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The construction of a platform on the Natural Water Sima in BSF Retreat Centre - Conceptual Cross-section



In the Theravāda Buddhist tradition, the sīmā (monastic boundary) is a specially designated space which has to be in strict accordance with Vinaya rules. All Theravāda saṅghakammas (monastic community’s legal procedures) must be performed within a legitimate sīmā in order to be valid. The word sīmā literally means “boundary”, but it actually refers to the space enclosed by the boundary. The markers (when they are used) that denote the boundary are called nimittas.

The sīmā is sometimes regarded as the womb of the Buddhasāsana and its life-force for its continuity. This is because monks who are the mainstay and bearers of the Buddha’s teaching can only take birth in a sīmā when the Saṅgha ordains them there. The sīmā is also required for monks to atone for their grave offences by formally confessing to the Saṅgha, requesting for probation and being reinstated after atonement, thus serving as a portal for the purification of the Saṅgha. Examples of other types of saṅghakamma to be performed in a sīmā are listed below.

In the Theravāda tradition there are basically two main types of sīmās: baddhasīmā (formally bound sīmā) and abaddhasīmā (not formally bound sīmā). Making a baddhasīmā requires an elaborate and meticulous procedure culminating in a formal demarcation ceremony (a type of saṅghakamma) conducted by the Saṅgha. Any defects in the procedure or the quota of authentic monks participating in the saṅghakamma would render the “new sīmā” impure and invalid. The vast majority of extant sīmās nowadays belong to this first category.

In contrast, one type of abaddhasīmā does not require any of the above procedure or ceremony but only requires the state of being a natural (not man-made) water body, e.g., a pond, pool, lake, sea, or flowing stream or river (including a dam in it), with a minimum depth during the whole of the 4-month rainy season. For this reason, the Natural Water Sīmā in BSF Retreat Centre is unique and immaculately free from any possible defects inherent in the making of a baddhasīmā.

Some of the types of saṅghakamma conducted within a sīmā are:

  1. Uposatha ceremony – held fortnightly for the purpose of reciting the pātimokkha (Theravāda code of monastic discipline).
  2. Pavāraṇā (Invitation) Day – marks the end of vassa (rains retreat, normally from July to October), when the monks formally invite one another for admonition or criticism with regard to one’s misbehaviour if it was seen, heard or suspicious.
  3. Kathina – a yearly robe offering ceremony for monks who had successfully completed the vassa, which occurs within a month after Pavāraṇā Day.
  4. Mānatta (Penance) and Parivāsa (Probation) ceremony for monks who committed grave offences or who are to be expelled from the Saṅgha on account of their failure to correct their wrongdoing or wrong view.
  5. Upasampadā – full ordination ceremony, the transmission of the monastic lineage.

In summary, the sīmā holds a significant place at the heart of the Saṅgha’s very existence, and it is in the certainty of a sīmā’s legitimacy that the purity of Theravāda Buddhism and the validity of its monastic lineage can be maintained and preserved for future generations.

Venerable Aggacitta Mahāthera