Poya in Mitiyagoda. Photo by Brett Davies.
Today is poya day. It’s a full moon day, a tradition older than Buddhism, but it’s now devoted to that. Ostensibly. More often than not it’s just a day off, a day for long weekends, a secular holiday. I’m Buddhist but I must admit that I’ve generally ignored poya in the past. Today I’m actually trying to observe.
It’s not easy. Taking sil (being observant) generally involves (AFAIK) wearing white, eating vegetarian, not eating after noon, going to temple, meditating, abstaining from sex, etc. Basically, taking the eight precepts and living a sort of monastic life for a day. The hardest ones for me are right speech (not swearing or using harsh language, even jokingly) and avoiding general entertainment.
In the morning someone called me and said a presenter hadn’t showed up for the morning show. That immediately put a wrench in things. That’s work of sorts, and by the time I left the house I noticed I was wearing blue. On the way back I was listening to music and realized I should have been paying attention. So I tried that. It was nice. If you can’t eat past noon you need to get breakfast in early, so I did that as well.
Then I came home, put on white and went to temple. The place was full of old ladies in white, holding prayer books or just sitting. On the other side children had come for dhamma classes, I assume. Inside a room there were some beds and nurses, I think they were having a blood drive. I worshiped round a small stupa and headed home.
At this point I should have meditated but waking up at 6 had left me tired. One of the precepts is to avoid comfortable sitting or sleeping places, which is fine by me. I usually take a nap on the floor, and did. Not sleeping for too long, however, is difficult for me. So I’m up. I shouldn’t really blog either, but I’m trying to blog about mindful things, and to use the net mindfully. I’ve also turned off packet data on my phone, which is a lot.
People like me often frown upon or laugh at cultural Buddhism. Poya is after all just a full moon, stupas are physical structures (sometimes territorial) and statues are just statues. In the same way monks are too often corrupt and Buddhism too often political. All true I guess. That said, the thing about Buddhism in Sri Lanka is that the good stuff is there if you want it. Poya is a day which you can waste, but it’s also there if you want to practice awareness. Stupas are just stupas, but they help you find the temple, which is a quiet, safe place if you want to sit and reflect. And there are good monks who can impart great wisdom, they’re just generally off meditating and not on TV or running for office.
So I’m thankful for that. Sri Lankan Buddhism, for all its faults, has still preserved a space and a body of thought and practice that is there for anyone who wants to take refuge there. Like poya days. It’s a national holiday, a day when you’re culturally supported to reflect and take a monthly sabbath and generally get your head straight. If you want. I think that’s nice.