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Uposatha Suttaṃ

(A.i.205)

The Uposatha

Contents

Three Kinds of Observance

The Cowherd’s Uposatha

The Naked Ascetics’ Uposatha

The Noble One’s Uposatha

The Recollection of the Buddha

The Recollection of the Dhamma

The Recollection of the Saṅgha

The Recollection of One’s Own Morality

The Recollection of Deities

The Morality of the Arahants

How Great is the Benefit?

Three Kinds of Uposatha

“There are these three kinds of Uposatha, Visākhā. What three? The Cowherd’s Uposatha, the Naked Ascetics’ Uposatha, and the Noble One’s Uposatha.

The Cowherd’s Uposatha

What, Visākhā, is the cowherd’s Uposatha? It is as if, Visākhā, when returning the cows to their owners in the evening, the cowherd thinks: ‘Today the cows grazed and drank at one place, tomorrow they will graze and drink at another place.’ Similarly, someone observes the Uposatha thinking, ‘Today I ate this kind of food, [206] tomorrow I will eat that kind of food.’ Thus he spends the day with thoughts of covetousness. Thus, Visākhā, is the cowherd’s Uposatha. Observed in this way, Visākhā, the cowherd’s Uposatha is not of great fruit, nor of great benefit, it is not of great splendour, nor very pervasive.

#UposathaSuttaTop#TheNobleOnesUposathaThe Naked Ascetics’ Uposatha

“What, Visākhā, is the Naked Ascetics’ Uposatha? There is, Visākhā, a class of ascetics called Nigaṇṭhā (Naked Ascetics).¹ They urge their followers thus: ‘Lay aside weapons towards living beings beyond a hundred leagues to the east, west, north, and south. Thus they have sympathy and compassion for some living beings, but not for others. On the Uposatha they urge their disciples to lay aside all clothing and to declare ‘I belong to no one and possess nothing.’ Yet his parents know him as their son, and he knows them as his parents. His wife and children know him as their provider, and he knows them as his wife and children. His slaves and workers know him as their employer, and he knows them as his slaves and workers. Thus on an occasion when they should be urging them to be honest, they urge them to tell untruths. When the night has passed he makes use of goods that have not been given. This, I declare, is taking what is not given. Observed in this way, Visākhā, the Naked Ascetics’ Uposatha is not of great fruit, nor of great benefit, it is not of great splendour, nor very pervasive.

#UposathaSuttaTop#HowGreatistheBenefitThe Noble One’s Uposatha

“What, Visākhā, is the Noble One’s Uposatha? [207] The defiled mind, Visākhā, is cleansed by skilful action. How, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by skilful action?

The Recollection of the Buddha

Here, Visākhā, the noble disciple recollects the Tathāgata: ‘Such indeed is the Blessed One, worthy (arahaṃ), fully enlightened by himself (sammāsambuddho), endowed with knowledge and conduct (vijjācaraṇasampanno), fortunate (sugato), seer of the worlds (lokavidū), an incomparable trainer of trainable persons (anuttaro purisadammasārathi), teacher of gods and humans (satthā devamanussānaṃ), enlightened (buddho), and blessed (bhagavā’ti).² Recollecting the Tathāgata the mind becomes bright and joy arises. The mental defilements are abandoned, it is like, Visākhā, the soiled head being cleansed by skilful action. And how, Visākhā, is the soiled head cleansed by skilful action? Dependent on shampoo (kakka),³ bath-powder (mattika), water, and the appropriate effort of an individual, thus, Visākhā, the soiled head is cleansed by skilful action. In the same way, Visākhā, the mind is cleansed by skilful action. Herein, Visākhā, a noble disciple recollects the Tathāgata: ‘Such indeed is the Blessed One, worthy, fully enlightened by himself, endowed with knowledge and conduct, fortunate, seer of the worlds, an incomparable trainer of trainable persons, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, and blessed. Recollecting the Tathāgata the mind becomes bright and joy arises, and the mental defilements are abandoned. Thus, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action. Visākhā, I call this a noble disciple observing the Brahma Uposatha, dwelling with Brahma, and it is with reference to Brahma that the mind becomes bright, joy arises, and mental defilements are abandoned. Thus, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action.

The Recollection of the Dhamma

“The defiled mind, Visākhā, is cleansed by skilful action. How, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by their skilful action? Here, Visākhā, the noble disciple recollects the teaching: ‘The Dhamma is well-taught by the Blessed One (svākkhāto Bhagavāta dhammo), visible by oneself (sandiṭṭhiko), timeless (akāliko), inviting investigation (ehipassiko), leading onwards (opaneyyiko), to be realised by the wise (paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhī’ti).’ Recollecting that teaching the mind becomes bright and joy arises. The mental defilements are abandoned, [208] it is like, Visākhā, the dirty body being cleansed by skilful action. And how, Visākhā, is the dirty body cleansed by skilful action? Dependent on a back-scrubber (sottiṃ), clay (cuṇṇaṃ), water, and the appropriate effort of an individual, thus, Visākhā, the body is cleansed by skilful action. In the same way, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action. And how, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by skilful action? Here, Visākhā, the noble disciple recollects the teaching: ‘The Dhamma is well-taught by the Blessed One, visible by oneself, timeless, inviting investigation, leading onwards, to be realised by the wise.’ Recollecting that teaching the mind becomes bright and joy arises. The mental defilements are abandoned. Visākhā, I call this a noble disciple observing the Dhamma Uposatha, dwelling with the teachings, and it is with reference to the teaching that the mind becomes bright, joy arises, and mental defilements are abandoned. Thus, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action.

The Recollection of the Saṅgha

“The defiled mind, Visākhā, is cleansed by skilful action. How, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by skilful action? Here, Visākhā, the noble disciple recollects the Saṅgha: ‘The community of the disciples of the Blessed One practises well (suppaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho), practises honestly (ujuppaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho), practises wisely (ñāyappaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho), practices dutifully (sāmīcippaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho). That is to say the four pairs of persons (cattāri purisayugāni),⁴ the eight individuals (aṭṭha purisapuggalā), this community of the disciples of the Blessed One (esa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho) is worthy of gifts (āhuneyyo), worthy of hospitality (pāhuneyyo), worthy of offerings (dakkhiṇeyyo), worthy of reverential salutation (añjalikaraṇīyo), an incomparable field of merit for the world (anuttaraṃ puññakkhetaṃ lokassā’ti). Recollecting that community the mind becomes bright and joy arises. The mental defilements are abandoned, it is like, Visākhā, a soiled cloth being cleansed by skilful action. And how, Visākhā, is a soiled cloth cleansed by skilful action? [209] Dependent on boiling (usmañca), and caustic soda (khārañca), and cow dung (gomayañca), and water, and the appropriate effort of an individual. Thus, Visākhā, a stained cloth is cleansed by skilful action. In the same way, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action. And how, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by skilful action? Here, Visākhā, the noble disciple recollects the Saṅgha: ‘The community of the disciples of the Blessed One practises well, practices honestly, practices wisely, practices dutifully. That is to say the four pairs of persons, the eight individuals. This community of the disciples of the Blessed One is worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of reverential salutation, an incomparable field of merit for the world.’ Recollecting that community the mind becomes bright and joy arises. The mental defilements are abandoned. Visākhā, I call this a noble disciple observing the Saṅgha Uposatha, dwelling with the Saṅgha, and it is with reference to the Saṅgha that the mind becomes bright, joy arises, and mental defilements are abandoned. Thus, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action.

The Recollection of One’s Own Morality

“The defiled mind, Visākhā, is cleansed by skilful action. How, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by their skilful action? Here, Visākhā, the noble disciple recollects his or her own morality as unbroken (akhaṇḍāni), faultless (acchiddāni), spotless (asabalāni), unblemished (akammāsāni), liberated (bhujissāni), praised by the wise (viññuppasatthāni), not clung to (aparāmaṭṭhāni), leading to concentration (samādhisaṃvattanikāni). Recollecting that morality the mind becomes bright and joy arises. The mental defilements are abandoned, it is like, Visākhā, a dull mirror being polished by skilful action. And how, Visākhā, is a dull mirror polished by skilful action? Dependent on oil (telañca), and ashes (chārikañca), and a coarse cloth (vālaṇḍupakañca), and the appropriate effort of a person. Thus, Visākhā, a dull mirror is polished by skilful action. In the same way, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action. And how, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by skilful action? [210] Here, Visākhā, a noble disciple recollects their own morality as unbroken, faultless, spotless, unblemished, liberated, praised by the wise, not clung to, leading to concentration. Recollecting that morality the mind becomes bright and joy arises. Visākhā, I call this a noble disciple observing the morality Uposatha, dwelling with morality, and it is with reference to morality that the mind becomes bright, joy arises, and the mental defilements are abandoned. Thus, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action.

The Recollection of Deities

“The defiled mind, Visākhā, is cleansed by skilful action. How, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by their skilful action? Here, Visākhā, the noble disciple recollects the deities: ‘There are the deities of the Four Great Kings (Cātumahārājikā), the deities of the Thirty-three (Tāvatiṃsā), the deities of Yāmā, the deities of delight (Tusitā), the deities who delight in creating (Nimmānaratino), the deities who delight in the creations of others (Paranimmitavasavattino),⁵ there are the deities of Brahma’s company (Brahmakāyikā) and deities higher than these. I too have such faith … morality … learning … liberality … wisdom as those deities had before they died and arose there. Recollecting one’s own faith, morality, learning, liberality, and wisdom that those deities possessed, the mind becomes bright and joy arises. The mental defilements are abandoned, it is like, Visākhā, impure gold is refined by skilful action.⁶ And how, Visākhā, is impure gold refined by skilful action? Dependent on a furnace (ukkañca), salt (loṇa), red chalk (gerukañca), a blow-pipe (nāḷika), tweezers (saṇḍāsañca), and the appropriate effort of a person. Thus, Visākhā, impure gold is refined by skilful action. In the same way, Visākhā, a defiled mind is purified by skilful action. [211] And how, Visākhā, is the defiled mind purified by skilful action? Here, Visākhā, a noble disciple recollects the deities: ‘There are the deities of the Four Great Kings, there are the deities of the Thirty-three, there are the deities of Yāmā, there are the deities of delight, there are the the deities who delight in creating, there are the deities who delight in the creations of others, there are the deities of Brahma’s company, there are deities higher than these. I too have such faith … morality … learning … liberality … wisdom as those deities had before they died and arose there. Recollecting one’s own faith, morality, learning, liberality, and wisdom that those deities possessed, the mind becomes bright and joy arises, and the mental defilements are abandoned. I call this a noble disciple observing the deity’s Uposatha, dwelling with deities, and it is with reference to the deities that the mind becomes bright, joy arises, Thus, Visākhā, the defiled mind is purified by skilful action.

The Morality of the Arahants

“The noble disciple, Visākhā, reflects thus: ‘As long as they live, the Arahants abandon the killing of living beings, abstaining from killing living beings, having put down sticks and weapons, conscientious and sympathetic, dwelling harmless and compassionate to all living beings. Today and tonight ⁷ I will abandon killing living beings, abstaining from killing living beings, having put down sticks and weapons, conscientious and sympathetic, dwelling harmless and compassionate to all living beings. I will also emulate this factor of the Arahants, and the Uposatha will be observed by me.

‘As long as they live, the Arahants abandon the taking of what is not given, abstaining from stealing, taking only what is given, wishing only for what is given, dwelling honestly without deceit. Today and tonight I will abandon the taking of what is not given, abstaining from stealing, taking only what is given, wishing only for what is given, dwelling honestly without deceit. I will also emulate this factor of the Arahants, and the Uposatha will be observed by me.

‘As long as they live, the Arahants abandon sexual intercourse, remote from sexuality, abstaining from sexual activity. Today and tonight I will abandon sexual intercourse, remote from sexuality, abstaining from sexual activity. I will also emulate this factor of the Arahants, and the Uposatha will be observed by me. [212]

‘As long as they live, the Arahants abandon lying, abstaining from lying, speaking the truth, upholding he truth, reliable and trustworthy, not deceiving anyone in the world. Today and tonight I will abandon lying, abstaining from lying, speaking the truth, upholding he truth, reliable and trustworthy, not deceiving anyone in the world. I will also emulate this factor of the Arahants, and the Uposatha will be observed by me.

‘As long as they live, the Arahants abandon intoxicants that cause heedlessness, abstaining from intoxicants that cause heedlessness. Today and tonight I will abandon intoxicants that cause heedlessness, abstaining from intoxicants that cause heedlessness. I will also emulate this factor of the Arahants, and the Uposatha will be observed by me.

‘As long as they live, the Arahants eat only one meal,⁸ abstaining from eating at the wrong time. Today and tonight I will eat only one meal, abstaining from eating at the wrong time. I will also emulate this factor of the Arahants, and the Uposatha will be observed by me.

‘As long as they live, the Arahants abstain from dancing (nacca), singing (gīta), music (vādita), entertainments (visūkadassana),⁹ garlands (mālā), perfumes (gandha), cosmetics (vilepana), and wearing ornaments (dhāraṇamaṇḍana) for adornment (vibhūsanaṭṭhānā).¹⁰ Today and tonight I will abstain from dancing, singing, music, entertainments, garlands, cosmetics, perfumes, and ornaments. I will also emulate this factor of the Arahants, and the Uposatha will be observed by me.

‘As long as they live, the Arahants abandon high and luxurious beds and seats, abstaining from using high and luxurious beds and seats, they arrange a low seat or bed,¹¹ or a straw mat. Today and tonight I will abandon high and luxurious beds and seats, abstaining from using high and luxurious beds and seats, I will arrange a low seat or bed, or a straw mat. I will also emulate this factor of the Arahants, and the Uposatha will be observed by me.’

“Thus, Visākhā, is the Noble One’s Uposatha. Thus observed, Visākhā, the Noble One’s Uposatha is of great fruit, of great benefit, or great splendour, and very pervasive.”

#UposathaSuttaTop#NotesHow Great is the Benefit?

“How great is the fruit, how great is the benefit, how great is the splendour, how pervasive is it? If, Visākhā, one ruled over these sixteen great nations full of abundant precious things, [213] namely: Aṅga, Magadha, Kāsi, Kosala, Vajji, Malla, Ceti, Vaṅga, Kuru, Pañcāla, Maccha, Sūrasena, Assaka, Avanti, Gandhāra, Kamboja, that would not be worth one sixteenth of this Uposatha accompanied by eight factors. What is the reason for that? Human sovereignty is insignificant compared to celestial happiness.

“Fifty human years, Visākhā, is just one day and night for the deities of the Four Great Kings. Thirty such days make a month, and twelve months make a year. The lifespan of the deities of the Four Great Kings is five hundred celestial years.¹² It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man, having observed this Uposatha accompanied by eight factors, on the break-up of the body after death, could arise in the company of the deities of the Four Great Kings. It was in connection with this that it was said: ‘Human sovereignty is insignificant compared to celestial happiness.

“A hundred human years, Visākhā, is just one day and night for the deities of the Thirty-three. Thirty such days make a month, and twelve months make a year. The lifespan of the deities of the Thirty-three is a thousand celestial years.¹³ It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man, having observed this Uposatha accompanied by eight factors, on the break-up of the body after death, could arise in the company of the deities of the Thirty-three. It was in connection with this that it was said: ‘Human  sovereignty is insignificant compared to celestial happiness.

“Two hundred human years, Visākhā, is just one day and night for the Yāma deities. Thirty such days make a month, and twelve months make a year. The lifespan of the Yāma deities is two thousand celestial years.¹⁴ It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man, having observed this Uposatha accompanied by eight factors, on the break-up of the body after death, could arise in the company of the Yāma deities. It was in connection with this that [214] it was said: ‘Human  sovereignty is insignificant compared to celestial happiness.

“Four hundred human years, Visākhā, is just one day and night for the deities of delight. Thirty such days make a month, and twelve months make a year. The lifespan of the deities of delight is four thousand celestial years.¹⁵ It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man, having observed this Uposatha accompanied by eight factors, on the break-up of the body after death, could arise in the company of the deities of delight. It was in connection with this that it was said: ‘Human  sovereignty is insignificant compared to celestial happiness.

“Eight hundred human years, Visākhā, is just one day and night for the deities who delight in creating. Thirty such days make a month, and twelve months make a year. The lifespan of the deities who delight in creating is eight thousand celestial years.¹⁶ It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man, having observed this Uposatha accompanied by eight factors, on the break-up of the body after death, could arise in the company of the deities who delight in creating. It was in connection with this that it was said: ‘Human  sovereignty is insignificant compared to celestial happiness.

“Sixteen hundred human years, Visākhā, is just one day and night for the deities who delight in the creations of others. Thirty such days make a month, and twelve months make a year. The lifespan of the deities who delight in the creations of others is sixteen thousand celestial years.¹⁷ It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man, having observed this Uposatha accompanied by eight factors, on the break-up of the body after death, could arise in the company of the deities who delight in the creations of others. It was in connection with this that it was said: ‘Human  sovereignty is insignificant compared to celestial happiness.’

“One should not kill, and one should not steal,
Do not tell lies, and do not drink intoxicants. [215]
One should refrain from sexual activity, from unchastity
Do not eat at night, or the wrong time.

“One should not wear garlands and perfumes,
Spread a bed to lie down on the ground.
Thus indeed is great eight-factored Uposatha,
Made known by the Buddha who ended suffering.

“The moon and sun, both beautiful to see,
Illuminate wherever they roam.
Dispelling darkness as they cross the sky,
Lighting up the sky, pervading all directions.

“Wealth existing within this realm,
Pearls, gems, the best lapis lazuli,
Gold like a cow’s horn, or shining gold,
Or that gold stored by ants.

“The Uposatha endowed with eight factors,
They are not even a sixteenth fraction of it.
As the radiance of the moon exceeds all the stars.

“Therefore, a virtuous woman and a man,
Observing the Uposatha endowed with eight factors,
Having made merit resulting in happiness,
Blameless, attain a heavenly realm.”

#UposathaSuttaTopNotes:

1. Visākhā was married to the son of Migāra, a disciple of the naked ascetics (Nigaṇṭhā).

2. Please see the footnotes to the Mahānāma Sutta for a full description of these attributes from the Visuddhimagga.

3. A paste made from embolic myrobalan. Commonly used in inks, shampoos, and hair oils, the high tannin content of Indian gooseberry fruit serves as a mordant for fixing dyes in fabrics.

4. For each of the four noble ones, there is one person striving to attain the path, and one who has attained the path. The path consciousness arises only momentarily, and is immediately followed by fruition consciousness. The Stream-winner can enter into and abide in fruition at will, and with more practice can become adept at staying in fruition for longer periods. To strive for the higher path, they have to forgo the fruition of Stream-winning to develop the higher stage of the path.

5. The deities who delight in the creations of others are in still in the realm of sensual happiness (kāmasugati bhūmi). The Brahmakāyika deities are in the first jhāna stage of the realms of form (rūpa loka), which is a realm remote from sensuality.

6. The similes of cleaning the head, the body, a cloth, a mirror, and gold for reflecting on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Saṅgha, one’s own morality, and the virtues of deities are so appropriate. I have translated upakkiliṭṭhassa as defiled, soiled, dirty, stained, dull, or impure to suit.

7. The Pāḷi idiom is “This night and day (imañca rattiṃ imañca divasaṃ).”

8. One meal (ekabhattikā), is one of the thirteen ascetic practices, but it seems that it would be the regular practice for Arahants. The Buddha recommended it for health, but he also allowed the use of gruel made (by a novice or lay-attendant) to be taken in the early morning. He also allowed those who wished, to keep back some food from the morning meal after almsround to eat later in the morning, but before midday. Eating at night is for lay people who may be working in the fields or market place all day, and must survive on snacks until they can return home to have a cooked meal in the evening. The monastic rules are flexible, as the dietary needs of young novices, grown men in vigorous health, the sick, and the elderly, are obviously very different.

9. Either performing these acts of dancing, singing, playing music, entertainments such as acrobatics or juggling, or watching or listening to others doing these things. Even drumming with one’s fingers would be regarded as playing music.

10. Any kind of jewellery, even a wrist watch, any kind of adornment such as bangles or brightly coloured clothing would be included. White clothes are generally worn, but any kind of plain and modest clothing is appropriate. An exception is usually made for wearing wedding rings.

11. The monastic rule allows a bed with legs of eight inches measured to the bottom of the bed frame. This is to offer some protection from snakes and other crawling creatures. Mattresses and cushions stuffed with cotton are not permitted. A straw mat offers a bare minimum of protection from dust and small stones on the ground. A Zabuton meditation cushion stuffed with buckwheat hulls is ideal for meditation as it will adjust to one’s posture.

12. 50 years x 30 days x 12 months x 500 celestial years = 9 million human years.

13. 100 years x 30 days x 12 months x 1,000 celestial years = 36 million human years.

14. 200 years x 30 days x 12 months x 2,000 celestial years = 144 million human years.

15. 400 years x 30 days x 12 months x 4,000 celestial years = 576 million human years.

16. 800 years x 30 days x 12 months x 8,000 celestial years = 2.3 billion human years.

17. 1,600 years x 30 days x 12 months x 16,000 celestial years = 9.2 billion human years. The lifespan of the Brahmakāyikā deities in the formless realms, but for times 9.2 billion human years would be greater than the age of the known universe. Other sources give the life-spans of such beings measured in aeons (Mahākappa). In Buddhist cosmology there is no beginning to this cycle of birth and death, and the Buddha could recollect any number of aeons. Ninety-one aeons ago, the Bodhisatta vowed at the feet of Dīpaṅkara Buddha to attain full enlightenment, and Dīpaṅkara Buddha gave him a firm assurance that he would achieve his goal ninety-one aeons later.