Entering the Rains
The Buddha therefore thought it fit to promulgate a rule for the Sangha. According to this rule, monks are obliged to remain posted at a certain place, preferably a monastery, for a period of three months, starting from the first day of the eighth waning moon (i.e. the day following the Asalha full moon).The day following the Asalha full moon is called “Lent Commencement Day” or “Vassupanayika” in Pali.
In Thailand 2 words are used for Lent (the Rainy Season Retreat), either Vassa or Phansa, both meaning “rain, season of rain”. The Rains Residence (Retreat), is one of the monastic observances having its origin in the time of the Lord Buddha. Buddhist Lent, however, bears no similarity to the Christian Lent. Originally monks did not stay at any particular place, but were most of the time on the move in their mission to spread the Buddha’s teachings. During the rainy season, when the country experienced heavy and frequent rainfalls, things were quite difficult for them and their travels were often impeded or interrupted. Both Thailand and India are subject to monsoon winds bearing torrential rains which make travel difficult in regions where there are swamps and swollen streams and no adequate roads.
The season is also the time for farmers to cultivate their land and grow crops, so wandering monks could easily unintentionally damage the new-planted rice. So it was, naturally, the time for most ascetics to stop wandering and remain stationed in a specific place. This custom was in fact practised in India long before the time of the Buddha, and from considerations of health and comfort there is much to recommend this custom.
During these three months, monks cannot spend the night outside the area they have taken for rains residence. If they have to go out, they make sure to return before dawn of the following day. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule by which a monk is allowed to spend the night elsewhere – for instance, if his parents are seriously ill, or if he is required for some urgent religious work at a place too far away to return in one day. But even in such cases, he may be away only for seven days at a stretch. This practice, like many others, has been preserved to the letter down to the present day, and the period is considered by all Buddhists as exceptionally sacred to perform merits.
Story and photo by: DhammaThai