The Service for the Lunar Sabbath

Before taking the precepts, first pay respect to the Triple Gem—the Buddha, the Dhamma (the Truth he taught), and the Saṅgha (those of his followers who attained that Truth)—

Arahaṁ sammā-sambuddho bhagavā

The Blessed One is Worthy & Rightly Self-awakened

Buddhaṁ bhagavantaṁ abhivādemi

I bow down before the Awakened, Blessed One.

(bow down)

Svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo

The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One.

Dhammaṁ namassāmi

I pay homage to the Dhamma

(bow down)

Supaṭipanno bhagavato sāvaka-saṅgho

The Saṅgha of the Blessed One’s disciples has practiced well.

Saṅghaṁ namāmi

I pay respect to the Saṅgha.

(bow down)

Now the group will chant the standard morning service. If you don’t know it, simply remain silent. When the group has finished, it will chant the request for the precepts in unison. Again, if you don’t know it, remain silent. The request for the five precepts is as follows:

Mayaṁ bhante ti-saraṇena saha pañca sīlāni yācāma

Venerable sir, we request the five precepts together with the Triple Refuge.

Dutiyampi mayaṁ bhante… yācāma

A second time….

Tatiyampi mayaṁ bhante… yācāma

A third time….

The request for the eight uposatha precepts:

Mayaṁ bhante ti-saraṇena saha aṭṭhaṅga-samannāgataṁ uposathaṁ yācāma

Venerable sir, we request the eight-factored uposatha observance together with the Triple Refuge.

Dutiyampi mayaṁ bhante… yācāma

A second time….

Tatiyampi mayaṁ bhante… yācāma

A third time….

Then repeat the phrase paying homage to the Buddha:

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammā-sambuddhassa (three times)

Homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One,

the Rightly Self-awakened One.

And then the phrases for taking refuge in the Triple Gem:

Buddhaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

I go to the Buddha for refuge.

Dhammaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

I go to the Dhamma for refuge.

Saṅghaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

I go to the Saṅgha for refuge.

Dutiyampi Buddhaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchami

A second time, I go to the Buddha for refuge.

Dutiyampi Dhammaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

A second time, I go to the Dhamma for refuge.

Dutiyampi Saṅghaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

A second time, I go to the Saṅgha for refuge.

Tatiyampi Buddhaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

A third time, I go to the Buddha for refuge.

Tatiyampi Dhammaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

A third time, I go to the Dhamma for refuge.

Tatiyampi Saṅghaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi

A third time, I go to the Saṅgha for refuge.

This finished, the monk officiating will say, Ti-saraṇa-gamanaṁ niṭṭhitaṁ (The taking of the three refuges is now completed). You say, Āma, bhante (Yes, sir). Now repeat the precepts after him (translations are given below):

1. Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi

2. Adinnādānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi

3. Kāmesu micchācārā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi

(If you are taking the eight precepts, replace this with:

Abrahma-cariyā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi)

4. Musāvādā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi

5. Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi

(If you are taking the five precepts, stop here. If you are taking the eight precepts, continue:)

6. Vikāla-bhojanā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi

7. Nacca-gīta-vādita-visūka-dassanā mālā-gandha-vilepana-dharaṇa-maṇ˜ana-vibhūsanaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi

8. Uccāsayana-mahāsayanā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṁ samādiyāmi

If you are taking the uposatha precepts, the monk will announce the duration of the uposatha period. Repeat after him:

Imaṁ aṭṭhaṅga-samannāgataṁ

Buddha-paññattaṁ uposathaṁ

Imañca rattiṁ imañca divasam

Sammadeva abhirakkhituṁ samādiyāmi

(which means: I undertake to maintain, perfect and pure for today and tonight, this uposatha observance formulated by the Buddha and composed of eight factors.)

The monk will counsel heedfulness and announce the rewards of observing the precepts:

Imāni aṭṭha sikkhāpadāni accekaṁ rattin-divaṁ uposathasīla-vasena sādhukaṁ rakkhitabbāni

(These eight training rules are to be well maintained for the entire day & night of the Uposatha period.)

You say, Āma bhante (Yes, sir). The monk will continue:

Sīlena sugatiṁ yanti

sīlena bhoga-sampadā

sīlena nibbutiṁ yanti

tasmā sīlaṁ visodhaye

Through virtue they go to heaven.

Through virtue wealth is attained.

Through virtue they go to liberation.

Thus we should all purify our virtue.

This ends the taking of the precepts.

The precepts translated are as follows:

1. I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking life.

2. To refrain from stealing.

3. To refrain from illicit sex. (This is for those who are taking the five precepts. The precept, Abrahma-cariyā…, for those taking the eight precepts, forbids all forms of sexual intercourse.)

4. To refrain from speaking falsehood.

5. To refrain from taking intoxicants.

6. To refrain from eating food during the period from noon until the following dawn.

7. To refrain from watching shows (e.g., dancing, singing, instrumental music) and from ornamenting the body with flowers, scents, cosmetics, or jewelry.

8. To refrain from using high and luxurious beds and seats. “Luxurious” means having a stuffed cushion or mattress. “High” means more than eight inches high (measuring from the floor to the bottom of the frame). Armchairs and couches with arms, however, even if they are more than eight inches high, are not prohibited by this precept.

The precepts, whether five or eight, have two foundations. In other words, for them to be broken, they must be transgressed by either (1) the body in conjunction with the mind, or (2) speech in conjunction with the mind. A precept transgressed unintentionally with a bodily action is nevertheless still intact. Say, for instance, you cut a tree or gather flowers to place on an altar, and it so happens that the insects living in the tree or flower stem die. You had no idea they were there in the first place. In this case, your precepts are still intact because you had no intention for them to die. As for verbal actions, suppose that you speak hurriedly, and what you end up saying is different from what you had meant to say, out of either carelessness or inattention. For example, you meant to say three words, but ended up saying four; you meant to tell the truth, but what you actually said was false. Since it was simply a verbal act, and you didn’t have it in mind to speak misleadingly, your five or eight precepts are still intact.

A breach of the ten guidelines can be effected with one of as many as three factors: the body in conjunction with the mind, speech in conjunction with the mind, or the mind acting alone. In other words, a transgression of any sort in thought, word, or deed has to be intentional for there to be a breach in one’s virtue, because the intention—the will to abstain (cetanā-virati)—forms the essence of virtue. This can be checked against any of the various precepts. Intention is the essence of virtue; aspects of virtue apart from that intention are simply its expressions and transgressions.

The intention that qualifies as virtue is the will to abstain in line with the five or eight precepts. The expressions of virtue are simply the precepts that tell what is forbidden. The transgression of virtue is the act of breaking a precept. Virtue is normalcy. Normalcy and right equilibrium in word and deed is expressed by the five precepts and eight uposatha precepts. Normalcy and right equilibrium in thought, word, and deed is expressed by the ten guidelines.

The statement that intention is the essence of virtue is supported by the passage in the Canon where the Buddha says,

cetanāhaṁ bhikkhave kammaṁ vadāmi

I tell you, monks, that intention is the action.

Virtue, as practiced by Buddhists in general, can be summarized into three categories: hīna-sīla, gocara-sīla and anagocara-sīla.

1. Hīna-sīla means simply obeying the precepts. For instance, the first precept tells you not to kill, so you hope to gain merit by looking out for the lives of others, not causing them to die. The second precept tells you not to steal, so you hope to get some good out of taking care of the possessions of others, not causing them to disappear. The third precept rules out illicit sex, so you go around hoping for goodness by looking out for other people’s spouses and children. The fourth precept rules out lying, so you go around looking after other people’s ears by not putting lies in them. The fifth precept rules out alcohol, so you do your part for other people’s liquor bottles by not making them go empty. The same holds true for the other precepts. Practicing virtue in this way is tantamount to being a watchman for other people’s goods. You put yourself on the level of a slave or hired cowhand. Whether you observe the five or even the eight precepts, this is classed as the lowest level of virtue, or as sīlabbatupādāna, attachment to external forms of goodness.

2. Gocara-sīla means making sure that the mind occupies itself only with skillful intentions, such as thinking of ways to act that will be skillful and meritorious. Whether your thoughts deal with the past or the future, with visual objects, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, or ideas, you are careful to keep them in line with skillful intentions, not letting them fall into ways that are not.

3. Anagocara-sīla means keeping the mind in the present, not letting it wander among distracting thoughts or perceptions. You are mindful and alert, keeping watch over the mind so that it stays exclusively in the present. This is virtue—when virtue reaches a state of normalcy—the sort of virtue truly worthy of heaven and nibbāna.

The virtue that’s careful not to break the precepts can counter the cruder forms of greed. The virtue that guards the mind’s train of thought, keeping it from traveling in the area of unskillful intentions, can do away with anger. The virtue that enters into the present—i.e., virtue in a state of normalcy—can do away with delusion. Thus we can say that virtue can do away with the cruder forms of defilement, i.e., certain levels of greed, anger, and delusion.

To continue with the service for the lunar sabbath: Now you have the opportunity to hear a sermon. The request for a sermon is as follows:

Brahmā ca lokādhipatī sahampati

kat’añjalī andhivaram ayācatha

santīdha sattāpparajakkha-jātikā

desetu dhammaṁ anukampimaṁ pajaṁ

(The Brahmā Sahampati, lord of the world,

with hands palm-to-palm before his heart

[approached the Lord Buddha and] requested a blessing:

There are beings here with only a little dust in their eyes.

Please teach the Dhamma out of kindness for them.)

Now compose your thoughts and keep them fixed on absorbing the nourishment of the Dhamma. Once the sermon is finished, you may proclaim yourself to be a lay adherent of the Buddha, as follows:

Ahaṁ buddhañca dhammañca      Saṅghañca saraṇaṁ gato

Having gone to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha for refuge,

Upāsakattam desesiṁ      Bhikkhu-saṅghassa samukkhā

I have declared my adherence in the presence of the Bhikkhu Saṅgha.

Etaṁ me saraṇaṁ khemaṁ      Etaṁ saraṇam-uttamaṁ

This is my secure refuge; this, my highest refuge.

Etaṁ saraṇam-āgamma      Sabba-dukkhā pamuccaye

This is the refuge, having gone to which,

one is released from all suffering & stress.

Yathā-balaṁ careyyahaṁ      Sammā-sambuddha-sāsanaṁ

I will follow, in line with my strength,

the teachings of the Rightly Self-awakened One

Dukkha-nissaraṇass’eva      Bhāgī assaṁ anāgate

So that in the future I will have a share

in the escape from suffering & stress.

(Women should substitute gatā for gato, upāsikattaṁ for upāsakattaṁ, and bhāgini’ssaṁ for bhāgī assaṁ.)

The Pali word for adherent, upāsaka (fem., upāsikā), literally means “one who is close” to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha. There are ten qualities looked for in an adherent: five activities to be refrained from and five qualities to possess.

The five to be refrained from are:

1. selling weapons,

2. selling human beings,

3. selling animals to be killed for food, or the flesh of animals that one has killed oneself,

4. selling intoxicants,

5. selling poison.

The five qualities to possess:

1. conviction,

2. observance of the precepts,

3. belief in nothing but the principle of kamma—that those who do good will meet with good, those who do evil will meet with evil,

4. an unwillingness to look for merit in ways excluded by the Buddha’s teachings,

5. performance of merit in ways particular to the Buddha’s teachings.

To possess these qualifications means by definition that one is an adherent to generosity, virtue, and meditation.

Now that the service is over, you should take the opportunity to develop peace and respite of mind. Don’t let the day go to waste. Take the word buddho as your meditation exercise. To be intent on repeating the word buddho in your mind is one form of concentration (samādhi). Discernment (paññā) means thorough comprehension of all fabrications. The value of discernment is that it abandons all forms of defilement. Virtue, concentration, and discernment: These qualities form the heart of the Buddha’s message, which we should all try to develop to the best of our abilities.

Now we will pose a number of questions dealing with virtue and concentration as a way of further elaborating on these topics.