Research Notes on Uposatha Hall
The Sangha at the AIM centre have proposed the construction of a sīmā mālaka on the premises of the AIM centre. The purpose of this brief report, in addition to the explanation provided at the inaugural ceremony held on Aug 21, 2021, is to enlighten members and well-wishers of the ABVA on the meaning, significance and function of a sīmā mālaka.
It helps to keep in mind that the name the Buddha gave to the spiritual path he taught was "Dhamma-Vinaya" — the Doctrine (Dhamma) and Discipline (Vinaya) — suggesting an integrated body of wisdom and ethical training. The Vinaya is thus an indispensable facet and foundation of all the Buddha's teachings, inseparable from the Dhamma, and worthy of study by all followers — lay and ordained, alike. Lay practitioners will find in the Vinaya Pitaka many valuable lessons concerning human nature, guidance on how to establish and maintain a harmonious community or organization, and many profound teachings of the Dhamma itself. But its greatest value, perhaps, lies in its power to inspire the layperson to consider the extraordinary possibilities presented by a life of true renunciation, a life lived fully in tune with the Dhamma¹.
The Vinaya Pitaka, the first division of the Tipitaka, is the textual framework upon which the monastic community (Sangha) is built. It includes not only the rules governing the life of every Theravada bhikkhu (monk) and bhikkhuni (nun), but also a host of procedures and conventions of etiquette that support harmonious relations, both among the monastics themselves, and between the monastics and their lay supporters, upon whom they depend for all their material needs.
One crucial fact: it is thanks to the unbroken lineage of monastics who have consistently upheld and protected the rules of the Vinaya for almost 2,600 years that we find ourselves today with the luxury of receiving the priceless teachings of Dhamma. Were it not for the Vinaya, and for those who continue to keep it alive to this day, there would be no Buddhism¹.
The Sangha community (bhikkhus) in Sri Lanka, beginning with Arahant Mahinda, faced many difficulties and challenges at various times, but in the face of all these, they worked to protect the Dharma-Vinaya and to preserve the Buddha Sāsana.
Let us now turn to the functional aspects of a monastery…
Each part of a monastery has its specific place—Cetiya, the Bodhi-tree, Meditation hall, Refectory (dining area), Vihāra (a dwelling place for monks), etc. Possibly the space for each such place originally was described as mālaka. For example, Bodhi mālaka.
Now for definition of terms…
One of the fundamental prerequisites for the existence and continuance of the Buddhist Sangha is a boundary (sīmā) which defines the space within which all members of a single community have to assemble at an appointed place for ecclesiastical or priestly acts (kamma). The constitution of the sīmā is regulated and defined by the Vinaya and its commentaries and sub-commentaries². The completeness of the sangha is a prior condition for the valid performance of each ecclesiastical act of the Buddhist community as, for example:
Pabbajja: the initial admission into the homeless life as a novice or sāmanera.
Upasampadā: full ordination as a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni.
Pātimokkha: recitation of the basic code of monastic discipline, consisting of 227 rules for fully ordained monks and 311 for nuns.
Uposatha Observance: the ritual of confession performed by the monks on the new-moon and the full-moon days, when the Disciplinary Code, the Pātimokkha, is recited.
Vinaya Kamma: regulating offences.
A mālaka is a place within which ecclesiastical acts of the sangha are performed. Mālaka is also used in the general meaning “(confined) space,” exclusively used for events limited to the monkhood. According to Kariyawasam³, the above rituals should be conducted in a prescribed and duly consecrated "chapter house" (sima, or Sinh.: poya-ge), without which the ritual is not valid.
According to the Mahavamsa, Arahant Mahinda explained to the king Devanampiyatissa that the sāsana is not well established as long as no determined sīmā exists. The king assigned boundary marks by ploughing a furrow, and the great thera then fixed the inner boundary marks according to custom. The Mahāvihārasīmā was the first sīmā determined in Sri Lanka and, therefore, the most important. The king only defines the space to be included in the sīmā of the monastery, but the sangha announces the marks and fixes the sīmā. These procedures are described in the Vinaya.
¹ Bhikkhu Pāṭimokkha. The Bhikkhus' Code of Discipline.
Vinaya Pitaka - The Basket of the Discipline (2007)
² Petra Kieffer-Pulz. Ceremonial Boundaries in the Buddhist Monastic Tradition in Sri Lanka." The Proceedings of the Wilhelm
Geiger Symposium, Colombo 1995.
³ A.G.S. Kariyawasam. Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka. 1996.
Dr. Mahendra Wijayasinghe