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[ Uposatha ]

MB Observes Uposatha

The Personal Narrative of MB making a first stab at observing Uposatha. One day he will look back at this and recognize "The Great Setting Up of Starting." This is a very important "Post" to read for anyone starting out in this system! Here is a case where the gap between thinking about Dhamma and putting it into practice is crystal clear.

First Uposatha"

Well, I observed Uposatha this past Sunday. It was a learning experience for me.

The Plan:

I would eat only brunch. I would have no sex. I would watch no television. I would sleep on the floor for only 4 hours at night. The other vows are standard operating procedure for me, so were not given much thought. The ease with which I would keep all these vows would just be a confirmation of my already well-developed understanding (yeah, right ...) of anicca, anatta, and dukkha. The time I would save not pursuing these trivial desires would allow me to catch up on my lagging reading of the Majjhima and Digha Nikayas, as well as copiously meditate.

The Reality:

In the days preceding Uposatha, I procrastinated on many chores, choosing to save them for Uposatha "when I will have plenty of time", which led to many distractions on that day.

I quarreled with my wife.

A gnawing hunger followed me around from 6pm (before I normally get hungry) until I went to sleep. The hunger was missing when I awoke in the morning, which makes me think it was a "head hunger" rather than a real one. I was surprised at how uncomfortable the hunger was. My normal escapes of sleep or television were barred from me. This worked great as a prod to mindfulness, but the chores and errands I had saved 'til this day offset the effect with their distractfulness.

If I walked into the living room where the television was, my attention would be completely captured with no volition on my part. At least until a stray thought or gentle reminder from my wife would bring me back to mindfulness.

Several times I would study Dhamma while laying down on either the bed or the couch. I now recognize this body position as an impediment, and will avoid it in the future.

I stayed awake until 2am. I had no caffeine (which was unusual for me). I battled sleep at about 10pm, but got over a hump and had no more problems until I went to sleep on the floor. I awoke as planned at 6am, but somehow convinced myself that it was a good idea to then climb into our (high, soft) bed and catch an extra 2 hours of sleep. Doh!

My Impressions:

I feel like I am up to my neck in tanha that I had never recognized. There is probably much more under the surface that I will only become cognizant of after eliminating the desire I can already see.

My Plans for the Next Uposatha:

No chores, no errands, no distractions.
Metta, metta, and more metta towards the wife.
In the days leading up to the next Uposatha, I will sensitize myself to the arising of tanha, hoping that cutting it out early is easier than late.




Very sincere congratulations! I think the expression in the suttas is that you undertook the Fourfold Setting-up of Starting. You made an effort to stop bad conditions that were already present; to prevent bad conditions that were not yet present from arising; to keep good conditions; and to acquire good conditions that were not yet present. This is an earth shaker. In a powerfully moving stream a man has decided to stand still, turn around, and go up stream.

I also think it is valuable that you gave us this report. For one, others will be encouraged by your example; for the other you make yourself conscious.

My suggestion is as to technique. It is very difficult, but you can get rid of the extra baggage of self deprecation in this matter. Just look at the things in yourself that you are mocking and make a note of them. Your analysis is correct; these are the symptoms of your tanha. Without the pressure of having to perform for yourself to avoid your own criticism, you will have more energy to deal with the actual problems.

I think your idea of working these routines bit by bit into the days between Uposatthas is a good one; after all, what we are talking about is manners of behavior that are done by the Arahants every day; that is the goal. Uposattha should serve as the time of special effort to show you clearly (as you have seen) the difference between your ordinary behavior and that which approaches the highest behavior.



MB: Thanks for the encouragement and suggestion.

I have only recently become aware that I will "perform" to avoid the criticism of others. Or maybe I've only recently seen it as something to eliminate. Just becoming aware of the performance puts an end to it, but I have been unable to prevent it from occuring in the first place. Although I know from the suttas what the cause of it is, I cannot see the causal chain back far enough to break it ... to become aware of the causal factors in real-time as they are happening.

I was unaware of any avoidance of self-criticism. Maybe this is because it is camoflauged and does not stand out in contrast like other-criticism does against conciously-held values.

The key to the tracing back of both problems is probably in your advice to shine some light onto the objects of the criticism insteads of on the criticism itself.

I guess I will soon find out ...



Second Uposatha"

MB: My second run at Uposatha observance fell this past monday, and I had both work and school to contend for my time.

Abstaining from eating after noon was harder this time. I had the gnawing feeling in my gut, but also accompanied by a "hunger headache". Both reading and meditating were difficult due to this, although I didn't have much time after work/classes to attend to that anyway.

I avoided quarelling with my wife this time only by avoiding my wife altogether. I do not seem to be the same person when deprived of food or sleep. Is my love for the missus dependent upon me being comfortable?

Nothing else significant to report. I still feel that "practicing" this in my everyday life will make it easier ... moderate amount of food in the evening, avoidance of things that rob you of mindfulness, etc.



Quick practical advice here MB, before my computer goes down again!

You can probably end the headache and the worst part of the belly ache with a small sip or two of water and a couple of deep breaths. (Water is permitted to Bhikkhus after hours.)

Since you are doing this fast only once in a while, this is not going to be over for a while, so just relax about it. You understand what is happening: Your belly, expecting food, is generating digestive fluids. This is not likely to be a problem unless you have an ulcer. And your mind, used to a sugar shot is making some adjustments.

I went at this full time. It takes about two weeks for the worst to be over, and then for another six months there will be weight-loss and hunger and desire for food. After that the body adjusts, weight returns to normal, and you feel much better all round ... till you learn to make huge mid-day meals ... haha. You get over that too. It really is a satisfying practice; one does not need nearly the amount of food we eat.

As for being grumpy: look at wild animals at feeding time. That is roughly where you are being projected back by this practice: that is what you are really like. This is a little look into the real problem. How far will you go for a bowl of rice? How much of an illusion is your comfortable life? Etc. Nothing is guaranteed here; hard times can come at any time to any one of us. Will you be prepared? Or will you, because you have been thoughtless, face your out of control nature at a time when self-control will be hard to cultivate? Be prepared: APPAMADA! That is what is so valuable about these practices; actually putting into practice these suggestions; you will be prepared for anything.



Third Uposatha"

MB: My third run at observing Uposatha went more smoothly than the previous ones. The hunger did not bother me as much. I was not cranky and almost pleasant to be around (according to reports).

I again did not have much time for study/meditation, as it was a school/work day and I had no time away from others from when I woke up 'til 10pm. This is disappointing to me because I relish in the time spent in Dhamma study, but usually do not have the "excuse" of Uposatha to give it priority over the other things in my life.

I also spent the bulk of the day trying to be aware of and eliminate unwholesome mental habits (such as ill-will, lust, etc). There seems to be parallels with this and the elimination of bad physical habits. I only recently (since the first of the year) dropped a ten year smoking habit, and found it fairly easy to do. But with the mental habits, there is no obvious cue that something unwholesome is coming up, making the job to do harder ...



With regard to the food/hunger thing, you will, in time, come to enjoy the sensations you experience during fasting ... like the stomache saying "A day off!"

With regard to the Mind/Body relationship: The Hindus say: "As above so below." Keep from tending to see the relationship as one-sided from either side. Like the ying-yang symbol: Nama or the mental side encompasses it all including the Material; Rupa or the Material side encompasses it all, including Nama (this is a little harder to see than the idea that it is all mental, but "ideas" (and even consciousness) once they have "become" have become "things" and are therefore Rupa). As part of this phenomena you will see another set of pairs: "one's own" body is reflected in the external physical world, and "one's own" mind is reflected in the mental aspects of the world.

Here it is important to bring up a couple of things:

1. Keep at this noticing of this. These are the sorts of things that one should be noticing by way of Samma Sati (practicing the Satipatthana). Just remember that a good half of Samma Sati is letting go after noticing.

2. Remember "This is not 'me' or 'my'." Very important when you start to see the exact relationship between the personal and the external not to start to think that "I" have power over the external by way of "my" mind, and such thoughts and actions (Mara will give you numerous demonstrations of how "your" thoughts can make things happen; just remember: None of it is "yours".) If you can see that there is a balance without trying to tip that balance that is Upekkha (or at least the start of Upekkha).

Here is a better way of saying the same thing:[1]

"Owing to a dual thing, brethren, consciousness comes into being ...
Owing to the eye and objects arises eye-consciousness ...

Now the striking together,
the falling together,
the meeting together
of these three things
(eye, object, consciousness) —
this is called 'eye-contact' ...
Contacted, one feels.
Contacted, one is aware,
contacted, one perceives.

One should not understand this to mean that eye-object-consciousness precedes feeling, awareness and perception; this is a restatement of the first proposition. Here feeling, awareness, and perception should be understood as aspects of the previous idea "consciousness."

The point is that the apparent synchronicity of the personal mind or body with the external mental and material worlds is an inevitable consequence of the fact that it is all really external: contact of the eye with the object comes before consciousness; one's consciousness mirrors the external world because it is a product of it.



Fourth Uposatha

MB: Nothing much of interest to report on this one (Tuesday the 26th[2]). It was another school/work day, so not much time for much else. Not eating was much easier since I've gotten into the habit of skipping dinner (nothing in the evening). Was able to read/meditate from 11pm to 2am. Slept from 2am to 6am, and woke up remembering vivid dreams.

I still don't understand "sleeping mindfully". Is this similar to lucid dreaming? Is this something that should be cultivated?

I think I will start to only report on Uposathas when something noteworthy happens ...



Thank you for the reporting you have done to this point, continue as you think best.

"During the Majjhima Watch, mindful and clerly conscious he lies down in the lion posture, foot on foot, with his mind fixed on the time for rising up again."[3]

We should probably divide this up into two parts: what the Arahant, or at least someone advanced in meditation is doing, and what the student is trying to do.

In terms of the advanced individual, I believe that what is actually happening in the situation is that this person is not sleeping at all. As I understand it, meditation actually takes less energy than sleep, and the escape that sleep provides is no longer needed by sucha one, so what they are doing really is giving the back a rest. Some of the Old Time Beggars never even lay down. The Buddha mentions that there are a couple of cases where the individual naturally finds himself without need to sleep: the young man in love is one case, and the student beginning to make progress is another. I have certainly experienced the condition of being so interested in doing something that I have neglected sleep altogether for a time. I am assuming that these are healthy conditions of sustained energy similar to the permanant state achieved by the arahant.

In terms of the student: what we are trying to do is to break down what we are given to understand is the unnecessary (for the meditator) habit of sleep. As I experience it, the trick is like programming your computer: you give it a kammanta, command: "Let me rise up again, refreshed, at (such and such a time, or after such and such a length of time)." Then what happens is like what happens when you go to sleep knowing you have a very important appointment in the early morning that you must not miss. You are vaguely aware of the need to rise up throughout the night. The thought is present even when you go into deepish sleep; and you sleep in short bursts. And you get up at the specified time.

This practice is not, I do not believe, something like being conscious while watching the body sleep; I think that is another phenomena [the second immaterial liberation = subjectively unaware of the 'own body', one sees the body as external]; or the related phenomena of lucid dreaming.

What is very helpful to this practice is remaining in the lion posture. Do not submit to the urge to roll over. What happens if you resist movement is you will notice energy moving up from your feet (sometimes resulting in spontaneous muscle contractions which you should try and become very closely aware of so as to prevent the dissipation of the energy prematurely. . . hum. . .I am speaking about the legs.) This energy will travel up the body and pass off the head, ending in a deep satisfying breath of relief, or you may notice it passing back down through the body again. This "sigh", you will find is very energizing and will make remaining awake longer possible -- I would call this "the passing off of some of the bad habit of sleep." There is also, connected with this phenomena, the distinct impression that this is somehow revitalizing the whole body physically. This is also a practice which you can incorporate into your normal sleep routine.

That is what I know. This is another of the many areas where my own practice is deeply flawed.



Here is the sutta I was thinking about when I mentioned above that there were some cases where individuals were wakeful without needing to force themselves into that state:



"Beggars! These five sleep little and are highly alert.
What five?

A woman yearning for a man sleeps little and is highly alert.

A man yearing for a woman sleeps little and is highly alert.

A thief on the prowl for loot sleeps little and is highly alert.

A king bent on conquest sleeps little and is highly alert.

A Beggar determined to attain freedom from the bonds sleeps little and is highly alert.

Indeed, Beggars, these five sleep little and are highly alert.



Here is another one that might help throw some light on this conscious sleeping issue. This may be talking about "cat-napping" or it may be speaking about the "sleep" assumed during the middle watch. My reading is again as before, that this is a sort of pre-programming that the learner does prior to sleep — the advanced practitioner not actually sleeping at all. This is something I can speak about from extensive experience as working. I have used it to avoid the unplesant fifth consequence assumed (I believe incorrectly) by Hare, below. I "program myself" to awaken prior to any ... um ... catastrophy and I actually do pop wide awake in time.

Anguttara Nikaya III, V, xxii, 210
PTS: The Book of the Gradual Sayings, III: The Book of the Fives: XXIII: Kimbila: 210: Forgetful in mindfulness, pp184

Mindless Napping[5]

The Pali:

1. Pañc'ime bhikkhave ādīnavā muṭṭhassatissa asampajānassa niddaṃ okkamayato. Katame pañca?
2. Dukkhaṃ supati, dukkhaṃ paṭibujjhati, pāpakaṃ supinaṃ passati, devatā na rakkhanti, asuci muccati.
Ime kho bhikkhave pañca ādīnavā muṭṭhassatissa asampajānassa niddaṃ okkamayato.
3. Pañc'ime bhikkhave ānisaṃsā upaṭṭhitasatissa sampajānassa niddaṃ okkamayato. Katame pañca?
4. Sukhaṃ supati, sukhaṃ paṭibujjhati, na pāpakaṃ supinaṃ passati, devatā rakkhanti, asuci na muccati.
Ime kho bhikkhave pañca ānisaṃsā upaṭṭhitasatissa sampajānassa niddaṃ okkamayato ti.


Muṭṭhassatissa: muttha: PED has: pp of mussati; having forgotten, one who forgets, "forgetful in mindfulness" i.e. forgetful, careless, bewildered, but this would make mutthassati mutthasatisati. My inclination is to think the evolution was the other way round (the first experience of having forgotten would be the recollection of the past occurrence; next forgetfulness would be used as an excuse for some present carelessness), and that muttha relates to muṭṭhi to take by way of the fist, which accords with the discredited derivation from "to rob" mentioned there. In other words: it is a picture of having had one's "mind" or "memory" (sati) snatched away. So I get: mutthi + sati: absent-minded

Upaṭṭhitasatissa: upa: uP Pass; ṭṭhi: stand; upaṭṭhita: furnished, provided, served, got ready, honored with; 2. come, come about, appeared, arrived; present, existing; 3. standing up (ready), keeping in readiness.

Asampajānassa: a + sampajāna: saŋ (own) + pajāna (coming to know): pa (pass Ý coming to) =jāna: jā (born/burn) +na (no, know): j (shit) +a (ah!), ṇ (and, no, stop) +A (understood?)('no' the most frequently heard word during the first several years of life. The relation to "understand" should be obvious). Ok Ok. PED: Thoughtful, mindful, attentive, deliberate, almost syn. with sata, mindful.

Okkamayato to enter, go down into, fall.
O: PED calls 'O' a derivative of ava: "Phonetically the difference between ava & o is this, that ava is the older form, whereas o represents a later development. Historically the case is often reversed — that is, the form in o was in use first & the form in ava was built up, sometimes quite independently, long afterwards. The difference in many cases has given rise to a differentiation of meaning, like English ripe: rife, quash: squash ... A. The old Pali form of the prefix is o.
Latin: au; Old Bulgarian: u; Old Irish: oo, ua. Meaning: lower, low, motion: down, downward, away (down), off; away from, cut off, fall'n off, out, left over, over; go down, sink down, down on. OKA: room for, space for;
Okkanta: coming on, approaching, taking place;
Okkanti: entry, descent, appearance, coming to be;
PED comments: "It is strange that this important word has been so much misunderstood, for the English idiom is the same. We say 'he went to sleep', without meaning that he went anywhere. So we may twist it round and say that 'sleep overcame him', without meaning any struggle. The two phrases mean exactly the same — an internal change, or development, culminating in sleep."
Here you have a good example of how cultural bias effects translation. Somewhere back when, the English conscious body of knowledge lost it's relationship to magic. Here the idiom is taken for meaningless (not to mention that the assumption that it is meaningless is based on the idea of a "real self" that must be the thing that "goes" or the thing that is "taken over") and then applied to another culture's use of the same word. I do not know what the culture of the Buddha's day held concerning sleep, but I do know that today there are cultures that consider sleep a going to another place, and I do know that the attitude of the Shaman is that sleep is something that is an alien force that overtakes one's consciousness. So my inclination here is to suggest that the word means what it says and that what we are being told to remember and know when approaching sleep is that it is a state where we (the body and consciousness) are vulnerable, and under the influence of external powers, and is therefore dangerous.

supati Latin: somnus; AngloSaxon: swefn; sleep/dream > supina: a dream > supine: in the horizontal position

paṭibujjhati: to wake up, to understand (possible pun here?) I would say re-awaken

pāpakaṃ supinaṃ passati: pāpakam bad-stuff-ing; dream; sees

devatā na rakkhanti: Devas (gods) no Guard. rakkh: Latin: arceo > aleq > Alex > Alexander > alert

asuci muccati a: not; su: sweet; ci: che cosa, que? quis? Gothic: hvi-leiks; Latin: quid qui? what? muccati: 1. to become stiff, congeal, coagulate, curdle; harden 2. to become infatuated.
The opposite is "asuci na muccati" so the opposite, "and impurity is not emitted" makes sense as Hare hears it. But I do not hear "emitted" in muccati. While this unpleasant event is certainly one experienced by careless dozers, I see an earlier stage in the process, and not such an climactic one. And surely this condition is sufficiently embarasing for the Bhikkhu to warrant this advice.

sukhaṃ : Pleasant

Hare: "...forgetful in mindfulness, not self-possessed, falls asleep ... Badly he sleeps, badly he wakes, he sees evil visions, devas guard him not, and impurity is emitted ..."

Hare footnotes "asuci": Childers, quoting Abhidhaana-ppadiipikā, 'semen virile.'

Mindless Napping


"Beggars! There are five bad things about falling asleep absent-mindedly, unawares.
What five?

Unpleasant sleep.
Unpleasant re-awakening.
Seeing bad dreams.
Not being watched over by the gods.
And that sweet whatchacallum gets stiff.

Indeed, Beggars, these are five bad things about falling asleep absent-mindedly, unawares.

"Beggars! There are five good things that happen falling asleep consciously, not unawares.
What five?

Pleasant sleep.
Pleasant re-awakening.
Not seeing bad dreams.
Being watched over by the gods.
And that sweet whatchacallum does not get stiff.

Indeed, Beggars, these are five good things that happen falling asleep consciously, not unawares.



If you were not so meticulous in your references, I would swear you were making that one up! That one should be renamed the Beavis-and-Butthead Sutta[6].



I recently put a meta tag parental warning on the home page[7].

You might be interested to know that my edition of the Vinaya was actually censored by the translator (Horner) she found the descriptions of some offenses so graphic.



From: Anguttara IV: Sattanipata, vi.8 (#58)(outline)[8]

This happens when the Buddha was living among the Bhaggis on Crocodile Hill in the Deer Part at Bhesakala Grove. There he "sees" Maha Moggallana, who is in the village of Kallavalamutta, among the Magadhese, fighting with sleep, and he transports himself there and speaks to him:

If, while you are living thoughtfully, the awareness comes to you that drowsiness has come upon you, give it no thought,
and maybe it will pass off.
If, while you are living thoughtfully, it does not pass off, then
think over the dhamma as you have heard and understood it
and maybe it will pass off
But if, while you are living thoughtfully, it does not pass off, then
repeat dhamma to yourself in detail as you have heard and understood it
and maybe it will pass off
But if, while you are living thoughtfully, it does not pass off, then
pull at your earlobes, and massage the limbs with your hands,
and maybe it will pass off
But if, while you are living thoughtfully, it does not pass off, then
rinse your eyes with water, gaze at the horizon, look up at the starry sky,
and maybe it will pass off
But if, while you are living thoughtfully, it does not pass off, then
focus your mind on the thought of light, on daylight,
and as by day, so by night, as by night so by day
with your mind thus unrestrained, made brilliant
maybe it will pass off
But if, while you are living thoughtfully, it does not pass off, then
put your thoughts on your Place to Pace, thinking of it from end to end,
and maybe it will pass off
But if, while you are living thoughtfully, it does not pass off, then
lie you down in lion posture, foot on foot, aware and self controlled
with mind focused on rising up again
And rising up again, Moggallana, rise up with speed
Live not tied down to the pleasures of the bed and sleepiness...



MB: You must be spying on me...I just found and read this sutta this morning, thinking: "This is good, practical advice for Uposatha."



haha...this mind works like the "find" command on text editors, etc. Give it an issue and let go and a little later [ SNAP FINGERS ] there you are.

And...birds of a feather flock together.

[1]Samyutta Nikaya, IV: Salayatana Vagga I: Salayatana samyutta: #93: Dvayam, pp67
PTS: Woodward trans., Book of the Kindred Sayings, IV: Kindred Sayings on Sense: #93: Duality, pp39
WP: Connected Discourses II: The Book of the Six Sense Bases: Connected Discourses on the Six Sense Bases; #93, pp1172


[3]The Wakeful Watch

[4]Anguttara Nikaya III, V, xiv, 137
PTS: The Book of the Gradual Sayings, III: The Book of the Fives: XIV: The Raja: 7: They sleep little, pp118

[5]Anguttara Nikaya III, V, xxii, 210
PTS: The Book of the Gradual Sayings, III: The Book of the Fives: XXIII: Kimbila: 210: Forgetful in mindfulness, pp184

[6]"Beavis and Butthead" was a cartoon shown on MTV featuring two young adolencent boys who were preoccupied with music videos and erections.

Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man

[7] Since removed. I first placed this MetaTag on the site in the hopes of avoiding outraged parents whose children had stumbled on this 'sexually explicit' site. But there is no avoiding the wrath of the ignorant. At one time I used the Leonardo da Vinci drawing Vitruvian Man as an illustration for a book cover. I got an outraged letter telling me I was promoting homosexuality. I figure I have better uses for the space (such as for placing this image here!)

[8]PTS: The Book of the Gradual Sayings, Volume IV, E.M. Hare, trans, The Book of the Sevens, #58: Nodding

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