In my youth, I had taken the Eight Precepts during the 1st and 15th day of the lunar month in Mahindarama Buddhist Temple along with my father and elder brother. We used to spend the night before, sleeping in the temple and getting up early in the morning at 5.00am to prepare for 24 hours of strict observance of the Eight Precepts.
Initially, I just followed my father and the other adult devotees in what they were doing, which was basically keeping to themselves while maintaining noble silence. I was a quiet child then prefering to keep to myself, so observing the Eight Precepts and noble silence was no big deal to me. I was in my element, so to speak.
However, I was not fully observing the Eight Precepts mentally. My physical actions were in accord with observing the Eight Precepts; so was my speech. After all, being separated from one another in the temple and keeping noble silence, there was very limited opportunity for me to break any of the Precepts with my physical action and speech.
Mentally, it was a totally different matter all together. I was not taught how to do meditation nor provided proper guidance in what I should actually be doing or thinking during the observance of the Eight Precepts. I therefore gave free rein to my thoughts. While I was physically confined in the temple, my mind roamed every where, thinking of the various countries and people that I had read about or mentally role playing as characters in the history and adventure books. In other words, I was day-dreaming big time!
Luckily, I was fairly innocent and guileless (naive even), so I don't think I broke many or any of the Eight Precepts mentally, but I definitely was not in the spiritual plane, so to speak. Later on, as an adult, when I observed the Eight Precepts, I did bring my thoughts to more of a spiritual nature by reading books on the Dhamma or trying to keep my mind “blank” – definitely a poor imitation of meditation.
This brings me to the point when I first participated in the Eight Pecepts Cultivation in Than Hsiang Temple. It was, to say the least, a totally different experience. Instead of being left to oneself to cultivate on one's own, the cultivation at Than Hsiang Temple was a group effort, governed by group dynamics and discipline. There was hour after hour of chanting, saying Amitabha Buddha's name, circumambulation, prostrations, and sitting meditation that the mind was kept in a constant spiritual focus; the aim of which was to attain one-pointed mindfulness.
The first time I performed the Eight Precepts Cultivation in Than Hsiang Temple, towards the end of the day, tears flowed freely from my eyes and I felt a kind of joyful bliss. In subsequent Eight Precepts Cultivations, I was able to reach a certain level of concentration, especially during the chanting of Amitabha Buddha's name and circumambulation. At the end of the day, although I was a bit tired from all the physical activities, nonetheless, I felt exhilerated.
Recently, during the last Eight Precepts Cultivation that I participated in on Sunday, 17 June 2007, I reached a certain state of mindful awareness during the circumambulation. I was aware of the chanting of Amitabha Buddha's name, of my footsteps as I pressed, lifted, moved forward, dropped, and touch the floor with each foot, of the warmth of the floor as I placed my foot on the same spot left by the preceptor in front of me, of the cool hardness of the tiled floor, of the movements around me and generally in the hall, of the knocking sound of the wooden “fish”, of the ting of the bell, and of the general environment.
Is this one-pointed mindfulness? A glimpse of it, perhaps. Amituofo.