Five Training Precepts: Ethical standards for the cultivation of virtue
1. Harmlessness and nonviolence: to cherish all life — I undertake the training to refrain from intentionally taking the life of living beings.
The first precept entails the development of metta (goodwill and loving-kindness) and karuna (compassion) toward all beings. This includes even the creatures that we may be afraid of (e.g. spiders) or who may hurt us (e.g. snakes and scorpions). In our practice of metta-karuna we need to make an extra effort not to swat at a mosquito or squash a small spider. Insect repellent may offer an alternative, especially for the early evenings. Mindful of the suffering and unwholesome kamma produced by the taking of life, with this precept we aspire to offer our practice of benevolence and harmlessness as a protection to all beings with which we share the forest.
2. Trustworthiness and integrity: developing contentment — I undertake the training to refrain from taking what is not given.
Living in a monastic community involves a high level of respect for belongings that are not ones own. Guests are expected to be careful not to make use of communal property such as toiletries, washing powder, tissues, etc. without permission. Food and drinks should be consumed at the regular meal or teatime. Please remember that everything in the monastery has been offered out of faith to the monastic community. If you are in doubt about something, please ask. While living at the monastery you are asked to keep all of your requisites simple and basic. Keeping things simple offers a chance to develop a mind that knows how to relinquish and let go. It also offers a beauty and grace to the form while at the same time freeing up time for meditation practice and service to the community.
3. Chastity: the gift of wholesomeness — I undertake the training to refrain from all sexual activity.
A period of retreat in a monastery is a rest from sexual relationships - and possibly a chance to gain some insight into the nature of our sexuality and gender conditioning. Lay guests are asked to mix as little as possible with members of the opposite sex, avoiding long conversations with each other. Newcomers are asked to be particularly aware that postulants in white robes (called pahkows or anagarikas) and resident female practitioners with shaven heads are encouraged to keep their distance from members of the opposite sex. The women's section is out of bounds for men, and similarly women are asked not to walk through the parts of the forest where the dwellings for monks are. This precept, perhaps more than any other, distinguishes the type of training practiced at a monastery. Strictly adhering to the practice of chastity enables people to trust and rely on the monastic community, and to be open with us. In turn, we can freely give teachings and help lay guests in a way otherwise not possible. Furthermore, preserving sexual energy increases vital energy for spiritual practice.
4. Honesty and right speech: a love of truth — I undertake the training to refrain from speaking untruthfully.
In an earnest aspiration to care for the truth and develop right speech, we endeavor to refrain from all types of unwholesome speech. This includes speech that is divisive, hurtful, harsh, vulgar, deceitful, evasive, self-aggrandizing, cynical or hypocritical as well as gossip and frivolous speech. Topics such as travel, politics, sports, movies etc. although normally considered harmless can sometimes agitate or distract the mind in a way that takes us away from our goals in meditation. To a community practicing in a forest monastic setting, a conversation that might seem innocuous enough by worldly standards can still be quite inappropriate. Time and place for conversation is as important as is content. Wherever you see someone or a group meditating you should avoid talking. The library and the sala during mealtime and meditation periods are places where you always should avoid conversations. The kitchen and dorm areas, especially after nightfall, can also have a magnetic appeal as a place for socialising. Lay guests are asked to be particularly restrained in these areas. Consider silence a gift that you can offer to others as much as to yourself. Remember that the human voice has a powerful effect on the mind; even if what you speak is not understood, people may still find the sound of it distracting and can't help picking up on tones of voice. Developing a devotion to honesty and silence as an offering to others, and ourselves in turn, facilitates the natural development of inward silence and self-honesty in meditation.
5. Clarity and purity of mind: sharpening the sense of knowing — I undertake the training to refrain from taking intoxicating drinks and drugs.
In the broadest sense, the spirit of this precept entails refraining from any activities by body, speech or mind that dull or intoxicate the mind. Through the cultivation of mindfulness and meditation, we take refuge in present-moment awareness, grounding ourselves in the simple down-to-earth clarity of mind. Intoxicating drink or drugs are strictly prohibited. Smoking also is unsuitable for members of the community and all guests are asked to refrain from smoking during their stay at the monastery. Generally, avoid anything that clouds the mind and hinders the practice with heaviness, dullness, defilement or confusion (e.g. certain books, newspapers, etc.).
Three Renunciation Precepts: Inclining the mind inward for spiritual practice
6. Simplicity — I undertake the training to refrain from taking food after mid-day.
Monks and novices in the Thai forest tradition keep to the practice of only eating one meal a day and guests are asked to follow accordingly. This means not to eat outside the area in the kitchen designated for guests to eat their meal and not to eat before or after the mealtime. Please do not take fruit or cartons of drink away after the meal. Allowances can always be made if there are sufficient medical reasons by discussing one's situation with the abbot. Eating once a day can have many practical benefits. As the body adjusts to the schedule, eating in this manner allows one to sleep less (and better) in the evening, and frees up much more time of the day for meditation.
7. Sense restraint — I undertake the training to refrain from dancing, singing, playing or listening to music, attending public performances and from any kind of self-adornment including cosmetics, perfumes, garlands and jewellery.
These are ways we can amuse ourselves and divert our attention from meditation and spiritual practice. In coming to stay in a spiritual sanctuary we consciously put aside distractions and turn ourselves inward. During your time in the monastery we ask you not to listen to music or the radio and not to use any fancy electronic equipment such as a laptop computer. Lay guests are required to adopt the traditional lay clothing (white trousers and shirt for men, and the white blouse with a long, black skirt for women), all of which the monastery can usually provide. Men or women with long hair are asked to tie it in back and all men staying beyond seven days are asked to shave their heads. In general, guests are asked to relinquish any kind of behaviour which can attract the attention of others or distract us away from our goals in meditation and contemplation.
8. Wakefulness, alertness and attentiveness in all postures — I undertake the training to refrain from lying on high and luxurious sleeping places.
This precept entails practicing mindfulness, clear comprehension and present moment awareness in all postures and activities throughout the day. Although there are no luxurious sleeping places in the monastery, the spirit of this rule is to encourage us to keep our time spent sleeping down to what is really necessary. The combination of hot, sticky weather and boredom can make sleeping a very easy way to pass several hours of the day as well as the night. As this is an area that may pose challenges to a newcomer to a forest monastery, feel free to practise in the salas or the bot if this is an aide to your wakefulness.
In sum, these training precepts are guidelines for good conduct in body and speech, a necessary foundation for the inner work of developing the mind in meditation. As we live a more simple and peaceful life, we can begin to heighten our awareness of how our actions can lead to either wholesome mental states or suffering. With wise reflection, the practice of renunciation and restraint offers the opportunity to develop deep insight into the conditioned nature of mental states. As we learn to see both internal and external phenomena as impermanent and without 'self', we can begin to clarify our understanding of the true nature of the mind, not readily apparent to us otherwise.
Although the Buddhist precepts and mindfulness observances may appear to focus on restraint, when properly practiced they actually give us the opportunity to experience a profound freedom and happiness. Upholding the precepts, both individually and collectively engenders trust, respect and joy in the community. To fully cultivate sila (virtue and moral conduct) inherently supports the development of samadhi (meditation) and panna (wisdom) as well. When precepts, peace and insight come together as one, the path to realize the fruits of the Buddha's teaching-Awakening and Freedom-is nourished and sustained.
With all the precepts and mindfulness observances, the key thing to look at is 'intention' in the mind. Restraint puts a wedge of awareness in between our intention and our actions. With mindfulness we can observe what takes place in our mind before we act. Rather than just reacting to situations from our likes and dislikes, we can learn to transcend our conditioning and respond to life's situations with openness, clarity and wakefulness. We can gain skill at pinning down the deeper defilements and obscurations of the mind, so that we can let go of them on the mental level with awareness.
The precepts thus serve the dual purpose of restraining unwholesome speech and actions while helping to promote harmony within the community-and they encourage the integrity and self-discipline necessary for spiritual development. It is important, however, not to see these precepts and guidelines as commandments imposed from without, but as principles of training deliberately taken up as an act of personal choice and initiative. In time the virtuous qualities that grow out of such training naturally will gather strength.
With the daily schedule, the Dhamma practice in a forest monastery is intended to be all encompassing. Rather than concentrate on a particular technique of meditation, we aim our practice to include all aspects of daily life, however ordinary and mundane. Each day affords us many opportunities to develop mindfulness, insight and other spiritual qualities such as effort, generosity, joy, faith and patience. There are many opportunities to serve the community and lay guests are encouraged to use their initiative in helping out with jobs that need to be done. If you have particular skills and abilities you may like to offer these for the benefit of the community.
Our schedule varies from day to day and from season to season. Every day, please keep updated on that day's schedule announced during the meal. All guests are expected to follow the monastic routine and not miss any community meetings or chores. Also, please be punctual. The positive participation of lay guests in all communal activities is highly valued and appreciated. Should inappropriate and repeated absences occur, lay guests may be asked to leave.
During the greater part of the year, a good deal of the day is set aside for individual meditation practice and Dhamma study. These times alternate with periods of group meetings and work. Also, throughout these periods of individual practice, from time to time the community comes together for formal seven or ten day silent meditation retreats. During the Rainy Season Retreat (Thai=’pansah’, Pali=’vassa’) from the full moon in July to the full moon of October the community holds daily morning, afternoon and evening meetings. This three-month retreat period also serves as a time when the monks engage in an intensive study of the Monastic Discipline (Vinaya). For the months of March and April, the monastic community travels across Thailand to our retreat hermitage, Dtao Dam, in the remote mountainous jungles of the Thai-Burmese border. During these two months, Wat Pah Nanachat may not be able to host new lay guests.
The morning wake-up bell rings at 3:00 AM. The morning meeting for chanting and meditation is held in the Main Sala from 3:30 AM to 5:00 AM. At dawn the monks leave to go on alms-round. During this time lay men are asked to sweep the central area of the monastery, including the front driveway and all the paths around the kitchen, office and Main Sala. Lay women sweep around the women's section and bot, and after 7:00 AM they can help with food preparation in the kitchen or use the time remaining before the meal for Dhamma practice.
At ten minutes to 8:00 AM a bell will ring and visitors help with offering the food to the monks in the kitchen or if there are already enough helpers, quietly take their seat in the sala. When all the food has been offered, the whole community gathers in the sala. Lay residents sit together along the side of the sala. After the monastic community chants a blessing, lay guests pay respect to the triple gem and then take their meal together in the lay dining area connected to the kitchen. Please take just sufficient food for your needs and do not take anything away to eat elsewhere. Once again, all guests should adhere to the one-meal-a-day-standard. Those with particular health problems may consult the guest monk. After the meal lay guests should help with the cleaning up - washing spittoons, sweeping and putting away the mats and utensils. Laywomen may offer their assistance in the kitchen. Then the monks gather in the office area for some announcements and a short Dhamma reflection. Oftentimes the lay guests are invited to join.
The daily chores period follows the meal clean-up or the Dhamma reflection. Individual chore assignments are assigned by the guest or the work-monk. Each day after the meal, lay guests are asked to contribute a minimum of one to one and a half hours towards chores. Please see the guest monk if you have not been given a work assignment. Lay women are asked to continue with the cleaning of the kitchen until it is completed. Then as a daily chore assignment, women are asked to clean the bot and the main toilet block in the women's section and the women's toilet block behind the kitchen. Please give an occasional cleaning to the guest house and any empty kutis in the women's section. From time to time, the community will have a communal workday. On these days work assignments will be given after the meal. Every day after the community chores are completed, there is free time for individual practice until the next meeting.
Usually the afternoon is free for individual practice, although during the rains retreat (pansah) there are sometimes periods of group sittings for the whole community form 2:00 - 4:00 PM followed by a silent tea break in the meditation hall. On the day before Wan Phra, from 3:00 PM until tea-time there is a period of sweeping every path in the entire monastery. On the day following Wan Phra there is a communal clean-up of the Main Sala and office at 3:00 PM.
From 6:15 to 7:45 PM there is a formal evening meeting with chanting and meditation in one of the meditation halls, usually the Main Sala. Exceptions are the day before and after Wan Phra (see below). The end of the evening meeting is marked by a gentle bell, so those who want to leave to continue practising at their dwelling can quietly get up from their seats, and those who want to continue in the meditation hall may stay. We ask the lay-women to leave the hall all together at 7:45 PM, quietly heading back to the women's section. Usually around 10.00 or 11.00 PM, after concluding one's formal practice with spreading loving kindness (metta) and dedicating the wholesome kamma made during the day, one may want to have a good, peaceful rest. The evening meetings occasionally include a Dhamma talk from the abbot or a senior monk. The communal evening then ends shortly after 9:00 PM.
This is the Thai name for the Buddhist Holy Day, which falls on the new moon, full moon and the two half moons, i.e. every seven or eight days. Lay disciples from the surrounding villages and the cities of Warin and Ubon will come to the monastery in the morning to prepare and offer food, receive the precepts and hear a short talk from the senior monk before the meal is eaten. Some people will stay in the monastery for the rest of the day and night, keeping the Eight Precepts. On Wan Phra evening there is chanting and meditation in the Main Sala from 7:00 to 9:00 PM for everybody, except for the full- and new moon days, when the monks recite their 227 precepts separately in the Bot. At about 9:30 PM there is a Dhamma talk in Thai in the Main Sala and in English at the Bot. At midnight a drink is available for those practitioners who make the effort to do sitting and walking meditation all night. There is a bell at 3:00 AM for the morning meditation period at 3:30 AM in the Main Sala, followed by morning chanting at 4:00 AM. At 5:00 AM the villagers who have spent the day and night in the monastery take their leave.