Thursday, November 1, 2012
Reflections on the robe
Significance of Vap Poya:
The rain retreat, having commenced in Esala, comes to an end in Vap. It is time for Buddhists to celebrate with much grandeur – spiritual grandeur. In Pali Katina means ‘unbreakable’.
Modern days do not have a proper rain calendar. But we are always fond of following the traditions, hence the rainy retreat, no matter whether rains come or not.
The Buddha, along with his disciples, initiated the rain retreat – vassana. Monks, especially higher ordained, are expected to follow the discipline code in a strict sense. How this ritual came to be is interesting.
When the Buddha’s monk disciples used to walk even in the rainy seasons, it was a good point for the non-Buddhist sects to attack the Buddha. That the Gautama’s followers kill thousands of living beings in the rainy season.
When monks stayed indoors and meditated, people mistook it. They thought monks suffer a lot, and reported this to King Bimbisara. The good-hearted king invited the Buddha and his followers to his city of Rajagaha.
It was the custom of the Buddhist monks to roam for their alms. This was so even during the rainy periods. This had been, as usual, criticised by the non-Buddhist sectors especially Jains. Their complaints were that the Buddhist monks walk on the lawns and crops. Jains believe destroying plants too is a sinful act.
They also opined that during the rainy season, many insect-like creatures come to the ground, and monks’ roaming affects their life. Any being, including even birds, will remain indoors during this season, while the Buddhist monks still roam here and there giving a cold shoulder to natural norms.
The Buddha listened to this, surprised them by ruling that the monks should stay indoors in the rainy season and named it rain retreat. It means vas in Pali, because viseema is dwelling in English. The retreat lasts for three months. The vas actually starts in Esala, which is called pera vas, and what happens in Nikini is called pasu vas. This paved the way to a strong bond between the monks and laypeople, as they get to meet oftener.
This period is considered utmost sacred. Many meritorious activities such as discussion and meditation are carried out. Whenever a layperson builds a new house, h/she invites the Buddhist monks to spend a while during this season.
Thirty monks of Paveyya country was on a journey to visit the Buddha who resided at Savatthi. Since it was the rain retreat, they stopped over in the city of Saketha. It was raining and their robes became wet. They came to Jetavana monastery in wet robes.
The Buddha noticed that the monks would not face this trouble if they had a separate robe. The Buddha then ruled the katina ritual. A monk is usually disallowed to spend a night without the three-fold robes. This was imposed as the robes were seen scattered around here and there. Wherever the monk goes, therefore, the three-fold robes had to be carried too. This was troublesome for the monk in general.
Offering a katina robe or being engaged in a katina activity is considered a great merit, which will yield results in this birth itself. It is considered as one of the eight great meritorious activities: katina itself, offering the eight basic requirements of a monk, building shrine rooms, offering alms, writing the Dhamma, offering lands, erecting the Buddha statues and building toilets for the benefit of the monk order.
A devotee who was already engaged in katina activity is considered a minor sotapanna, since h/she would not be reborn in hell. H/she is also considered as a noble layperson. This is, however, not so if h/she has done one of the five grave sins: patricide, matricide, physically assaulting a Buddha, making a wedge among the monk order and assassinating an arahant.
Some disciplinary rules are relaxed during the katina period. A monk is allowed to enter household even though they are supposed to stay inside at other times. A monk is allowed to keep any number of robes during the period.
Periodically the layperson should first make the place ready for katina monks. Then they invite the monks to spend the rain retreat in the particular place. Upon their arrival, the laity will continue attending to them from Esala to Vap.
The Buddha once made Arahant Nagitha speak out the blessings of katina merit. Ninety-one eons ago Nagitha was born rich during the Vipassi Buddha in the city of Bandumathi. He gave alms to the destitute, observed sil on poya days and offered alms to the Buddha. Above all he was engaged in a katina activity and made a wish that he should be able to become an arahant under a future Buddha.