VASSA (Rains Retreat)
The full moon day of Asahla (Vassa) is an auspicious day for Buddhist devotees. On this day, meritorious deeds are done specially because of the following reasons:
(i) It was on this day the Bodhisatta was conceived in Queen Maha Maya’s womb.
(ii) It was on this day that the Bodhisatta renounced the world to seek Enlightenment.
(iii) It was on this day that Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta or the Discourse on the Turning Wheel of the Dhamma.
Thus, the Bodhisatta came into the human world, renounced his worldly pleasures and left the mundane world and delivered the first sermon. Because of these three great events, this day has a special significance for all Buddhists.
- When the Bodhisatta was about to pass away from the Tusita deva realm after enjoying the luxuries of a deva, the devas and Brahmas entreated, “It is time to be a Buddha in the human world.” Thus, the Bodhisatta was conceived in the royal mother Queen Maha Maya’s womb on the Full Moon Day of Asahla, Thrusday, the year (67) of Maha Era.Therefore, one who will save himself and all beings from samsara has come to the human world on this day, the Full Moon Day of Asahla, which is a most auspicious event in the Buddhist calendar. Buddhist devotees perform dana, observe sila, practice samatha and vipassana meditation and perform special meritorious deeps with great reverence on this day.
- The Bodhisatta enjoyed the luxuries as a young prince for the sixteen years and as a monarch for thirteen years. In the year of Maha Era 97 on the Full Moon Day of Asahla, after seeing the four great signs, namely the old, the sick, the dead and the recluse, he resolved to seek the Dhamma by which he would be free from old age, sickness and death. Thus, he renounced the kingdome and riding on a horse, went forth into the homeless life.On this day, for his own salvation and to save all beings from all kinds of samsara sufferings and to practice self-tormenting practices which he underwent for six years, he left the luxury of the palace in search of the Dhamma. Thus, on the Full Moon Day of Asahla, Buddhist devotees consider it as sacred, observe sila and practice samatha and vipassana meditation.
- Lord Buddha preached his first sermon to the “Band of Five Disciples” on the Full Moon Day of Vassa (Asahla).Lord Buddha taught the Four Noble Trurths which are:
1) The Noble Truth of Suffering
2) The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering
3) The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering
4) The Noble Truth of the Path which leads to the Cessation of Suffering
On that day, Sangha entered on the rains (Rains Retreat).
Vassa has begun. Vassa is the short form of vassavasa which is translated as the “rains retreat”; a period of three months from full moon day in July till full moon day in October during the rainy season which lasts for four months. All Theravada bhikkhus are required to spend three months in a temple / monastery / residence during this period and practice well, straightly, rightly and properly the teachings of the Buddha. One day within the fourth month is chosen as “Kathina Day” – a very special day to celebrate the end of vassa and to present the “kathina robe” very special day to celebrate the end of vassa and to present the “kathina robe” to one of the bhikkhus who has completed the three months at a particular residence.
The meaning of kathina as used here is firmness, stability and durability because it has the power of providing the five privileges for the eligible bhikkhus for the ensuing five months. These five privileges are:
- Anamantacara which enables the bhikkhu to go anywhere without asking for permission in the ensuing five months.
- Asamadanacara which means that the bhikkhu can keep a set of robes anywhere that he wishes.
- Ganabhojana which allows the bhikkhu to take a meal in a group of four or more bhikkhus, even though they have been invited in unsuitable terms.
- Yavadattacivara which allows the bhikkhu to keep the robes for the five-months period without having to determine or assign them.
- Yocatattha Civaruppada which means that robes or other requisites offered by devotees can be shared among the monks who have completed their vassa in the same place.
For a kathina ceremony to be successful, the Sangha must “spread the kathina”. This means that the bhikkhu who is selected to spread the kathina shares the five privileges with the other bhikkhus who have spent vassa with him. There must be a minimum of five bhikkhus at the ceremony – four bhikkhus are required to officiallypresent the kathina robe to the selected bhikkhu recipient. However, there is no limit to the number of bhikkhus who can attend the ceremony.
It is usual for Theravada institutions to have “sponsors” for their annual vassa and kathina. These sponsors undertake to look after the Sangha, to see to the supply of their four requisites of shelter, food, robes and medicine for the duration of vassa. At the kathina ceremony the main sponsor/s will be the one/s to present the kathina robes which are ready-made.
Kathina Day is a joyous occasion for both Sangha and laity. Once the austerity of vassa is over, the bhikkhus can now enjoy a certain degree of freedom in their daily lives and move around more freely. For the laity, it is a time of joy and ceremony; a time to renew and deepen their faith in the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha by remembering to practice the Dhamma in their daily lives. Devotees renew their commitment to support Sangha members who are committed to the spreading and teaching of Buddha’s teachings. They should make a special effort to contribute financially and/or in kind and service to the maintenance as well as improvement of communal facilities for the benefit of all. They must be able to dedicate their wholesome deeps to the fulfillment of their parami (perfections) so that they can attain Nibbana and be in better position to help others to develop spiritually; to be able to share the merits gained from wholesome actions with the less fortunate ones as well.
Before ending, may the blessings of the Triple Gem be with you and your family always. May these merits of our donors be a good condition for the attainment of Nibbana.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!