Translated from Khmer by Nath Men
Buddhist Vassa (lent) Period is one of some important ceremonies, every year, which start during July to October (just 3 months). Cambodia and all the Buddhist countries are always practicing the ceremony to encourage youth (boys) to be monks for a short term.
The Vassa Period describes the rainy season in which all the monks must stay at the pagodas or temples for 3 months. Gautama Buddha gives advice to the monks with 2 logical reasons for the celebrating Vassa:
- The monks can be criticized for walking on and damaging the cultivated plants of farmers.
- Buddha doesn’t want the monks to go out because the rainy season is very difficult for them. So he wants the monks to stay 3 months at pagodas or temples.
History of Buddhist Vassa Period
The Vassa Period originated from Gautama Buddha when he was alive and staying at Wat Veluvana, a temple which was rich in bamboo trees (located near the Rajagaha City). At the time the Vassa had not yet been approved as a real ceremony. The monks always go out everywhere and to different places during the Winter, Summer and Rainy Season without any real time to go back to their temple or pagoda. Therefore, sometimes, the people cannot appreciate those monks having no time to stay at their temple or pagoda. When they are outside they can walk on and affect cultivating plants of farmers, pets, animals, insects and others.
And after that the monks think about 3 seasons a year, but which season should be chosen ? Those monks have questioned Gautama Buddha. Buddha answers that “Vassa should be celebrated in the Rainy Season. There are 2 rainy days: the pre-rainy day and late rainy day. Every year the monks must celebrate the Vassa on a day after the full moon’s day in July, called pre-rainy day. Late-rainy day must be celebrated on the day after the full moon’s day in August.”. “If any monk does not accept the Vassa disciplines, he shall be punished.”, he means. “The Vassa period is to celebrate 3 months”.
The reason for the 2 rainy days of the Vassa are divided because some monks have important things to do outside of the temple or pagoda at the time. So they can choose the late-rainy day.
The Advantage of Vassa Period
The Vassa is very important for all the monks because Gautama Buddha has had regulated it for 3 months that the monks to do:
- Concentrate and meditate
- Give advice to or teach people and buddhists
- Learn, study and practice
- Rise purity and wisdom up to buddhists /people
- Consolidate among the monks at temples or pagodas.
The Monk’s Practice In The Vassa Period
Buddha gives advice that all monks cannot go out from their temple or pagoda overnight (late midnight). But they can get special permission for 7 days like:
- Parents are sick
- Teacher or master is sick
- Invitation from buddhists.
When they go out they cannot come back late at sunrise on day 7. If they are late, they are punished and then they cannot get any prize from Kathina (festival) and others in their pagoda. The Kathina is celebrated at the end of the Vassa period, or monsoon in October and November.
The Vassa Practice Celebration
This celebration is divided 2 groups as buddhists and monks:
- Buddhists: People bring some fruits and lotus flowers or other flowers to the pagoda on a day evening of the full moon in July. The monks chant Dharma with them and give advice to them. In the next morning and noon people bring some meals, fruits and desserts (porridge in ancient days for breakfast) to the monks. They have clothes, using materials, candles, incense and important things to the monks.
- Monks: In the evening of a day after the full moon’s day in July all the monks at every pagoda must meet together in the Preah Vihear (Bali: Vihara) to pray and chant to the Buddha, and then they decide the Vassa. The monk’s leader leads this celebration.
Notice: People do not have permission to get married, celebrate a new house, …etc during 3 months of the Vassa Period because of unlucky, unhealthy and unprosperous days.