POSTCARD#49: Delhi: It’s Valentines Day today and by coincidence it also happens to be a special day for Buddhists; Magha Puja Day, the full moon of the third lunar month. On this day, 2500 years ago, 1250 enlightened monks came from different places in India to pay respect to the Buddha. No mobile phones in those days, of course, so how did they get it organised? Maybe it was telepathic, all these monks had been ordained by the Buddha himself and it had only been 7 months since the Buddha had had the experience of enlightenment – a time when everything must have been vital and immediate. The arrival of the monks was thought to be a key event in the development of the Dhamma teachings and this was when the Buddha gave the “Ovadha Patimokkha” discourse: the three principles of the Teachings: do good, abstain from bad action, and purify the mind.
On Magha Puja Days in Thailand there’s the circumnambulation ceremony, walking clockwise three times around the temple holding flowers, incense and a lighted candle. For me it’s a time to sit on the cushion for a while, if possible outside in the moonlight. A time to consider what it must have felt like to be present in that ancient gathering. The great circle of the full moon in the dark sky of 2500 years ago illuminating everything, and the assembly of monks seen in its mysterious silver light. That moonlight would have been the same as the moonlight we experience today. The function of seeing is the same now as it was then. And for those monks sitting in the moonlight so long ago, the associated consciousness that arose through the act of seeing was the same consciousness arising that is always arising; consciousness of an ever-present flow of sensory data from outer to inner. They would have contemplated the truth that ‘I’ am a mind/body organism and an inseparable part of the whole that appears all the way through time – everywhere it’s the same moment. For those monks sitting in meditation all those centuries ago, the sensation of the breath in the nasal passages, a coolness of air gently present, would have been no different from how I experience it now. They would have contemplated the breath in this way; watching the in-breath, the out-breath, and the awareness that arises with that feeling was the same awareness I experience here and now.
Through the subjectivity of human experience, that special Magha Puja event of the gathering of the 1250 monks is suddenly brought into present time. The ‘now’ that happened then is the same ’now’ happening as I write this, 2500 years further on in linear time. The entire history of the world is like a very, very, very long moment. The ‘now’ moment is, of course, always present and, although I may think of that gathering of monks 2500 years ago as happening in the ancient past, I have to remember that a moment experienced at that time was a moment happening in present time for those who were there.
“Refrain from doing evil, cultivate that which is good; purify the heart. This is the Way of the Awakened Ones.” [Dhammapada v. 183]
‘The first stage of cultivating the way is refraining from following all that is evil. It is about learning to say ‘no’ to ourselves when we need to. As a result, we discover later we can say, ‘yes’ without losing ourselves. If we don’t recognize our unwholesome impulses for what they are, we might think the bad stuff is only in other people. The second stage of cultivating the way is developing that which is good. Even if it is only a small moment of goodness, don’t dismiss it. The third stage is purifying our effort of the taint of ‘me’. Even when we have completely finished redecorating a room, the smell of paint fumes remains. Though our practice might be getting stronger, the sense of self-importance could be getting stronger too.’ [Ajahn Munindo, Friday 14th February 2014 – Magha Puja]