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[ Uposatha ]

Basic Uposatha How-To

As an exercise in self control and as an excuse to devote extra attention to your Buddhist studies and sitting practice I recommend the observance of Uposatha. If you gain nothing else, simply making the effort and failing you will learn the strength of the obstacles that sleep and eating present.

In all the time I have been fiddling around with this system I have never yet figured out exactly how one is to handle eating and observing Uposatha. Strictly speaking (accordng to the suttas, not according to many traditions) the Uposatha day beings at sunset the day before the moon-phase day and ends at sunset of the day following. Some people observe for two days on Full Moon and New Moon Days.

So, as I have read the rules, somebody not very interested in testing their self-discipline could eat just before sunset on the day before, eat the one meal at noon and eat again after sunset. This would accomplish nothing. I have made up my own rules, which will have to do until I hear from some authoritative source about the correct observance.

Here we are holding that "Uposatha" means "Preparation", and that the preparation was for the Soma ceremony and occurred the day prior to the moon-phase day.

The Calandar date for the Moon-phase day is calculated as beginning at the sunset of the 24-hour period (not calendar day) of time in which the moon enters the phase. It ends at sunset 24 hours later. Those who wish to use this observation for shamanistic purposes as a cleansing ceremony should consequently begin their observance a day earlier than that indicated in the calandar.

The recommended practice here now is:

From Sunrise
on the day the moon officially enters one of the four phases in your location
(or one day earlier)
eat only before noon.
From sunset of that day
to sunset of the following day,
eat only one meal,
before noon, at one sitting.
abstain from eating
from after sunset
to morning of the day after.

This schedule will avoid the tricky-dick tactic of eating a big meal just before sunset of the moon-phase day, again once before noon on the moon-phase day, and again after sunset on the day that begins at sunset of the moon-phase day: in other words, no real sacrifice at all.


For example: Residing here in California,
to observe the January 6th, 2010
Last Quarter Uposatha
(according to Buddhist practice)
which goes from sunset on the 6th
to sunset on the 7th:
From noon of January 6th
To daybrake of January 8th
Eat only one meal:
On January 7th, before Noon.


Please note that as well as the difference in observance days for shamans and Buddhists, different Buddhist cultures observe Uposattha on different days and in different ways.



Observe the Wakeful Watch by remaining awake the entire night, or, failing that remain awake until 10 and wake again at 2, or failing that traditional routine, sleep only 4 hours. Spend as much of the time doing Dhamma study and sitting practice as you are able.

During the whole of the Uposatha Day:
Abstain from saying any intentional untrue thing
Abstain from any intentional harm to any living creature
Abstain from taking anything that belongs to another unless it is given
Abstain from sexual indulgence (bodily or mental)
Abstain from alcohol or drugs that cause sleep or carelessness
Abstain from sleeping on a luxurious bed
Abstain from watching any "entertainments"
Abstain from using any scented oils or perfumes, cosmetics, ornimentations, etc.



V: "Does this mean you only stay up one evening? And if so, does this one evening begin at sunset the day before Uposatha until the sunrise of Uposatha? Or does this one evening begin sunset the day of Uposatha until sunrise of the day after Uposatha?
Just don't wanna stay up on the wrong evening, that's all. :)"

Well, let's say the absolutely correct practice has yet to be precisely clarified in my mind (for example, on the Access to insight calendar, Uposatha looks to be the actual day of the phase of the moon. This is not my reading of the suttas). I believe it is practiced in different ways in different cultures and at different times in the past. The word itself means "preparation" the eve of the Soma Sacrifice (where everyone sat around and drank SOMA and got stoned), which was, I believe the actual day of the phase of the moon.

It occurs to me that the connection of this observance with the Soma ceremony explains the lack of clarity about the eating practice. If Soma was like any number of other drugs used for the purpose of spiritual visions, it could well be that it creates intense nausia at even the thought of food, so that it would be sufficient to tell people not to eat the day before to get them to not eat for the entire two day period (Uposatha and the day of the phase of the moon).

PED has: At the time of the rise of Buddhism the word had come to mean the day preceding four stages of the moon's waxing and waning.

(An idea which makes good sense in terms of Soma, by the way, which, whatever it is, would undoubtedly work much more powerfully on a "purified" body. A similar practice is used by shaman throughout the world for Tobacco Visions, Ayahuasca, and many other drugs).

In terms of eating, this means that you could eat all day up to but not passed sunset of the day preceding the day preceding the Full Moon day and you could eat again after daybreak of the Full Moon day, but in-between you would eat only one meal: before noon of the day preceding the Full Moon day.

This sounds more difficult than it is to put into practice, and it "works" -- if you measure what works by an improvement in one's ability to see for one's self the value of wanting little, and the difficulty in letting go. This is, to my mind, the point of the practice.

In terms of things that are a little more thrilling, the moon phases, and especially the full and new moon phases are very strange times and very powerful and it was to get a glimpse of this (among other things, of course) that laymen were urged to keep the watch and observe the fast.

At this time (USA Monday, February 03, 2003 12:15 PM) about the only measures of time we use that are harmoneous with nature (and therefore allowing us to relate to the changes associated with nature) is the day. The year should begin at the winter solstice. The week is an arbitrary division that does not relate to anything; the month has nothing to do with it's namesake (not to mention things like the names of the months themselves, where 'sept' (meaning "7") is the 9th month; oct(8) = 10; nov(9) = 11; dec(10) =12! etc, all for the sake of the ego of a king that has nothing to do with our lives! -- children raised knowing the meanings of these words and being able to relate to those meanings in real terms would have learned the roots of hundreds of words in both English and numerous other languages...what a loss!). Observing the phases of the moon can work wonders in re-orienting one to the rhythms of the natural world.

To my mind, there is no sense to keeping an artificial date based on tradition (especially when it is not our tradition), but there is a huge advantage to trying to do this practice; there is nothing like facing the actual facts of the situation: exactly how much of a hold a silly meal has over one, or exactly how much we enjoy the pleasures of lying in bed — two very dangerous habits to one who may some time face hard times, not to mention needing to keep one's wits about one at the breakup of the elements at death... time to sleepeebye, talk to me tommorrow Mara.

I see the practice as calling my own bluff: So you say you are a Buddhist! Let's see exactly how well you can handle just one day of doing it right.



Miscellaneous odd bit of information: According to the Laws of the Ayyas (pre and perhaps contemporaneous with the Buddha) an individual who did not drink Soma on the days of the Soma Sacrifice could have his property confiscated and would be unfit for a marriage partner. (180° there Boss!) One of the very strange things I find about this is that there is hardly any mention at all of Soma in the Suttas. There is plenty of mention of Hemp, and even in such contexts as to indicate that it was in use as a recreational drug (One of Gotama's powerful Forest-Living Bhikkhus was named Ghanga-balls), but no mention of soma use even among those of other sects.



V: "Could you site some Suttas (perhaps those that can be found on the internet) where there is mention that the use of Hemp is an acceptable Buddhist practice?
Maybe it's just me, but the use of drugs seems a bit in contradiction with 'abstaining from intoxicants', no?"



Not to misunderstand, please. I did not mean to imply that this was a Buddhist practice — from what we know from the suttas, it was not. I mean that in the social life of the time it appears to have been acceptable to use Hemp as a drug (although the only direction for use that I have heard of is boiling in milk to make an all-round tonic).

What would be surprising would be if it were not used, in that Hemp was in wide use for cloth and rope.

Soma on the other hand was clearly a potent psychadelic drug and was, as I indicated not only acceptable but mandatory (again, not for Buddhists).

On the other hand, as much as modern translators and teachers have tried to twist the wording, the Buddhist precept against drug use was specific to beverages fermented and distilled = alcohol (and even this prohibition was late and made as a consequence of a gross abuse that resulted in an offense toward the Teacher).

And, one more angle: the rule was one thing, there was pleny'nuf scorn heaped on the drunk that was not of the nature of a rule, but of good advice.

From my limited knowledge of the social situation at the time, "law" was something generally left in the hands of powerful chiefs (kings and other royalty) and Brahman families (who were themselves exempt from most punishments except for crimes to their own), and therefore the laws were not uniform across the country, and powerful individuals were able to more or less set their own laws. Gotama (although not a Brahman) even apparently had the power to pardon violent criminals, as in the case of Angulimala (garland of thumbs) who had murdered 999 individuals before becoming a Bhikkhu.

V: My apologies for misunderstanding. Thanks for clearing it up for me.

No problem. I was just wondering how I could put into perspective what some today might call the "lack of panic" as to the drug menace on the part of some old societies. It occurs to me that we have a fair answer right here in this Uposatha practice. They said to someone: give up your addiction to the pleasures of this world and All — every single one — of your problems will go away forever. But even with that promise, very few ever made the attempt. But we say: "Give up drugs and you can live a life just like mine (dreary, dull, routine, arrogant beyond belief, stupid)!" ... and we wonder why it is that this message has so little impact. Those who claim to be the leaders of the people today get fiercely worked up over this insignificant issue and are not even aware that there is a deeper more important issue that is the real concern of the people.



Here's a recommendation for an experiment the day after Uposatha: The Feast after the Fast. Try giving yourself an especially well prepared, and bountiful meal.

How come?

Because after a fast, a good tasty meal is hard to find, and one's appetite is greatly diminished. This is especially true if you have stayed up all night the night before thinking about what you are going to have to eat when the fast is over. Even the slightest anticipation will almost always lead to disappointment, and if a multi-dish meal has been prepared, the final dishes will weigh heavily on the ... um ... mind. This will help serve to illustrate the illusory, and repulsive nature of food.

And then there is the other side: sometimes after you have thrown together a small something after the fast, just enough to satisfy; the gods step in and imbue it with nectar and you have a meal beyond imagining. Iddhi, magic power, began in the cooking pot!




Uposatha Calendar on Access to Insight:
The 8 Precepts according to Access to Insight:
(Also on the above page are a number of related links)
Also see
The Wakeful Watch
Moderate Eating
Keeping the Sabbath
The Patimokkha

The Eight Dimensions of the Day of Preparation
Sorts of Sabbath
ATI: Bhk. Thanissaro: The Uposatha Observance
Uposatha-Vagga (#V) of the Book of the Eights

PTS: The Patimokkha, Edited by William Pruitt, Translated by K.R. Norman. See Review.

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