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?’
‘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!’