The role of our weekly Observance Day is to put things down and focus on the precepts and the formal spiritual qualities of our life. It’s a day of recollecting, a day of observing; it’s a day to remember Dhamma, to observe that primal principle and our primal motivation for being here at the monastery. It’s a time to recollect the possibility we have as human beings to let go of all confusion, delusion, aversion, greed, and self-centeredness. We have that capacity, that possibility. It’s a whole message of beginning again.
As monastics, we shave our heads. We take the hair on our heads back to the root, back to the source to begin again. There’s that quality of tidying up: cleaning the shrine room, cleaning the kitchen, squaring things away, shaving our heads, renewing our precepts. On a practical and symbolic level we’re keeping the monastery tidy and looking after the things that have been offered for our use. On the internal level, we’re remembering our priorities and helping to clarify the central principles of our lives.
The activities of the observance day—taking the precepts, shaving the head, having the all-night vigil, and putting aside the work routine—are all geared towards recollecting why we’re here at the monastery. We’re not here to construct kutis or to post pictures on the website or cook meals or any of the 10,000 tasks that occupy our attention. The whole point of this place existing, this gathering of human beings on this particular patch of hillside, is in order to realize the Dhamma to let go of greed, hatred, and delusion. We have that capacity, that possibility.