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Jul 27, 2014

Posted in Past Events

The Rains Retreat (Vassa)

Rains Retreat

Vassa, the Rains Retreat, is a three-month annual retreat observed by many sects of Buddhist monks and nuns in Southern Asia. It begins on the day after the full moon day of the eighth lunar month of the common Buddhist calendar, which usually falls in July. The retreat ends on the 15th day of the waxing moon of the eleventh lunar month, usually in October.

During Vassa, monks and nuns remain inside monasteries and temple grounds, devoting their time to intensive meditation and study. Laypeople support the monastic sangha by bringing food, candles and other offerings to temples. Laypeople also often observe Vassa by giving up something, such as smoking or eating meat. For this reason, westerners sometimes call Vassa the “Buddhist Lent.”

The tradition of Vassa began during the life of the Buddha. Most of the time, the first Buddhist monks who followed the Buddha did not stay in one place, but walked from village to village to teach. They begged for their food and often slept outdoors, sheltered only by trees.

But during India’s summer rainy season living as homeless ascetics became difficult. So, groups of monks would find a place to stay together until the rain stopped, forming a temporary community. Wealthy laypeople sometimes sheltered monks on their estates. Eventually a few of these patrons built permanent houses for monks, which amounted to an early form of monastery.1

Today and especially here in America the traditions of Vassa have changed with the times and place. There is no longer any monsoon season to speak of  and many monks and nuns are scattered about in temples often consisting of less than a handful of clergy. When Bhante Sutadhara first arrived at An Lac he often observed this period on his own or visiting other temples and monasteries.

The temple’s Vietnamese monks and nuns traditionally mark Vassa by attending a two week retreat with other monks and nuns. During this time they study and chant and except for extenuating circumstances remain cloistered the entire time.

Several years ago the local Sri Lankan community brought back the tradition of observing Kathina (more about Kathina in a later post) at An Lac Mission and while not held at this temple every year it is now a regular observance. this has led to a renewed interest in the Rains Retreat and the laypersons abidance in this long standing tradition.

This year Bhante has planned 6 events during the Vassa period and a Kathina Ceremony. While most of these events will be presented in Sinhalese there will be a special English ceremony on  Sunday, August 31 starting at 6:00PM. It should also be noted that the Kathina Ceremony (Sunday, October 12) is the kind of celebratory multi-language/multicultural event that is inclusive of everyone regardless of their native tongue.

Please make plans to attend, you can find a PDF with the full schedule of events here.

1 Credit needs to be given to Barbara O’Brien as most of the text in the section preceding this footnote was taken from her Vassa post at About.com