Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pavarana Day & 'Buddha Space'

On Pavarana Day, it is the tradition of Buddhist monks to confess any misdeeds that they have done over the previous months of the rains retreat, when they have been primarily practicing in the confines of a monastery and not traveling. This is usually a positive occasion for the monastic community when they let go of recent shortcomings and start afresh in their practice of the Way.

All Buddhists can take inspiration from this monastic example. We can look back at our thoughts, words and deeds of recent times and reflect on them, considering whether they were skillful for a Buddhist, and if they were in line with the living of the Buddhadharma or not. More than this, however, there is another approach to past activities that can benefit us, and this is to see who, or what, it is that actually had them, and what the current condition of this who-or-what is right now. When you have some spare minutes to spend, please carry out the following exercise and see what conclusions arise from it.

Bring to mind recent thoughts, speech or actions that one felt might have been inappropriate from the viewpoint of your particular moral code or approach to life. Consider the ins and outs of what you thought, said, or did. Without making a snap decision as to whether it was acceptable or not, reflect on it thoroughly; does it contradict your ethical outlook on life, and if so, how? Don’t become caught up in any powerful emotions that may arise in response to all this; merely note them. Now, turn your attention to that which is having all these thoughts and feelings. What are they occurring in - a person or a brain? Can you locate or identify that in which these reflections are happening, or is it more of an indefinable awareness? Here, thoughts and emotions exist in a clear awareness that notes them but is not caught up in them. It is spacious clarity. Is it not true that even at the time when the occurrence that you’re considering happened, it took place in this same naked knowing? Is there a person here to be found to identify with these specific events, or is it in truth an emptiness that’s awake to its contents?

When thoughts, words, and deeds are examined in the context of their existence, what we might term ‘Buddha Space’ is revealed, that spacious awareness that lies at the origin of all experiences. This voidness isn’t merely an absolute nothing as such, for it is awake (Bodhi), being alive to the comings and goings of the mind and the world. This doesn’t negate the relevance of previous karma (action), for it will have an effect on the individual level. What it does do is reveal the knower, that which is ultimately untouched and unaffected by its contents and their results. This is the natural Dharma from which the Buddhadharma grows, and it teaches us that what we do on the human level matters, and yet at the same time, the myriad things and events of this life cannot color what we truly are beneath these psychophysical masks.

So, in recalling something that you did recently that was inconsistent with your own ethical standards, it is right that on the human level a sense of shame should arise, and that this should lead to the intent not to do what is harmful and unwise again. At the same time, to maintain awareness of this ‘Buddha Space’ that remains untarnished by previous actions is to open the door to enlightenment, which the sages have told us is beyond good and evil. In essence, the Way can be said to consist of following the precepts whilst becoming awake to that which is awake: the awakened one (Buddha) within. Living in this awakened state allows those negative and harmful thoughts, words, and deeds to drop away, leaving the naked truth that can teach us the natural Dharma. And what is this naked truth? Turn around your attention and see!


Barry said...

Thank you for this interesting post. In the Zen tradition in which I study, there is a "repentance ceremony" that is held whenever a community member has engaged in some activity that has grievously wronged another. But there is not a standardized way of reflecting on our many transgressions.

Of course, in Zen we allow plenty of space to become aware of our transgressions and errors and, especially, to see into the impulses and intentions that produced those behaviors. Uprooting those impulses and intentions produces the transformation.

Thanks again!

G said...

Thanks for the (also) interesting comments, Barry.

There are so many parallels between Zen & Theravadin practices that for me they merge into one.Ceremonies and other reflections that encourage reflection on our shortcomings can certainly be very positive & revealing processes!

Uprooting the impulses and intentions you mention through awareness and not acting upon them is a central part of the forest tradition of Thailand. It's a case of watching them with spacious alertness and allowing them to be born, live, and die away, rather than repressing or fighting them, isn't it, Barry?

Be well in the Dharma,