Posted by: Michael Rickicki | 08/03/2014

Happy Uposatha – Purifying Sila

Happy uposatha! This is the first uposatha that I will have been able to observe since the start of Ramadhan and I have taken it up with some trepidation to be sure. After a month o dry fasting during the daylight hours there was a part of me that felt that I just didn’t want to push myself in that direction anymore but, unfortunately for it, I decided not to listen and took the advice of the Uposatha Sutta instead. Besides, I am to leave for Panama on Wednesday and will be travelling with my wife and kids throughout Panama and Costa Rica until the 23rd so who knows when I will have the opportunity to take the uposatha precepts again?

But, I have clearly digressed. As you may know the concepts of forgiveness, gratitude and contentment have all been knocking around my skull for the past few weeks and have provided a lot of grit for the mill. Last night in particular, I found myself mulling over the idea of forgiving oneself for one’s mistakes and how that relates to the purification of sila. I began a search of Dhamma talks and was surprised to find one by Ajahn Sona that spoke directly to the subject (unfortunately I’m unable to find it now but it is on Birken Monastery’s Dhamma talk page). His explanation that purifying our sila must take place now, in the present moment will strike many as boiler plate Dhamma but was, for me, a real wake up call.

Call it stupidity or stubbornness but for the last decade of my practice seems to have been largely wasted in terms of gaining wisdom because  for all of that time I have been laboring under the misunderstanding that one must perform some kind of penance in order to expiate the sins of our past. Seriously, I have been practicing like a Buddhist Catholic, constantly asking forgivennes of my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me (and, yes, those words from the Lord’s Prayer are what I often find myself using in my own forgiveness practice).

The genius of the Buddhadhamma is simply that we don’t have to cling to our past. Our wrongdoing will sort itself out, regardless of whether we feel bad about it or not (although remorse seems to have a role in preventing us from making the same mistake again). And I know this intellectually. I have even spoken to other people about the inexorability of kamma, often using the example of the murder of Maha-Moggallana as proof that even arahants must suffer the results of their past deeds. Sneaky thing this delusion.

So, the next time I find myself entranced and delighting in regret I may try to purify my sila by just letting go. By just trying to be present and attend to something wholesome and skillful.

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Shillelagh Studies

A hub for the music, culture, knowledge, and practice of Irish stick-fighting, past and present.