Life in the Saffron Forest: Chapter 10

Pouring Water on the Buddha

In the Saf­fron For­est, the one thing that was the same for the monks and novices was the pro­ce­dure of con­fess­ing offences, which the novices called ‘redeem­ing one’s virtue.’ Every head-shav­ing day (the day before the full and new moon obser­vance days), the novices would request the pre­cepts from one of the monks—usually from the abbot or vice-abbot. The novices would repeat each pre­cept after the monk, com­plet­ing all ten pre­cepts, and they would then make a pledge in Pali: Imāni dasa sikkhā­padāni samādiyā­mi—“We will keep these ten pre­cepts well.’

When a monk con­fess­es minor offences, from pācit­tiya offences down, he seeks out anoth­er monk, informs him of the offence, and then the two of them crouch down fac­ing each oth­er with palms togeth­er to per­form the con­fes­sion.

The monk who is con­fess­ing the offence (say he is junior to the oth­er monk) says in Pali: Ahaṃ bhante sam­bahulā nānā vatthukāyo āpat­tiyo āpa­jjiṃ tā tumhamūle paṭidese­mi—‘Ven­er­a­ble sir, I have com­mit­ted many offences, of many kinds. I ask to con­fess these offences in the pres­ence of the Ven­er­a­ble sir.’

The oth­er monk replies: Pas­sasi āvu­so tā āpat­tiyo—‘Ven­er­a­ble friend, do you see these offences?’ (‘Are you sure that you are at fault?’)

The con­fess­ing monks says: Āma bhante passā­mi—‘Ven­er­a­ble sir, I see them’ (‘I’m sure’).

The oth­er monks enjoins him: Āyatiṃ āvu­so saṁ­vareyyāsi—‘In the future you should be care­ful’ (‘Don’t be fool­hardy and do it again.’)

The first monk crouch­es down low and says: Sād­hu suṭṭha bhante saṁ­varis­sā­mi na punevaṃ karis­sā­mi na punevaṃ bhā­sis­sā­mi na punevaṃ cin­tayis­sā­mi—‘Ven­er­a­ble sir, I acknowl­edge this. From now on I will take the utmost care. I will not act, speak, or think this way again.’ (‘I am tru­ly reformed; I will strug­gle to do bet­ter.’)

But I nev­er saw any­one tru­ly reformed. Almost every­day I saw the monks crouch­ing down in con­fes­sion, indi­cat­ing that these offences tru­ly loved the monks—they couldn’t get away from them. Hav­ing said this, it is an ordi­nary mat­ter for unawak­ened peo­ple to make mis­takes. Luang Por used to repeat­ed­ly say: ‘If one keeps moral pre­cepts, one also trans­gress­es them. The impor­tant thing is to not keep the trans­gres­sions a secret. If you know you have make a mis­take, hur­ry and con­fess it to anoth­er.’

As we were talk­ing, Tahn Dtaw, the min­is­ter of dim-wit­ted­ness, walked by hold­ing a sheet of paper and silent­ly rehears­ing a chant. When he saw Tahn Mahā Sing he hur­ried over as if to ask a ques­tion.

Luang Pee Mahā quick­ly waved him away: ‘Sir Dtaw, you don’t need to come and speak with us. Go and mem­o­rize the chant for enter­ing the Vas­sa. Your brain is already like saw­dust.’

Soon after Tahn Dtaw had left the bell was struck to announce the big meet­ing for rehears­ing the cer­e­mo­ny of enter­ing the Vas­sa. The par­tic­i­pants in our con­ver­sa­tion got up to put on our robes for this occa­sion.

Luang Pee Mahā grabbed Tahn Dtu’s wrist, took him to one side, and whis­pered: ‘Wait a sec­ond Dtu—let’s do con­fes­sions first.’

Which rule are you con­fess­ing?’

Lying.’

Every­thing you were just telling us was a lie?’

No! I only deceived Tahn Dtaw.’

What do you mean?’

I gave him an unof­fi­cial chant to mem­o­rize for enter­ing the Vas­sa.’

What did you write down?’

Vīsaṃ hīsaṃ yūsaṃ tū sīdaṃ.’

That sounds like Pali—what does it mean?’

We sung, he sung, you sung, to see dung!’

Novices at the Shwedagon Pagoda

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