NEW MOON – Blessings

Blessed is the arising of a Buddha;
blessed is the revealing of the Dhamma;
blessed is the concord of the Sangha;
delightful is harmonious communion.

Dhammapada v. 194

We all delight when we receive blessings. Let’s also delight in our ability to generate blessings. Whatever our circumstance in life, we have the power to bring virtue into the world. To some it appears naive to dwell on developing virtue; they think it is up to others to stop causing darkness. But we are not responsible for what others do or don’t do. We are responsible for our own actions. Sometimes we are surrounded by light, at other times it seems the light has disappeared. But we don’t have to be defined by external conditions. We always have the possibility of being a bit more kind, a bit more patient, a bit more honest.

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FULL MOON – Pavarana Day

Disciples of the Buddha
are fully awake both day and night,
taking delight
in cultivating the heart.

Dhammapada v. 210

The Buddha encouraged the cultivation of our heart’s potential to awaken. We are already aware of the need to look after our physical health, and the benefits of maintaining mental well-being; if we heed the Buddha’s advice we will also invest in those qualities which lead to wisdom and compassion. Wisdom sees the advantages and disadvantages in any given situation. Without wisdom we risk seeing only that which pleases us. Sometimes it is more wise to endure discomfort and disappointment for the sake of being able to see deeply, beyond the world of preferences. Compassion, the heart’s warmth and impulse to care, is the natural expression of wisdom.

In India, where Buddhism began, there is a three-month-long rainy season. According to the Vinaya (Mahavagga, Fourth Khandhaka, section I), in the time of the Buddha, once during this rainy season, a group of normally wandering monks sought shelter by co-habitating in a residence. In order to minimise potential inter-personal strife while co-habitating, the monks agreed to remain silent for the entire three months and agreed upon a non-verbal means for sharing alms.

After this rains retreat, when the Buddha learned of the monks’ silence, he described such a measure as “foolish.” Instead, the Buddha instituted the Pavarana Ceremony as a means for dealing with potential conflict and breaches of disciplinary rules (Patimokkha) during the vassa season.

Pavarana usually falls during the eleventh lunar month – October – and it marks the end of the three month ‘rains retreat’ which began on the full moon of Asalha. Literally ‘pavarana’ means ‘inviting admonition’.

The three month period (vassa) is often used by lay and monastic folk alike to make a variety of determinations; to take up a particular devotional or meditation practice, to challenge or renounce some old habit – like eating sugar or smoking or drinking coffee (or worse). In Asia this may even be taken to the extent of lay folk taking temporary ordination for all or part of this time. The full moon of Pavarana marks the end of this period and is a time of celebration. For those who have maintained a strict practice it means they can relax a bit; hopefully having learnt something about the particular thing they had been investigating and not falling back into old habits.

For monastics it ends a period of containment within the boundaries of the monastery.
The Buddha appreciated how this containment can sometimes cause difficulty between people and he outlined a ceremony to be performed by the monks and the nuns on the Pavarana day. There are several aspects to this ceremony but the underlying spirit is one of asking for admonishment. This is not that one wants a good telling off but invitation is formally given to one’s ordained brothers and sisters to offer any reflections on one’s past behaviour. This invitation need not be taken up then and there but an opening is created.

The words of part of the ceremony are as follows:
“Venerable One’s, I invite admonition from the Sangha. According to what has been seen, heard or suspected (of my actions), may the venerable one’s instruct me out of compassion. Seeing it (my fault), I shall make amends. I ask this of you for the second time; and again I ask for the third time.”

NEW MOON – Consistency

The Awakened Ones, firm in their resolve,
vigorously apply themselves,
and know freedom from all limitation:
liberation, true security.

Dhammapada v. 23

Consistency is one of the characteristics of the Awakened Ones. Those free from the limitations which arise from clinging, never get lost in moods, positive or negative. It is not because they don’t feel anything. They feel everything, but because they know beyond doubt the nature of all things, they don’t interfere with, or obstruct, reality. Unawakened beings are always interfering by indulging and denying. Even when we want to be helpful, so long as we are still caught in clinging, we obstruct reality. Whatever goodness arises from our efforts is limited. Incomparable goodness arises from a heart that is unobstructed, that is truly secure.

FULL MOON – Do Not Abandon Yourselves

To lose the company of those
with whom one feels at home is painful,
to be associated with those
whom you dislike is even worse;
so do not abandon yourselves
either to the company of those
with whom you feel at home
or those whom you dislike.

Dhammapada v. 210

Abandoning ourselves here means losing ourselves or losing perspective. It is thoroughly natural to experience warm-hearted caring for another, as the Buddha pointed out in his teachings on cultivating loving-kindness. What we add to that with our clinging, is unnatural, or at least unnecessary. And if we could stop clinging we might be more whole-heartedly caring. If we are not really attentive we could be harbouring some hesitation to truly care for others out of fear of becoming attached. With wise contemplation however, it is possible to care and at the same time be mindful of tendencies to attach. The only thing to be afraid of is the time it takes to remember to be mindful.

NEW MOON – Foolishness

Riches mostly ruin the foolish,
but not those who seek the beyond.
Just as they dismiss the well-being of others and cause harm,
fools also ruin themselves.

Dhammapada v. 355

Wealth can generate great benefit; it can also cause considerable harm. The Buddha referred to wealth as an intoxicant. As with power, wealth can be an opportunity for bringing increased goodness in the world, or it can inflate a sense of self-importance, making us deaf to those who might otherwise be genuinely helpful to us. The intoxicating effect of wealth tends to cause us to believe we can afford to listen only to those who give us praise. Such arrogance leads to further greed and the only thing that increases is foolishness.

NEW MOON – What Do We Dwell On

Beware of devious thinking 
and be aware of all that you dwell upon. 
Renounce all unruly thought 
and cultivate that which is wholesome. 

Dhammapada v. 233

It takes a certain subtlety of attention to see how the thoughts that we harbour give shape to our character. It is obvious that what we do and say has an effect, but here the Buddha is cautioning that what we think also matters. Elsewhere he helpfully advises that in order to be able to let go of unruly thinking, we should pay close attention to the painful consequences of getting lost in it. To ignore the effect of being caught up in unruliness is similar to operating a computer without security; we shouldn’t be surprised if we get hacked, that is, taken over. When we indulge in mental heedlessness we make ourselves susceptible to increased suffering. The opposite also applies: paying close attention to the beneficial consequences of letting go of unruliness naturally nourishes well-being, generating a sense of safety..

FULL MOON – Joyous Communion

If you find a good companion
of integrity and wisdom,
you will overcome all dangers
in joyous and caring company.

Dhammapada v. 328

Where might we turn when our heart needs uplifting? Spiritual community is one place we could go. If we don’t feel we have a spiritual community, it might be wise to go looking for one. Just as we would register with a local doctor before we actually fell ill, so it is good to be aware of the spiritual communities available. And both physical and virtual communities can serve the purpose. What matters is that we find the kind of companionship which helps us rise above the way the world would define us. Age, nationality, gender, wealth, do not determine who we are. It is our effort to awaken to reality – to Dhamma – that matters most. The essence of spiritual community is the harmonious resonance of shared aspiration. Attuning to that spirit can be joyous and uplifting.