Organizations > One Day Life in the Temple
Da Ban (Sounding of wooden board)
One Day Life in the Temple
At the break of dawn, the sounding of a wooden board announces the start of each day at the temple. Upon hearing the calls, one is to wake up immediately, for any slight delay would affect the sequence of everybody forming up subsequently. Whether for brushing the teeth or washing up, it is a race against time for punctuality.
Morning chanting is performed each day in front of the Buddha in loud and clear voices, with palms joined in prayer. Through chanting, one clears away the dust in one’s life, sows the seeds of wisdom in one’s mind, and rids one’s troubles with repentance and gratitude.
It is no easy feat to stand for two hours in the Buddha Hall. This trait of endurance is developed through daily practice. It is important that one does not watch the time taken for chanting, because doing so causes one to become impatient, and time will seem to pass even slower. Only by forgetting the concept of time, by paying no attention to the beginning, the process or the end, will one be able to concentrate on chanting wholeheartedly, in complete ease and peace of mind.
It is recorded in the scriptures that drinking porridge brings ten benefits, which includes improving the appearance, providing strength, promoting longevity and peace of mind, expelling wind, digesting food, alleviating hunger and quenching thirst. Thus, porridge is usually eaten in the morning. One reflects on five aspects during the course of each meal in the dining hall: firstly, the effort, care and the source of the food offered; secondly, the conduct and worth of oneself in earning this share; thirdly, to be wary of the mind’s poisons, where greed is foremost; fourthly, the food is like medicine, which is taken only as needed; fifthly, acceptance of the offered food as sustenance to the cultivation. With palms joined and with a sincere and pure heart, one invites the Buddhas of the ten directions and all sentient beings of the different realms to join in the meal.
“Sweep, sweep, sweep the mind, it is futile to sweep without sweeping the mind!” Sweeping and cleaning up is a way to develop one’s Bodhi mind. Whether it is the halls or the dormitories, everyone takes turns to clean up each and every corner of the temple. Take the glass windows for example; these have to be spotlessly clean as if the glass panels are not there. Some may find this meticulousness excessive and troublesome, but the word “troublesome” is not found in Buddhist practice. The job of cleaning up is mainly to train one’s concentration and mindfulness in performing a task. It is detrimental to harbor unwholesome thoughts and hatred during the process of cleaning up. One has to perform each and every bit of the task with a peaceful and serene mind.
In the past, there were forty-eight duties for monastics, which were grouped into “clerical” and “administrative” duties. The clerical duties were determined by the age, knowledge and morality of each monastic, and were usually held by the seniors. Although these positions are identifiable, such as the ranks of generals and colonels of an army, there are generally no actual executive roles involved.
The administrative duties are executive in nature and task-oriented, such as a commander or a chief-of-army.
Everyone is allocated specific job duties. Those in charge of the forests and hills will have to patrol those areas; those in charge of cooking will have to prepare meals, while those in charge of meditation will have to stay and meditate in the meditation halls.
An afternoon break reduces the stress accumulated during the morning’s work, and helps to get rid of negative emotions and maintain a positive mood, which in turn, increases productivity for the afternoon. Many senior monastics do not need to take a nap to regain their energy; a short meditation or a short rest is more than sufficient. For monastics who do not meditate that often, napping is essential to regain energy. Of course, there are others who use the break time to pray to Buddha or to continue with their Buddhist practice.
Chu Po (Labor)
A thousand over years ago, Chan master Venerable Baizhang established a set of rules for monastic practice. Today, the Chu Po practice is embodied in the adage, “A day without work is a day without food”. Chu Po is a joint effort, which requires the combined labor of everyone working as a team to accomplish the tasks assigned. Some of the senior monastics or head monks participate in these mass labor activities actively. Chu Po emphasizes team effort and one has to work with the masses willingly with patience and without complaint.
The evening meal is followed by Dharma lessons, usually given by a learned monastic. One has to take notes during the lessons, as there may be occasional tests to determine if one has fully comprehended the content of the lessons. Of course, the Dharma lessons are not restricted only to one teacher; but naturally there are some who are better at inspiring and enlightening others.
In Buddhism, there are practices which are conducted in a group and practices which are carried out by the self. Copying sutras, venerating the Buddha, meditation and reading the sutras – these are all self-study activities. Self-study can be carried out without the knowledge of others, and the content is self-determined. For example, one may decide not to turn in during bedtime, but instead, meditate for an hour or so before sleeping. Or, one may choose to chant the sacred names of Bodhisattvas while one is walking or traveling from a place to another. One can make use of the ample time taken during trips to silently chant the sacred names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or to ponder over thoughts.
An Ban (Signal for the End of the Day)
As night falls, one lowers the head and ponders: With the passing of the day, life is once again shortened. Like a fish in diminishing water, what is there to be joyous about? Thus one must always strive to be diligent, keeping in mind the concept of impermanence. The wooden board represents the rules of the temple. During nighttime, the board is taken on patrols to every corner of the temple. A single “knock” on the wooden board announces the time to sleep. Finally, a double sounding – “knock knock!” – around 10pm signals the end of the day. Silence ensues as the entire temple turns in for the night.