Friday, April 23, 2010

Vassavasa (Rainy season retreat) became a regular feature

Custom of Vassa was instituted at Rajgriha by the Buddha (Vin.i.137). The three-month rainy season was used as a retreat period, during which the monks would stay in one location and avoid any travel. The aim was to prevent the monks from damaging any crops and small insects while walking through the damp fields as the roads were expected to be flooded. As the rainy season retreat became a tradition with the Sangha, it led to the establishment of fixed monasteries. Since the Buddha, his lifestyle and his teachings were always very compassionate and sensitive to the surroundings, it is said that another motive behind starting this tradition was to avoid any harm to the lay community and to gain their respect. The presence of fixed monasteries turned out to be a practical decision as it led to flourishing of the teachings of the Buddha and gave rise to several schools of thoughts and great educational institutions; and monks used the stagnant time for intensive meditation practices. This opportunity to look within marked a dramatic improvement in the understanding of the monks about the teachings of the Buddha and very soon the number of such retreats of meditation that a monk had became synonymous with his maturity and experience and over the years among the many questions of greetings, this became a common one, "How many rains (vassa) have you had?"

The Buddha spent 2nd and 3rd Vassa or rainy season after achieving enlightenment at Rajgriha. The rainy season retreat was quickly adopted as an annual custom, a time for reflection and meditation. In his lifetime the Buddha visited Rajgriha at many occasions and also spent six Vassa in Rajgriha and a second only to Sravasti where he spent 25 Vassa.

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