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The Uposatha is the Buddhist sabbath day, from the Buddha's time through today in Theravada Buddhists countries. The Buddha taught that the Uposatha day is for "the cleansing of the defiled mind," resulting in inner calm and joy. On this day, disciples and monks intensify their practice, deepen their knowledge and express communal commitment through millenia-old acts of lay-monastic reciprocity.


In general, Uposatha is observed about once a week in accordance with the four phases of the moon: the new moon, the full moon, and the two quarter moons in between. In some communities, only the new moon and full moon are observed as uposatha days. For a calendar of uposatha days, see John Bullitt's "Calendar of Uposatha Days."



The word "uposatha" is derived from the Sanskrit word "upavasatha," which refers to the pre-Buddhistic fast day that preceded Vedic sacrifices.


In the Buddha's time, some ascetics used the new and full moon as opportunities to present their teachings. The Uposatha Day was instituted by the Buddha at the request of King Bimbisara, and the Buddha instructed the monks to give teachings to the laypeople on this day, and told the monks to recite the Patimokkha every second Uposatha day.



Lay Practice

On each uposatha day, lay people practice the Eight Precepts.


For lay practitioners who live near a monastery, the uposatha is an opportunity for them to visit a local monastery, make offerings, listen to Dhamma talks by monks and participate in meditation sessions.


For lay practitioners unable to participate in the events of a local monastery, the uposatha is a time to intensify ones own meditation and Dhamma practice, for instance, meditating an extra session or for a longer time, reading or chanting special suttas, recollecting or giving in some special way.


Monastic Practice

On the new-moon and full-moon uposatha, in monasteries where there are four or more bhikkhus, the local Sangha will recite the Patimokkha. Before the recitation starts, the monks will confess any violations of the disciplinary rules to another monk or to the Sangha. Depending on the speed of the Patimokkha chanter (one of the monks), the recitation may take from 30 minutes to over an hour. Depending on the monastery, lay people may or may not be allowed to attend.


Communal Reciprocity

Describing his experience of Uposatha day in Thailand, Khantipalo (1982a) writes:


"Early in the morning lay people give almsfood to the bhikkhus who may be walking on almsround, invited to a layman's house, or the lay people may take the food to the monastery. Usually lay people do not eat before serving their food to the bhikkhus and they may eat only once that day.... Before the meal the laity request the Eight Precepts [from the bhikkhus] ..., which they promise to undertake for a day and night. It is usual for lay people to go to the local monastery and to spend all day and night there.... [in monasteries where] there is more study, [lay people] will hear as many as three or four discourses on Dhamma delivered by senior bhikkhus and they will have books to read and perhaps classes on Abhidhamma to attend.... In a meditation monastery ..., most of their time will be spent mindfully employed

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