Painting of the Buddha receiving alms from Sujata (I assume) at Sri Dalada Maligawa.
This Poya I tried to take sil, as best as I could. With much accommodation, it’s been quite nice. I had one decent meditation, some awareness throughout the day, and some pleasant interactions with people I care about. I haven’t really used Facebook, checked mail or done anything that could be construed as work or entertainment, except when I kinda had to. It’s an interesting experience, and one I’d like to repeat.
The traditional Sinhala sil experience is wearing white, going to temple and indulging in direct cultural Buddhism. I’m not doing that, though I did go to temple in the morning. Instead, I’ve tried to keep the eight precepts for at least a day. Those are:
- I undertake to abstain from causing harm and taking life (both human and non-human).
- I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given (for example stealing, displacements that may cause misunderstandings).
- I undertake to abstain from sexual activity.
- I undertake to abstain from wrong speech: telling lies, deceiving others, manipulating others, using hurtful words.
- I undertake to abstain from using intoxicating drinks and drugs, which lead to carelessness.
- I undertake to abstain from eating at the wrong time (the right time is after sunrise, before noon).
- I undertake to abstain from singing, dancing, playing music, attending entertainment performances, wearing perfume, and using cosmetics and garlands (decorative accessories).
- I undertake to abstain from luxurious places for sitting or sleeping, and overindulging in sleep.
I’ve highlighted the ones that I find difficult.
Killing I mention solely because of mosquitos. It’s a deeply twitchy experience for me to see a mosquito within clapping distance and not kill it. Even while meditating, I’ll often stop to try and kill them. This was difficult to not do.
Wrong speech is also especially hard. I swear a lot and use harsh speech jokingly, but harsh speech nonetheless. When a friend came over it took conscious effort not to drift back into that. I also lie jokingly, as in answering straightforward questions with absurdities. These are obviously jokes, but I had to avoid those as well.
The part about music and entertainment was perhaps the most difficult, as I extended that to include most Internet, Facebook, etc. I was babysitting today and that had to be bent. The kid is Christian and not taking sil, so I had to play some games with him online and throw the ball around. I also sneaked a look at the Republican Primary results and used the Internet lightly. In a retreat context you would basically never have this option, but when you do it’s hard. When you have to interact with other people not doing the same thing it’s nearly impossible.
That said, trying as best I could has been rewarding. I think I ate well, and being vegetarian is fine. I feel a lot more chilled out, though the reversion to normal life is a rapid descent. I had the longest meditation I’ve had in months and went to temple after a while. I thought about stuff, walked around the neighborhood, didn’t flail around the Internet and generally had a decent day.
To pass time I did a fair amount of reading (Confession Of A Buddhist Atheist, by Stephen Batchelor). My Buddhism is actually more western than Sri Lankan, though I’m most influenced by a Sri Lankan monk in America (Bhante Gunaratna). For me it’s something I practice not because it answers the ‘big’ questions but because it makes my life immediately better. I’m generally agnostic on the reincarnation issue and other vestigial Hindu elements of Buddhism. I’ve met people who’ve felt past lives, but I simply don’t find that or other metaphysical questions (mind/body duality, origin of the universe) that relevant to daily practice. I have literally been trying to catch my breath for 10 years and the Buddha I know is OK with that.
To that end, I was struck by this Buddha ‘quote’ from the Kalama Sutra, cited by Batchelor:
Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself
That to me is what Poya is about. Not the usual day where you plan for the future or put things off, but one where you just try to be present and happy, here and now. It somewhat arbitrary that it’s on a full moon, but it’s still nice that this day is there. I hope your Poya went peacefully and well, even if it was just a day off work.
My thoughts at the beginning of this Poya Day are posted here.