Yes, I observed sil this Vesak too and promised to keep the eight precepts unbroken. This is after several decades of observing sil in May since as a kid too I did it, with my mother. In those long gone days sil was observed in the home mostly, and temples visited in the evening for pooja. Later there came to being meditation centres and halls in temples that accommodated observers of the eight and ten precepts.
My siblings and I were educated in Christian schools and had our religious ‘education’ very informally at home. A temple close by – the one just beyond the junction of George E de Silva Mawata, (previously Halloluwa Road) with Peradeniya Road in Katukelle was ‘our ‘ temple; the Dalada Maligawa gone to for worship more infrequently. Just before Vesak day Mother would ask for volunteers to observe sil with her. None were forthcoming! Thus I was conscripted, being the youngest who had no recourse to rights.
Then came marriage – a rather hedonistic period of life - and children which meant full time devotion to caring for them. Once they were young boys, the desire to be more religious in the true sense of the word came upon me. I am sure it was initiated and weighted by finding that life was given to periods of dukkha. The physical could be borne and camouflaged if not eradicated by diversions such as friends, reading, movies et al. But the emotional and mental stress caused by disappointments, distress and marital disharmony needed an emotional and mental remedy. And thus the turning to religion and actually putting to practice what the Buddha preached as interpreted by wonderful monks such as Ven Madihe Pannaseeha Thera, Bhikkhunis Ayya Khema and Vayama and Ven Bhikkhus Bodhi and Brahmawamso. Ven Narada and Piyadassi Theras were excellent monks listened to as children and young adults, gone by the time I turned more to being religious.
My generation was luckier than my mother’s for true meditation of Samatha and Vipassana came to prominence. Centres with ten and more days resident meditation programmes were built. Temples in Colombo had sil programmes where those having taken higher precepts could stay the entire day. Narada Dharmayatana in Colombo 7 conducted excellent poya day programmes with facilities provided like large halls, chairs, clean toilets and breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea provided by dayakayas and served by members of the youth organization of the temple with the excellent Ven Chandakitti in charge.
Then last year came the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time in very many years that I observed sil at home. I did not do too badly. My more significant acts were not watching any entertaining TV programmes and taking only a cup of plain tea as my evening meal.
This year too a severer wave of the pandemic confined us all in our homes. I had the misfortune of having something go wrong with my TV set, so no listening to good programmes of bana preaching and discussions, My domestic had hers but I decided to read, meditate and listen to preachings via YouTube and Zoom. The Servants of the Buddha conducted two sessions in the afternoon and Ven Olande Ananda had his preachings and other programmes come across virtually. Considering previous and present Vesak poya days, although being together with others who were in sil and listening to a monk who preached seated before an audience was missing, I probably gained more in solitude and concentration of mind. Did I observe sila; achieve Samadhi; and gain panna? Yes to piety. My mind was not distracted with the usual distractions of friends telephoning, reading unpalatable news and watching alarming conflicts in various parts of the world. I was totally cut off from even wasting one thought on Covid 19. No absolute alarm at rising numbers of those infected and dead. This last contributed in large measure to maintaining peace of mind and one-pointedness and enjoying the joy of mindfulness. Panna or insight? Knowledge was gained from what I read and bana and Buddhist talks I listened to. True insight is not so easily reached. More diligence, more time spent on seeking it, more shedding of all negatives like mild desires and likings, is needed. We oldies are without vanity to a large extent, jealousy and all that, but yet, I for one am far from detachment and thus, much more determination and endeavour are needed.