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[ Uposatha ]

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Observing Uposatha

So far this little venture into the practice of Observing Uposatha has been one of the most interesting actual "puttings into practice" of the Dhamma that I have experienced in a long time.

The last time I seriously "went at it", was in the early 80s when I first started to put together the materials that you see on these pages. It was my thinking at that time that the thing America needed most was a book. A bible. There was nothing of any manageable size out there. So I let my business go and spent my time between sit down practice and attempting to codify the system. I also included the practice of observing Uposatha.

The benefits to me of observing Uposatha at that time were in the area of understanding the hold food has on us. Not working, I eventually ran out of money completely. I am still surprised by the length of time it took me to run out of money...even in New York City, I lasted four years without work, and I didn't start out with any saved cash. But eventually I ended up face-to-face with the fact that I relied totally on the good deeds of a few people who looked in on me now and again. My rent was paid for, for a time, by a good friend who was a business associate who still found my advice valuable; another good friend came to visit once a week with a good meal, other people managed to slip me some food now and again, my Mother (who did not know what was happening) decided to share a small inheritance between myself and my brother and that was a life-saving $100 a month. A friend who had been in Auschwitz told me that at that time I looked like one of the survivors.

It was harrowing, and humiliating; but what I learned could not be put down in words in a million books. We eat salt and sweet (you need a piece of fast food chicken and a danish with butter to survive). The Greeks who run the all night breakfast places in New York and who are a grumpy lot at best suddenly become the warmest people in the world when they see you are in poverty. I saw a beggar go into a high class Deli and ask for a piece of cheesecake and when he saw that he was going to get it, demand in a loud voice: "And Make it Fresh! Too!" and I totally understood! It wasn't a Buddhist thing to do, but I did understand the anger and confusion the man was undergoing, and the resentment of "God" and the world for his plight and the way he was being treated because of it. When you are hungry you go to bed early and you get up very early...the Deli opens at 3:00 you can get a coffee and a danish; so you get up at two to wait for three. When you get lucky, if you're not careful and moderate, you eat carelessly and shortly thereafter need to deal with the runs. (for a great read along these lines, read "Hunger" by Knut Hamson).

The problems getting food were not the worst of it: for me the worst of it was seeing how far I would go to get a cup of coffee. I was a Buddhist, but I was a layman. I had the proverbial stick on fire at both ends and smeared with dung in the good no way. I completely feared actually "begging" because I understood even then the concept of "worthy". I could see that people worked to keep from experiencing what I was experiencing, but that this work that they did was keeping them from experiencing the benefits of what I was seeing: the world from the bottom of the barrel where everything is right side up. To be "worthy" to beg from people making such effort and experiencing such sacrifice, one needed to be almost completely perfect in behavior and working on what wasn't. I could see the Gates of Hell right there next to that cup of coffee. So I didn't beg. But boy did I learn to "signify"!

I learned why the Bhikkhu is a beggar and not a monk.[1] It is the "position" that is important; of the lowest occupation: it is only there that you see the way the people really are.

It's like the story of the king in the story of the Arabian Knights. The king wants to see what the people really think of him. He goes out at night disguised as a poor man and hears what they really have to say.

Sakka, King of the Gods, is said, when he Revisits, to assume the shape of a beggar (a bum). There is one theory out there that hypothesizes that it is this myth of Sakka Revisiting, that is the story being Re-enacted by Gotama. I happen to agree with this theory.

And I learned to rely on my Kamma. The Power is never stronger than when one is really in need.

This my Jamaican Sorcerer friend told me: you need to "call" on your Kamma. When you are hungry, you learn to "call". And if you have been prudent, and have listened to those wise ones who were instructing you when you were a blind fool, you built up some strong good kamma in giving to powerful individuals and making it a goal to become a Master Giver, and you then learn to trust this past work to take care of you ... and when, on occasion, it let's you sit and suffer, you trust that too: it ends; it is the ending of some bad kamma.

And, of course, I learned why Food, AHARA, is #1.

Eventually what I needed to learn from that course of action had, apparently, been learned, and, just sort of as a kapper, the day before I was to be evicted from my apartment in New York with nowhere else to go (my business friend who had been paying my rent was long before driven off by me as had almost everyone else ... at the point where my "balance of payments" with them was just about to go seriously out of kilter ...) a friend of mine called my mother and explained that I was in serious need of a rescue mission.

In all, I spent one night homeless (even what happened during that one night would fill books).

This time, the lesson Uposatha observance seems to be teaching me is the hold sleep has on us.

I am encouraging everyone to take advantage of this technique. I believe I have earned the right to claim that I am suggesting a good technique from experience of it. What I think I also need to say here, and the reason for this long shpiel, is that in urging you-all to practice this practice, I am not, at the same time, making any claims to being perfect at it myself. I am in the "strategizing against my weaknesses" stage. And I know from experience with this stage that there will be a long period of back-and-forth — do'n good down here, Boss!; Not do'n so good down here, Boss!

What I can say about sleep at this point, is that even in practicing at the sloppiest level one emerges for the better.

These are the big three for laymen: food, sleep and sex. I think it is necessary, both with ourselves and with others who are interested in making progress in this system, to urge total, unflinching 100% dedicated effort, and to be completely tolerant of failure.


Work'n on it down here, Boss!



"Put on Hold"

V: Anyone who has had to literally "watch what they eat" all their lives, knows the hold that food has on a person on a day to day basis (not to the extent that I'm sure you're referring to, but the "pull" is very noticable. In fact, I've often found that eating nothing is much easier than eating a little.) I'm wondering though, what is the significance of knowing this? I can understand the practice of abstinence, letting go in the "here and now" of sorts, but what is the purpose of knowing that these things have a hold?

You are specifically asking about knowing about the "hold".
Even if one were to just practice this practice for only so short a time as it takes to snap the fingers, and one were to notice this "hold" the fear of the unknown future should wake them up to the fact that they had better learn how to lessen this hold. I mentioned the hard lesson of seeing first hand to what lengths I would go to get a cup of coffee: I have been working on my coffee addiction ever since.[2] Some person living the fat and happy middle class American life who was suddenly wiped out by a stock market crash and faced with homelessness and hunger would have a thousand thousand times less to worry about if he had trained himself to eat just sufficiently to sustain the body as opposed to indulging in the pleasures of eating. Knowing about the hold, you are able to ask yourself: what are the dangers that such a hold poses to one suddenly faced with the situation where food is hard to come by? And then, again, you can tie this into a hopeful future as a Buddhist: knowing about the hold, one can prepare for the day when one might make the transition from the lay life to the life of the Bhikkhu where one meal a day is the standard, and that meal is whatever is put into the bowl, no picking and choosing...if you had practiced this before hand, it would be one less thing that would be interfering with the opportunity you had gained by becoming a bhikkhu.

V: The one time I actually did make it through the entire night without falling asleep was one of the worst nights I'd ever spent. If I read or meditated, I got very sleepy, so I couldn't do either, which left for one very loooong night. (I paced a lot to stay awake) How does one emerge for the "better" from this?

Because one is able to notice the hold, and, hopefully, rise to the challenge.



One over-all note with regard to this practice. I think it is significant that the day the Buddha chose to use for his "Observance" day was the preparation day of the soma ceremony. Emphasis on "preparation". The idea of such "cleansing" rituals (u aposa taka batha) was to prepare one for the effects of some kind of hallucinogenic drug. Food and such in the body prior to the taking of such chemicals distorts the experience (not to mention usually causes intense vomiting or, at the least nausea). So here the point is not to be looking for any benefits during the observance, but to be looking at how the practice has affected the time thereafter.


[1]See: DhammaTalk: Using "Beggar" for "Bhikkhu"

[2]One cup in the morning, black with 1T sugar as of: Friday, March 14, 2003
One cup in the morning, black with 2T sugar as of: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 6:04 AM ... hum ...
I have found as a general rule, if I am faced with a letting go that is not a matter of breaking a rule, it is much more difficult to let go than when what is being let go is also something not allowed.

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