influence others. Usually, we wait until others ask questions. So we practice equanimity for the sufferings of others.  Remembering that everyone will get the results of their actions. Note that equanimity is not the same as indifference which is allied with ignorance. Equanimity is allied with wisdom and insight.  Equanimity is an underlying component in the other three divine abodes and present in all wholesome mental states. 
It is possible to develop mental aborptions – jhaana with any of the four divine abodes above though traditionally mettaa, karunaa and muditaa can be used for 1st-3rd jhaana while upekkhaa can be used only for 4th jhaana. This is a technical topic for another post. You can read more in the Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga and other meditation manuals. However, there is a lot of benefit from just reflecting on the four divine abodes during the day. As we refrain from taking life, or stealing etc. we can say to our selves “may all beings be happy and well, may all beings be free from harm and suffering…” I find this useful on the bus crowded with noisy people when commuting to work.  When I find a cockroach or spider in the home I capture it and recite “may all beings be happy and well….” as I gently take the insect outside. 
It is also useful to just recite “may all beings be happy and well” at free times during the day. It is relaxing and wholesome. This practice helps keep unwholesome objects from taking over.  
Dhamma study. Choose one Dhamma topic, read a bit, write some brief notes and then reflect on it throughout the day. For example, read about the one of the seven sets in the 37 seven aids to enlightenment – Bodhipakkhiyadhamma. Maybe start with the seven factors for enlightenment – Bojjhanga. Try to remember the Paali words for the factors and memorise the correct sequence of factors. On another day, read about what the commentaries say for ways to cultivate and improve the seven enlightenment factors.  On another day read some more suttas that might refer to the seven factors and may refer to some of the benefits (such as improving health and length of life) in recollecting the seven factors.

As you contemplate the Dhamma in this way you will be practicing dhammanusati which is one of the six recollections recommended by the Blessed One for purifying the mind.  This works because the mind is focussed on a wholesome/skilful object and not distracted with lust, anger or delusion. 


Siilanusati – recollection of virtue.  As someone who is keeping precepts you may be feel confident enough to reflect on your accumulating virtue.  If you have been able to keep five precepts and eight precepts then you have good grounds for reflecting on the merits of your practice. Without necessarily getting  big-headed about it, you objectively realise that this practice is beneficial, it is purifying, creating conditions for happiness and leading you to more wholesome mental states.  Someone who is able to keep precepts is also someone who has enough mindfulness and Right View to control impulsive cravings and has learned to live peacefully to some extent. This is the foundation of training for higher mental development.  On occasions when there are breaks in the precepts (hopefully minor) then one immediately determines to sincerely refrain from breaking the precepts again. It is possible to recover a mind free from remorse, a mind settled and peaceful once again.  Do not underestimate the power of keeping precepts even for a short time such as one minute.  If one is sincere, there are great benefits here and now including greater self-esteem, courage and confidence.

Caaganusati – recollection of generosity. In being generous, by giving and sharing, you have been reducing attachment and clinging.  This wholesome conduct will benefit others and oneself and lead to more wholesome states. This is faultless behaviour. 


32 parts of the body. For those of us who are living a celibate life, I recommend memorising the 32 parts of the body in forward and reverse order as outlined in the Visuddhimagga.  I found this practice is very effective in temporarily overcoming lustful states of mind.  Remembering this famous list is a useful way to concentrate the mind and give it temporary relief from worry and strife. Note there are intensive ways of practicing the 32 parts of the body which can lead to first mental absorption – jhaana though that need not be the goal of the practice.  There are many benefits without necessarily attaining jhaana. Again I refer keen readers to the various meditation manuals for more details.  
Devanusati.  On Uposatha day and other days deliberately recollect that the devas attained their fortunate rebirth and powers on account of previously virtuous conduct such as practising the five precepts and the eight Uposatha precepts. Now you and other sincere Buddhists are practicing in this same way and likely to attain a fortunate rebirth in a heavenly realm. As you practice in this way, you may sometimes  recite “may the devas be happy and well…”.  Remember that many devas are Buddhists and have attained various paths and fruits in the Buddha’s dispensation.  You may recollect these noble devas as part of the ariyasangha
In times when you feel afraid that someone maybe going to hurt you, recollect the devas and maybe you can overcome your fears. But don’t just rely on the devas to protect you. Use common sense and find safety.  Note that overcoming fears in this way is possible with other wholesome objects such as recollecting any or all of the three refuges (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha)
Death – maranaanusati. On Uposatha day and other days, deliberately recollect the certain fact that you will die and so will all the people you know. Recollecting death is a way to put our lives in perspective and determine what is really important.  In Australian culture, recollecting death is considered a negative and gloomy occupation. Actually it is a wholesome and sensible activity.  Some people may find it difficult at first to overcome previous preconceptions and biases. If you persevere you may develop some equanimity and a completely different set of priorities will emerge. I found that recollecting the inevitable nature of death gave me a greater sense of spiritual urgency – sa.mvega. This really motivates and intensifies the practice.  You may find it much easier to practice the five precepts and eight Uposatha precepts after you have deepened your maranaanutsati.
Summary. By simplifying our lives and deepening our practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods outlined above we will definitely be upgrading our Uposatha observance.   The basic peace in life created by the first five precepts can be deepened by the 8 Uposatha precepts. This results in greater peace and concentration – samaadhi. The deliberate practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods is further deepening of the practice that will bring enormous benefits to ourselves and all others in the environment.
May you dear reader feel inspired to go deeper into the Dhamma. May you be free from harm and suffering.

Why I chose to not ordain

This answer to this question is complex and difficult to explain. This posting is personal and will not cover all the issues that are relevant to all people. I write from the perspective of a middle-aged male raised in Australia.

I received a couple of queries about this question and this prompted me to write this posting as a response. I suppose I set the question up in the earlier version of the “about me” paragraph under my photo [I must update that photo one day…].  This posting took over a week of writing and editing and I’m still not happy with the quality.  It is my longest posting by far, with over 4000 words. I was going to write a short version, a sort of executive summary and a long version for those interested in more detail but then merged the two into what appears here. I’ll move on to other topics for future postings now. I have a few draft posts on Dhamma topics waiting for my attention. I’ll try to post one a week but don’t count on it.

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From late 1981 until the end of 2009 I practiced vipassana meditation as taught in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition. It was the early insights from this meditation that convinced me in 1982 to become Buddhist and to ordain as a monk in Thailand. After I disrobed in 1984, I continued to practice vipassana meditation as a lay man though I didn’t do any more retreats until November 2005. That seven day retreat led by Ven. Sayadaw U Lakkhana was intense and reinvigorated my practice once again. I knew I had to keep practicing. At that time I didn’t have much confidence in myself as a meditator and imagined that it would take many lifetimes to make a breakthrough to stream-entry (sotapanna).

In December 2006 – January 2007 I did a 6 week retreat in Yangon with Ven. Saydaw U Janaka (Chanmyay Sayadaw) and once again went up the insight knowledges (vipassana ~naa.na). I reached a difficult stage and left the retreat one week early. I still didn’t have much confidence in my practice. From 2005 onwards I was also beginning to read more Dhamma books and delved into the excellent translations of the Suttas by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu. This sutta study and continued practice at home further strengthened my confidence in the Dhamma (saddha) and increased my sense of spiritual urgency (sa.mvega).

By mid 2008, I had decided that conventional lay life in a couple relationship was a hindrance to spiritual development but still wasn’t sure if I should ordain as a monk. At that time I was confident I could live the celibate life so ordaining was a possibility once more. My family situation left me free to choose to ordain or not. So I began preparing for a trip to Asia to go back to Yangon and to visit Thailand where I had been a monk before. I thought that before possibly ordaining I needed to focus on making a breakthrough by doing longer more intensive retreats. This is more important than robes or rules of conduct.

I thought about the 2006-07 retreat at Chanmyay Yeithka in Yangon that I broke off early due to reaching a difficult stage. My own assessment (not confirmed by anyone else) is that I may have reached number 10 (of 16) – Knowledge of reflection (patisa.nkhaa~naa.na). I was determined that I would persevere next time and not give up the retreat so early. In fact whereas I only did a six week retreat in 2006-07, in March-June 2009 (16 weeks) at Saddhammaransi Yeithka, I reached this same stage after the first four weeks and seemed to stay there for the remaining 12 weeks. It was very frustrating. I was restless the whole time and wanted to leave. I struggled very much. Some of my wish to leave was due to uncomfortable environmental factors which I have outlined later in this blog. I believe that most of the restlessness and mental pain was an effect of the insight knowledge itself.

I finally gave up and transferred to Mahasi Sasana Yeithka, also in Yangon, where I continued meditating but not so intensively. There I talked with and helped other resident foreigners. I seemed to stay in the same insight knowledge but with less apparent stress. Maybe it was an immature number 11 (of 16), knowledge of equanimity towards formations (sa.nkhaar’upekkhaa~naa.na)? Again the environment was not ideal for me to meditate. Some Burmese Dhamma friends have criticised me for being weak and not persevering. They said I may have made a breakthrough had I stayed longer and they even encouraged me to ordain despite the obstacles.

I wrote above that I had only practiced insight meditation in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw. Prior to leaving Australia for this trip I had been studying suttas and reading about deep concentration meditation (samatha) and meditative absorptions (jhaana). This was attractive to me for many reasons and not least because from what I was reading in the suttas, it was the way that the Blessed One and the Sangha at that time practiced. I believe I had some weaknesses in my spiritual development that may have hindered progress.

I shall provide some doctrine before continuing this theme.

There are five controlling faculties (panc’indriya) which include:

  • confidence (saddha)
  • energy (viriya)
  • mindfulness (sati)
  • concentration (samaadhi)
  • wisdom (pa~n~naa)

These must be well-balanced to make good progress in meditation and achieve a breakthrough. I self-assessed myself as being relatively weak in mindfulness and concentration. From what I was reading in the suttas, it seemed that a period of intense deep concentration meditation (samatha) perhaps up to the level of developing mental absorptions would increase mindfulness and concentration. With these two important factors strengthened, all the five controlling faculties would balance and a breakthrough may occur. At least this was the theory as interpreted by myself.

In secondary materials such as popular books on meditation and audio lectures by Buddhist teachers, even Theravada Buddhist teachers, there is a lot of talk about developing the ten perfections (paramis). These are not in the suttas or the commentary literature (A.t.thakathaa) at all. The doctrine of perfections only appear in the sub-commentary literature (Tiika) and later than that. The Theravada tradition adopted the doctrine of perfections from the Mahayana tradition more than 1000 years after the Blessed One attained Nibbaana without remainder (about 500 BC). The ten perfections are often referenced by modern teachers as a way to measure progress on the spiritual path. They may say “the perfections are not sufficiently mature, be patient and keep practicing. Maybe next life-time …” and so on. I believe a more appropriate reference is the five controlling faculties.

Ok, now back to the theme. I left Yangon and went to Bangkok where for about two weeks I did little meditation while relaxing and meeting with old friends. I ate lots of food and talked with friends about my plans to find a suitable meditation centre or monastery to practice samatha meditation. However, soon after meeting Pi Yai, she persuaded me to try insight meditation in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw one more time at Section 5, Wat Mahadhatu. She arranged everything and I stayed there for 2 weeks and then 8 weeks. These two retreats were interrupted by a week when I travelled to Laos to renew my visa for Thailand for 3 months. The 8 week retreat at Wat Mahadhatu was the best. I had a few environmental difficulties but persevered. Pi Yai was a great meditation coach and a fantastic Dhamma teacher. Once again I reached that difficult insight knowledge, number 10 and maybe flipped over into number 11 sometimes, I’m not sure. It was not so uncomfortable this time though. Even so I gave up again after 8 weeks. I missed talking about the Dhamma and sometimes thought of my plans to try samatha meditation. I stayed in Bangkok another 4 weeks helping Pi Yai teach drop-in travellers who went to Wat Mahadhatu to learn meditation and get an introduction to Buddhism. It was fun and quite rewarding.

I then went to India for a month to do the pilgrimage of Buddhist sacred sites. This was very important to me. I wrote a lot about this in the December 2009 postings. Then I went to Sri Lanka to Na Uyana Aranya with the specific purpose of beginning samatha practice and hoping to possibly attain one or more of the four mental absorptions (jhaana). The plan was to use the jhaana as a base to then do insight meditation in the manner outlined in the suttas.

There were more obstacles at Na Uyana Aranya and I didn’t attain jhaana. Even so, my time there was very useful and productive. I learned a lot about samatha practice, Sri Lanka, Buddhism as practiced in Sri Lanka as well as having many interesting and penetrating Dhamma conversations.

The journey was primarily about doing retreats aiming for a spiritual break through. Evaluating monasteries as possible places to ordain was very much secondary. All the time, I knew that ordination was a possibility but not certain and not a goal in itself. The goal was to make a spiritual breakthrough regardless of worldly status or livelihood.

The only place that came close to being suitable for me to ordain is Na Uyana Aranya. I did not visit all possible venues for ordination. As I passed through each place I decided, ‘this place doesn’t suit me’ until I reached Na Uyana Aranya. It was the best of all the places I’d been and the only place I seriously considered ordaining. In the first two months I even told Ven. Ariyaananda twice of my intention to ordain. Then in the second two months the average temperature and humidity increased. I was unable to do regular walking meditation between sitting sessions because either there was no shade or there were too many insects.

In the second two months, my lower back ache was bothering me. Climbing the steep hill every day was a hassle in the humid weather. There were other minor issues that all accumulated to the point when I finally decided not to ordain at Na Uyana Aranya. By that time, my funds were low and I had to return to Perth to earn money. If I had more money then I might have looked around Sri Lanka at other monasteries or maybe travelled back to Thailand to look around there. I might have gone back to India to visit pilgrimage sites. I might have gone to other places in the world to meet with Buddhist teachers and get more advice about practice and Dhamma.

Some readers may wonder if there are some issues that I have not covered in this posting that may be relevant to my decision not to ordain. Although I have written rather a lot for a blog posting, I have not covered every detail. Even so, I would like to briefly outline those issues that are not relevant to my personal decision not to ordain: lust, anger, insanity, criminality, fatal or disfiguring diseases (not including ageing), non-human being, drug addiction, physical disability, physical deformity, indebtedness, obligation for military or government service, incomplete masculinity (for men wishing to ordain as a bhikkhu), family dependents and so forth. Most of these issues are identified in the Vinaaya as obstacles to ordination.

Though still capable of lust, anger and delusion, these conditions are not strong enough to prevent me form ordaining. For example, some people might not have the ability to live a celibate life – they need a sexual outlet. Experienced meditators learn to manage lust and anger. Samatha (concentration) meditation is particularly suitable for temporarily purifying mental states. This is why it is a good idea to spend some time (at least six months) as a lay person on eight precepts to learn how to manage lust and anger and also to sample monastic life. The Blessed One recommended meditation on the body, particularly parts of the body and various decaying corpses in order to reduce the impact of lustful mental states. He also recommended loving-kindness meditation for reducing the impact of angry mental states. I personally verified the effectiveness of these techniques and routinely applied them for short periods each day.

The following section indicates places I stayed during my trip and provides some indication of why I chose not to ordain at each place or stay longer even as a lay man.

Saddhammaransi Yeithka, Yangon, Myanmar (March 2009 – June 2009)

Good: Sayadaw U Kundala is the abbot is an inspiring presence despite not being available for teaching due to old age and poor health. Good room with ensuite. City conveniences such as Internet, hospitals, shops, embassies and international airport. Dr Than Than is an excellent translator and teacher.

Bad: Very noisy city monastery in a noisy neighbourhood. Extremely crowded with 80 per cent women. Oily food. Diarrhea every week or second week. Resident monastics are mostly late-in-life ordinations (retirees). Monastics depend largely on savings acquired in their own previous lay life and regular stipends earned by chanting. Monastics have bank accounts and use money. Many temporary ordinations coming and going with little knowledge of Buddhism. Slack management of lay men doing ten day, one month and 3 month resident retreats. Strict routine of taking 8 precepts every morning and listening to Dhamma talks every afternoon.

Saddhammaransi Yeithka has a branch monastery located outside Yangon in a rural area that is reputed to be less crowded and much quieter. I heard that foreigners have ordained as monks and nuns and stayed there for years to practice successfully. I requested the opportunity to go there but the lay officials at Saddhammaransi Yeithka discouraged me. If anyone were to consider Saddhammaransi Yeithka, they should insist from the start that they wish to go to the rural branch monastery. It is also important to consider whether a competent translator is available.

Mahasi Sasana Yeithka, Yangon, Myanmar (June – July 2009)

Good: Large grounds with many trees close to the centre of Yangon. Mahasi Sayadaw museum and mausoleum. Good room with ensuite. City conveniences such as Internet, hospitals, shops, embassies and international airport.

Bad: Monastics and lay people constantly spitting on the walking paths. Oily food. Diarrhea every week or second week. Poor quality teachers. Slack vinaaya – even the senior teachers use money. Many temporary ordinations coming and going with little knowledge of Buddhism. Corrupt senior lay management request bribes for facilitating foreign meditators’ visas (regardless of being monastic or lay person).

Wat Mahadhatu, Section 5, Bangkok, Thailand (July 2009 – November 2009)

Good: Pi Yai is an excellent vipassana meditation teacher in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw. Meditators at all levels would benefit by talking with her. A good place for absolute beginners to get an introduction to Buddhism and Mahasi method meditation. Excellent food (though not vegetarian).

Bad: Extremely crowded, with noisy and inadequate facilities. Many lay women visiting and staying for short retreats. Noisy environment for meditation and sleeping. Many rats, cats and cockroaches. Many monastics smoke cigarettes in the accommodation areas. All monastics use money except a few visiting monks. Lots of chanting and rituals. Monastics depend largely on savings acquired in their own previous lay life and regular stipends earned by chanting. Monastics have bank accounts and use money. Many temporary ordinations. Ven. Raajasiddhimuni “Luang Por Jodok”, passed away about 10 years ago and there is no-one else of his quality. Most monasteries depend on a senior and venerable figurehead. Section 5 is missing one though some try hard to fit the role. As a lay woman, Pi Yai lacks worldly status and influence while ostentatious monastics flap and squawk.

Ven. Luang Por Jodok was my preceptor (upajjhaaya) when I ordained as a bhikkhu in 1982.  Ven. Ajahn Kao Titawano was the abbot and my principle teacher (aacariya) at that time too. He also passed away about 10-15 years ago.  I miss them and other monastic teachers from that time. It would be great if they were still alive and available for me to consult with.

Na Uyana Aranya, Pansiyagama, Sri Lanka (January 2010 – May 2010)

Good: Ven.Ariyadhamma. Ven. Ariyaananda is cool and an excellent teacher and leader. 500 hectares of forest. Many paths for hiking through the forest. Good accommodation with en-suites. Good vegetarian food with no tummy problems at all. Strong vinaaya. Support for various meditation traditions including Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw and Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw. Excellent collection of books.

Bad: Few kutis have suitable walking paths for meditation. Many kutis are very hot. Many unpaved paths up steep hills. Deadly snakes and insects. Monkeys. Ants. Far from Internet and health facilities. Library room is hot and small. Centralised management. Ants cross the paths at random places each day and many mosquitos and other biting insects attack at night. My kuti was too small for walking inside.

Other yogis encouraged me to ask Ven. Ariyaananda for a bigger kuti but I didn’t want to bother him. He had given me that kuti to use and I didn’t want to be another grumpy, spoiled Westerner. I felt privileged to have a kuti to myself since all the Sri Lankan lay people had to live in dormitory buildings. Perhaps if I had stayed and ordained I could have upgraded to a larger kuti in a shady area with a short walking path inside. I was not so patient.

There were suggestions that at 50 years old and with minor health issues, I may be too old to ordain at Na Uyana. But this wasn’t a firm and final matter. I had confidence that were I to demonstrate determination and sincerity as a lay man for one or two years, there would be no problem ordaining. Some people suggested a way around this would be to ordain somewhere else and then return to Na Uyana to seek residence. That idea didn’t appeal to me. I prefer to be straight forward.

Finance: I started with a budget of about A$14,000. I spent it on living costs, travel and donations. By the time I was making my decision about whether to ordain at Na Uyana Aranya, I had little of those funds left (no debts though). I felt uncomfortable making that decision as though someone (mostly myself?) might criticise me for ordaining to escape poverty and work. This is complex but only one of many minor factors in the ordination decision.

Health: I have some minor health issues that are more conveniently addressed in layman’s life. I like to see doctors and other allied health specialists from time to time. As a monk I would be totally dependent on lay support for medical attention. As a lay man with employment and a reasonable income living in an economically prosperous country I can easily access high quality medical services. These provide a greater degree of physical comfort and possibly a longer life for Dhamma study and practice. I wouldn’t want to be too great a burden to other monastics or the local lay communities.

Teacher and local monastic community: As a newly ordained monastic it is good to have a teacher and appropriate community support for conduct, meditation and requisites. I have confidence that strict monastic conduct leads to deeper concentration and wisdom. There are many teachers who may have strict conduct themselves but live among a community that is slack. There are good meditation teachers who are not good at monastery management. Ideally communities would have a solid tradition and culture that is sustainable in the long term despite changes in abbots and teachers (due to death, sickness and travel). Successful monastic communities are dependent on devoted lay communities.

Vinaaya (rules of conduct for monastics): It is conceivable but not convenient for experienced monastics (maybe over 5 years in robes) to move around without money in these countries. Despite the vinaaya (rules of conduct for monastics) most monastics use money.

Location: There is greater support for monastics in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos than in Australia. This is due to the higher proportion of Buddhist lay supporters in the population and the higher number of monasteries. There is much less choice in Australia for a suitable place to ordain. The Ajahn Chah lineage monasteries have a strict age-limit policy for ordinations and would not ordain a man aged 50 plus. Most other Theravada monasteries in Australia would have smaller communities of monastics and may not have sufficient facilities for ordaining, accommodating and training new monks. I have not fully investigated the options though, so I may be wrong. Most of my research on Australian monasteries is via the Internet.

Having Thai language and cultural skills, I could find and settle at many monasteries in Thailand (and Laos). Myanmar and Sri Lanka have many English speakers and probably after 6 months of effort a newly ordained monk could learn enough local language to survive. Certainly within 2-3 years, I would expect to be literate in the local language. In my case, I’ve done that already with my experience ordaining in Thailand so doing it again in another country does not scare me. In Thailand, I’m not keen on the political structure and culture of the Sangha, the non-orthodox ideas (magic, Hinduism, crystals, astrology, money, status) that hinder access to true Dhamma. These are common problems in Laos, Myanmar and Sri Lanka though manifested in different ways. I expect that some monasteries in Australia may have these problems too.

Location is linked with access to climate, health and communication facilities. Asian countries tend to feel hotter and more humid than most places in Australia (north Queensland and northern Northern Territory excepted). I can live with that though I prefer a temperate climate.

Family, children: I have two children aged 18 and 16 who live with their mother (first wife) in Canberra. While I was traveling from March 2009 to May 2010 I was in intermittent contact with them. As a layman I could be more directly involved in their lives. They need support and guidance sometimes. Now that I’m back in Perth, my daughter is keen to come and live with me later this year.

Family, mother and siblings: My mother is in good health and well. She is always anxious when I’m travelling overseas and encourages me to return to Australia. Even when I lived in Canberra she invited me to live in Perth close to her. My siblings enjoy my company and the exotic flavour I add to the family blend (and meals) in Perth. I’m the only Buddhist in my family – everyone else are pragmatic agnostics (my label for them). Like the majority of Westerners, they seem to accept the common Western materialist paradigm. They don’t like philosophising and prefer me not to question their assumptions about life.

Age: There are guidelines for ordination in Australian monasteries that discourage or prohibit ordination for men aged 50 or over. I just missed out there. I could easily ordain in Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka or Laos whatever my age. Though there are monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka that may not allow me to ordain because of my mature age. (More details in the Longer Response below.)

I turned 50 in early 2010. I regard this as middle-aged, the prime of life. However, some monasteries regard the age of 50 as being ‘too old’ to ordain. Nevertheless some of those monasteries with an age policy for ordinations seem to consider each case on its merits. It seems that they want to discourage monks from using the monastery as a retirement home. They would assess each case and judge whether the candidate was sincere and had a strong sense of spiritual urgency (sa.mvega). I gather that some monasteries have a very strict policy of not ordaining men aged 50 and over, regardless of their spiritual urgency.

What next?

Now I am open to the next stage. I retain the preference to be single, celibate and free. I shall get a job, save money and maybe travel again. Though I am less likely to consider ordination in future.

Maybe in a couple of years I can find a cottage in a remote area with convenient access to food where I can quietly do a retreat on my own. This is relatively cheap in Sri Lanka. I believe it maybe possible in Thailand or Laos too. This would be a longer retreat – maybe 3-4 months or longer. I’d like to try continue doing samatha meditation – namely mindfulness of breathing (aanaapaanasati) and see how far it can go.

This could be a model for the future. Work for a while, save money, go on a long retreat for a few months, return to Australia, work for a while, save money, go on a long retreat…. and so on. I am aware that life happens despite our plans.

I shall continue studying Dhamma. I have a fantasy about learning Paali and possibly Sinhala languages. I’m not sure if I can retain the discipline to do so. I’ll probably keep posting on this blog too.

Six principles of cordiality and a seven-point test for stream-entry

I paraphrased this sutta using Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Nanamoli’s English translation.

Six principles of cordiality that create love and respect and conduce to cohesion, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.
1.  Maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
2.  Maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
3.  Maintain mental acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
4. Use things in common with virtuous companions in the holy life, without making reservations, sharing any gains which accord with the Dhamma and that has been obtained in a way that accords with the Dhamma, including (for monastics) the contents of one’s bowl [one is generous-caaga, not stingy or miserly].
5. Possess in common with virtuous companions those virtues (siila) that are unbroken, untorn, unblemished, liberating, commended by the wise, not misapprehended and conducive to concentration [five precepts are the basic precepts].
6. Possess in common with companions the view that is noble and liberating and leads one who practices in accord with it to the complete destruction of suffering [sammaaditthi right view].
Of these… the chief, the most cohesive, the most unifying, is (6) the view that is noble and liberating…  And how does one know whether this view is held?
Seven-point test for stream-entry-sotapanna
1.  Ask yourself:  Is my mind obsessed with sensual lust, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, [five hindrances] speculation about this world and the other world [life after death or annihilation etc.], taken to quarrelling and brawling and deep in disputes, stabbing others with verbal daggers. Obsessed in this way one’s mind is not well disposed for awakening to truths.
If there are no such obsessions, this is the first knowledge that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people. [Sotapanna and sakadagaami people occasionally experience sensual lust, ill-will and so forth. However, they are less bothered by these hindrances and can easily concentrate their minds if they wish to. Anaagaamii have destroyed lust and ill-will and have very highly developed samaadhi-concentration. Arahats have destroyed all the aasava-taints and are not disturbed by these hindrances at any time. Some puthujjana-worldlings who have not attained any stage of awakening, but have skill in attaining deep concentration states such as the four jhaana-mental absorptions and the four formless bases may rarely be bothered by these hindrances.  However, most puthujjana who have never trained their minds or studied the Buddha Dhamma are obsessed in this way.]
2. Ask yourself: when I pursue, develop and cultivate this view (that is noble and liberating), do I obtain internal serenity, do I obtain stillness? – If yes then this is the second knowledge… [this refers to the ability to calm the mind through samatha meditation. For those sotapanna who have not attained jhaana-absorption, they are still able to obtain internal serenity by practicing the six recollections such as Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, Siila, Caaga and Deva. They can also practice recollection of peace and use other meditation objects to obtain internal serenity with relative ease. ].
3. Ask yourself: is there any other recluse or teacher outside (the Buddha’s dispensation) possessed of a view such as I possess? If no, then this is the third knowledge… [this means that one believes that right view is only possible within the Buddha’s dispensation and one doesn’t believe that anyone outside Buddhism can attain a stage of awakening such as stream entry-sotapanna].
4. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) characteristic of a person with right view?  Such a person immediately confesses any offence for which a means of rehabilitation has been laid down. Just as a baby at once draws back when he puts his hand or his foot on a live coal…  If yes this is the fourth knowledge … [This refers to moral shame and fear of wrong doing – hiri and ottappa.]
5. Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) characteristic of a person with right view? Although such a person may be active in various matters for his companions in the holy life, yet he has regard for training in the higher virtue, higher mind and higher wisdom.  Just as a cow with a new calf, while she grazes, watches her calf. If yes this is the fifth knowledge… (heedfulness – apamaada) [A sotapanna may sometimes neglect training but not for long. Because they wish to help fellow monastics or fellow lay Buddhists, or even non-Buddhists, they usually find contentment and satisfaction in the training. Heedfulness is closely related to mindfulness and other skilful qualities that sotapanna have in abundance].
6. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) strength of a person with right  view? When the Dhamma and Discipline (Dhamma-vinaaya) proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one heeds it, gives it attention, engages it with all one’s mind, hears the Dhamma with eagerness.  If yes, this is the sixth knowledge… [in this way one would suppress the nivaarana-hindrances to samaadhi-concentration and one’s mind would be pliable, bright and in the best possible state for understanding the Dhamma].
7.  Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) strength of a person with right view?  When the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. If yes, this is the seventh knowledge… [this is not something that a sotapanna would have to consciously cultivate – it would be natural and automatic].
A noble disciple possessed of these seven factors is well on the way toward the realisation of the fruit of stream entry [this is someone who possesses the path of stream entry – sotapanna magga]. A noble disciple who possesses these seven factors, possesses the fruit of stream entry [sotapanna phala].  

In the relatively well-known eightfold classification of noble ones (ariyapuggala) there are two pairs of four and eight individuals. Two sotapanna, two sakadagaamii, two anaagaamii and two arahata. In each pair, the inferior one is on the path (magga) while the superior one has attained the fruit (phala).  Here is a list of eight ariyapuggala in descending order of superiority:

Arahata phala
Arahata magga
Anaagaamii phala
Anaagaamii magga
Sakadagaamii phala
Sakadagaami magga
Sotapanna phala

Sotapanna magga
The sotapanna phala person is not equivalent to a sakadagaamii magga person. Though they both have already attained sotapanna phala, the sakadagaamii magga person is superior because they are on the path to the higher attainment whereas the sotapanna phala person is for the time being stable and not making significant efforts to reach a higher state. This principle applies to other stages in the table above until finally the arahata phala person has no more work to do since they are fully awakened. 

The exegetical Paali Commentaries to the Abhidhamma Pitaka prepared by Ven. Buddhaghosa (about 1500 years ago) and the tradition of later abhidhammika scholars divert from the teachings in the Sutta Pitaka (basket of discourses). 

In the Introduction to the Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Philosophical Psychology of Buddhism, Abhidhammaattha Sangaha, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:
… a few of the Abhidhamma conceptions that are characteristic of the Commentaries but either unknown or recessive in the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself. One is the detailed account of the cognitive process (cittaviithi).  While this conception seems to be tacitly recognised in the canonical books [of the abhidhamma pitaka], it now comes to be drawn out for use as an explanatory tool in its own right. The functions of the cittas come to be designated by way of their functions. The term khana, “moment,” replaces the canonical samaya “occasion,” as the basic unit for delimiting the occurrence of events, and the duration of a material phenomenon is determined to be seventeen moments of mental phenomenon. The division of a moment into three sub-moments–arising, presence, and dissolution–also seems to be new to the Commentaries…

In relation to awakening, proponents of the Commentary theory of cognitive process claim that during awakening there is a single very brief moment of sotapanna magga citta immediately followed by a similarly very brief moment of sotapanna phala citta with no other citta (moment of cognitive process) in between magga and phala. However, this theory is not supported by the suttas. There are many suttas where noble ones who are path attainers (magga) are walking around without yet having attained the fruit (phala). We should always prefer the suttas to later teachings elaborated in exegetical literature.

In later blogs I intend to write some short articles on the less well-known sevenfold classification of ariyapuggala and on the first stage of awakening – sotapanna magga based on reading suttas. 

Love and Attachment

In a worldly way, it is normal and praiseworthy that people are attached to family and friends. We are expected to display emotions that imply deep attachment and concern for our loved ones. In a Buddhist way, we try to remove attachment to all things including family and friends because any attachment is unsatisfactory and leads to suffering. For example, when the loved ones get sick, die, have set backs or when they are blamed or otherwise suffer we also suffer due to our attachment to them. When strangers suffer we may not suffer as much.

Sentimental attachment in human relations is often regarded as an essential characteristic of being human (as in “it is only human to …”). Buddhists believe that it is possible to transcend ordinary human nature and ordinary conceptual realities. It is possible to develop the mind and remove attachment to everything. This does not equate to becoming a heartless android. Buddhists aspire to regard (with love, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity) all beings equally whatever their kinship, physical appearance, cultural and demographic features.

The path doesn’t necessarily mean you need to leave a householder’s life and become a nun or monk. It does mean that we can make choices, decisions and intentions (cetanaa – intentions are kamma) for actions, speech and thought that tend toward simplicity nekkhama, good-will metta and non-harm ahimsa and non-attachment. This is possible as a lay person and I believe it has been achieved many times by countless lay people.

In daily life we usually have affection, love and good-will for our family and friends and the opposite for troublesome people. We may try developing good-will metta bhavana for both groups but this effort will be mixed with our attachment to views, lust and hatred. Preferences and dullness interfere with skilful mental development bhavanaa.

Beginners may not have mental powers and skills (concentration samaadhi etc.) to be very effective in these circumstances. So instead of using family, friends and enemies as objects for metta bhavana, we may do it for directions or for all beings.

Emotionally neutral objects are less likely to cloud our minds and weaken our mental faculties. Our aim in mental development bhavanaa is to develop powerful mental faculties, so removing unskilful akulsala states from mind is very important. Skilful minds can more easily deal with objects that might provoke like and dislike preferences or dullness.

Beginners should initially avoid developing good-will metta bhavanaa directed specifically at family friends and enemies until skilful enough to practice with harmony and balance. Good-will metta needs the balance of some equanimity upekkhaa to be skilful. Skilful good-will does not discriminate between friends and foes, lovers, ex-lovers and rivals, strangers and comrades, loathsome and cute, human and non-human life. Skilful good-will applies to all beings.

There is a danger in directing good-will only to those we love or admire. Lust and attachment can be the “near-enemy” of good-will. Lust and attachment are corruptions of good-will. Due to a lack of discernment a beginner may confuse lust or attachment for good-will. Lust and attachment is harmful and leads to suffering whereas skilful good-will is harmless and leads to liberation, if not already attained.