|The significance of Nikini Poya |
By D.P. B.Ellepola
By, Daily Mirror................................................
All poya days had been kept holy in ancient India even before the time of Buddha. Buddhists adopted it and all religious activities and observances were followed on Poya days. The value and importance of Vesak, Poson and Esala poya days need not be emphasized as they are well known to all Buddhists around the world.
According to the Buddhist texts the construction of the Seruvavila Chetiya commenced on a Nikini full moon day. A ceremony connected with the preaching of the Ariyavamsa Desana which is continued to this day is said to have begun on a Nikini Poya day. Ven. Ananda who participated in the First Buddhist Council attained Arahatship on Nikini Full Moon Day.
The most important incident that places Nikini Poya in a special position is the holding of the First Buddhist Council. This is where five hundred virtuous monks sat together reciting the Dhamma and Vinaya collectively and verifying the facts one by one. This was a memorable event, for it helped to preserve the purity of the Dhamma. Arahanta Bhikkhus formed this council headed by the most Ven. Kassapa Maha Thera. The Council which received royal patronage met three months after the demise of the Buddha. All necessary requisites of the Council were met by King Ajasatta.
Why was a Buddhist Council necessary just three months after the death of Buddha, the Exalted One? This was a question many posed. There are several and varied answers to this question. The idiotic utterance of an elderly garrulous monk named Subhadda said to have introduced his own ideas since the Master is no more, may have been one immediate cause to summon a massive council of monks. The council of monks decided to recite the Vinaya texts first as they said that Vinaya meant discipline and discipline well maintained and that it was the life blood of the Sasana. Likewise, Sutra Pitaka, discourse after discourse were, recited and confirmed. Upali Maha Thera took the major part in reciting the Vinaya, while Ven. Ananda Thera headed the confirmation of the Sutra discourses. According to Chinese writings, Abhidharma was also recited and confirmed by Ven. Maha Kassapa Thera.
The introduction to the Vinaya Text, has it that Ven. Ananda then informed the Council that the Buddha before his death had told him that if the Sangha so wished they may abrogate any of the minor rules–(Khuddanu Khuddaka Sikkha). But, Ven. Ananda failed to ascertain what these rules were. As such various opinions were expressed. Ven. Kassapa Thera as
the head of the Council decided with the consent of all that neither to add nor abrogate any of the Vinaya rules. The final episode was to exonerate Ven. Ananda of some of his minor short comings. The assembly however did not call for explanation.
Let me quote Prof. E.J. Thomas on this subject: “We can infer that there was at Buddha’s death a body of disciplinary rules in existence and that many discourses (Suttas) of the Master had been remembered during the long years of teaching.” Accordingly, my humble conclusion would be that the purpose of the First Buddhist Council was successful to that extent, because the purity of the Sasana had been maintained at least for another century.
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The significance of Nikini Poya
The Nikini Full Moon Poya Day is important as far as the Buddhist order is concerned. Buddhist monks and lay devotees perform and act according to certain rules and regulations laid down by the Blessed One. Their close association and the link between them, can be considered as the golden thread that binds both parties - monks as well as laymen.
Nikini is connected with “Vas” (rainy) retreat. During the four months, commencing from Esala Poya, the Buddhist monks are assigned themselves to be stationed and in one place and spend the rainy seasen.
According to the principles laid down by the Buddha, there are two days for observing “Vas”. They are known as ‘Peravas’ and ‘Pasuvas’ - namely pre-retreat and post-retreat.
During rainy seasons, Buddhists monks are not expected to live outdoors under the trees or in the open air. This is a cardinal principle that the Buddhist monks should follow, during the rainy season, or Vassana Samaya.
After delivering the Great Discourse on the wheel of Dhamma - Dhammachakkapavattana Sutta, to the Five Disciples, which embodied the essence of Buddha Dhamma, the Blessed One, observed the first recorded Vas - Retreat and stayed at Migadaya, Deer Park, Isipatanaramaya.
Tracing the history of India, the practise of staying indoors during the rainy season was followed even during the Pre-Buddhist Era. During this time, they (Ascetics) lived a very peaceful life in performing meditation and other religious duties.
It was therefore, not a rule laid strictly as a Buddhist practise. It was said that Buddhist monks, were involved in Missionary activities, even during the rainy season. This violated the traditional customs prevailing in ancient India at that time.
As the Buddhist monks did not follow these normal practises, there was somewhat a public cry against them in some quarters. The Thirtakas, followers of Jainism protested, stating that the Buddhist monks are violating rules.
The Buddhist monks informed the Blessed One, about this matter stating that there was a public cry, public criticism against them, when they indulge in missionary activities outdoor during the rainy season.
The Buddha appreciating the constructive criticism, levelled against the Order, addressed the monks.
“Anujanami Bhikkave Vassane Vassan Udaganju.”
I advise the monks, to observe Vas, during the rainy season under a roof.
There are two retreats - pre-retreat and Post-retreat known as Peravas and Pasuvas. The monks were adviced to observe Peravas
the day following Esala Poya, which is known as Avapelaviya. Then, to observe Pasuvas or post retreat after one month from Esala on Nikini Poya Day. King Bimbisara, through an emissary informed with great honour that he too wishes that monks should observe Peravas or Pre-retreat on Esala Poya.
The Blessed One. The Great Teacher agreed to the request made by King Bimbisara.
During the end of Vas period, the layman offered Vassika Satakaya to the Buddhist monks which is popularly known as Katina Cheevaraya.
Visakha Maha Upasika (The Chief lay lady disciple) with the permission of the Buddha, provided the robes to the Buddhist monks, during the Vas season and the lay Buddhists offered alms and looked after them with great care.
During the Vassana retreat certain rules were laid down to the Buddhist monks. If they are invited only seven monks, as a group is allowed to leave their abodes.
They must return within seven days to the place of residence where they observed “Vas”. This was known as “Satthakaraniya.” They are free to visit a Bhikkhu, a Buddhist Nun, student Bhikku (Sikshamanava) Novice Monk, Novice Bhikkuni, Father and Mother, in this manner.
Further, when a monk falls sick, when a Buddhist monk is dissatisfied and needs some guidance and advice, if the parents and relations are sick, these monks are allowed to visit them. In any case, they have to report back to the place they observed Vas within seven days.
Buddhism was officially established during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. With the establishment of Buddhist order in Sri Lanka, the first ever Vas-Retreat took place in Mihintale.
Emperor Asoka’s son, Venerable Mahinda introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The mission led by Venerable Mahinda Thera and Arahat Aritta, observed Vas and resided in the rock caves of Mihintale during the rainy season.
This practice continues to-date.
It was on the day of Nikini Poya, that the first ever Dhammasangayanawa - Convention of Doctrine took place at the Saptapanni Rock Cave in Rajagaha, under the patronage of Mahakassapa Thera. It went on for seven long months.
Throughout the past two and half millennia, the Buddha clergy has been capable of contributing greatly towards the advancement of Dhamma knowledge, through their activities during the Vassana season (Rainy retreat).