Monastic Dawnrise and Midday

At the end of the 1990s and beginning of the new millennium the Greek Vinayācāriya, Ven. Ñāṇadassana made an enquiry into the time of dawn and dawnrise according to the Buddhist texts, which is a crucial period as many things rely on getting this time right.

In the 120-page book that followed from this five-year investigation, he quoted the Vinayaṭīkā as to the problems that can arise when this period is wrongly interpreted, then:

  • Men and women lay followers (upāsaka/upāsikā) who undertake the Observance (Uposatha) and do not know dawnrise (aruṇuggamana) as it really is, thinking that dawn has arisen when it has not, eat solid or soft food, use garlands, scents etc. and by that their virtue (sīla) is broken.
  • Likewise, novices (samaṇeras) eat at the improper time (vikāla) and incur loss of virtue (sīlavināsa).
  • Bhikkhus under nissaya travel without their teachers or preceptors outside their monastery precincts (sīma) and incur breach of their nissaya.
  • Bhikkhus who leave the monastery precincts during the rains-retreat incur interruption of their rains-retreat.
  • Bhikkhus who should have their three robes with them at dawnrise incur nissaggiyapācittiya offences by being absent from one of their three robes within an unbound monastery precinct (abaddhasīma).
  • Likewise within a sattabbhantara monastery precinct.
  • If they sleep under the same roof with persons without higher ordination (anupasampanna) or with women, they incur pācittiya offences.
  • Likewise bhikkhus who consume things at the improper time (vikāla) that should be consumed at the proper time (kāla).
  • Those who are under probation (parivāsa) etc. and postpone their observance (vatta) incur interruption of nights (ratticcheda).

We can see from this that a lot depends on the correct calculation of dawnrise, not only for monastics but for Buddhist laypeople also.

After quite some discussion the strict forest tradition sects endorsed the book, and all those following strict vinaya in Sri Lanka changed their practices accordingly.

At that time I had begun publishing a calendar showing the Uposatha days and I also thereafter added in the corresponding times for dawnrise (the crucial time) and midday, which vary according to season.

Unfortunately they also vary according to position, but I was able to give a quick rule of thumb:

All times are given according to Sri Lanka radio time, which is based on Colombo time. Times in the Central region are about 4 minutes earlier, and times on the Eastern coast about 8 minutes earlier.

This was OK as the calendar was only being circulated in Sri Lanka at the time. Later when I came to Malaysia, where the time difference between the most easterly and westerly parts of the country are one and a half hours I gave up trying to list the times, and gave the instruction for working it out from the calls to prayer in Muslim countries:

As easy way to know midday is to listen for the Muslim call to prayer, the timing of which which is adjusted according to place. Also the first call to prayer occurs exactly one hour before dawn as recorded here.

This is OK, if you are in a Muslim country but most Buddhists are not, of course 🙁

Fortunately by that time I knew of a solution as the Muslims have to be able to calculate dawn and midday for their prayertimes and they have a number of websites which can make the calculation for any spot on earth, see for instance:

Well if the Muslims can do it so can we 🙂 – but not me, as I have the good ideas but don’t have the necessary skills 🙂 I therefore contacted Ven. Noah Yuttadhammo who has both the skills and the patience.

We worked first with the idea of having a city database which would be close enough for our purposes. The problem is a world city database consists of nearly 3 million place names!

Ven Noah came up with the solution: get the longitude and latitude from an embedded google map, and make the calculations from that!

And that is exactly what he has now set up. It is embedded in this page: Buddhist Dawnrise and Midday Calculator and takes into account such imponderables as position, time of the year and Daylight Saving Hours. He has also set it up so you can get a yearly chart.

As this will calculate the times wherever you are (as long as it is on earth) it should be a big help for those who need accurate timings and clean virtue all year round.

Well done, Venerable: May you always receive your piṇḍapāta on time. Sadhu sadhu sadhu!

Monastic at Dawn



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