Being Buddhist For A Day

Trying to keep the 10 precepts, and failing


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Today is Poya. A full moon day. Poya is a public holiday in Sri Lanka and you can do nothing, but you’re supposed to do a very specific sort of nothing. For a day at least, Buddhists are supposed to try and be Buddhist. So I’ve been trying.

Going To Temple

The Buddha’s path is clearly a monastic path, going from home to homelessness. Most people are putting that off for another life, including myself. On Poya, however, lay people live like a monk for a day at least, keeping the ten (or eight) precepts, which we’ll discuss later. The first thing is to get to where the precepts are kept, the ‘village’ temple.

Thus first thing is to get my recalcitrant children out of the house. They actually like going to temple, but they don’t like going to temple. They whinge the whole way, even though we’re only going like 500 meters. Everyone’s supposed to wear white but I’m happy to just get them out of the house without anyone seeing red. Before we go, we gather flowers to give the Buddha, to remind ourselves of impermanence. We gather the pink araliya flowers that fall next door, and some blue flowers that grow over the well, and the white flowers that aren’t jasmine from the neighbors. The kids fight over the one basket and I have to go back in to get another one. To remind myself of impertinence.

As we walk down the road, my daughter is giving me the pook face, but I ignore her. She’s seven going on seventeen and this is my life now, I guess. We’re trying a new temple today and the first one doesn’t exist, but there’s another 200m down the road, and the usual 200m further if that doesn’t work. But it does. It’s a relief cause it’s always a relief walking into a temple.

Temples are palpably cooler than the street, they smell better, and they’re beautiful. Almost every temple is shaded by a big Bodhi Tree — a sapling of the tree that shaded the Buddha — and this one is no exception. We can smell the incense and take off our shoes to walk in the sand. A little boy is cutting daham pasal (‘Sunday’ School) and he ‘shows us around’. He leads us down some dead-end alley behind a house where a monk yells…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at