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Vassana and Kathina in the Theravada Buddhist Tradition (rainy retreats and robes offering ceremony)
From the full-moon day in July to October, monks in the Theravada tradition observe the Rainy Retreat or Vassana. This practice was laid down by the Buddha and details can be found in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka (3rd and 4th chapters). The rainy retreat was instituted to prevent monks from wandering about and damaging crops and small creatures which are out in abundance during the rainy season. During these three months, monks are expected to reside in one place and not venture out unnecessarily. They should also not spend the night away from their monasteries. Under special circumstances, if a monk has to be away from the monastery, he must take a vow to return within seven days. The retreat is a time for monks to devote themselves to study Dhamma and meditation. For the devotees, it is also an opportunity to learn the Dhamma from the monks who are stationed in one place. Hence, it can be considered a good time for spiritual development. At the end of the Vassana season, the monks perform the pavarana (termination) of the additional precepts observed during the retreat. Following this, until the next full-moon day, the Katina ceremony is held. This practice started after the rainy retreat, when the Buddha was staying at Savatthi, some monks got drenched by heavy downpour. Seeing this after the completion of the Vassana season the Buddha instructed the Katina ceremony. Different monasteries hold the Katina on different days. During the Katina ceremony, devotees offer robes to the Maha Sangha or community of monks. Each monk who observes the retreat is presented with one or more robes. Traditionally, the villagers get together and offer a piece of cloth to the Sangha. The cloth is then cut and stitched into robes by a selected group of monks. The meaning of the Pali word �Katina� is strong. The offering of Dana to the Maha Sangha during the Vassana season and the offering of robes is regarded as a meritorious deed. It is said that those involved in the offering of robes will gain merits for numerous rebirths in samsara(circle of life) and will be protected from the cruel elements and poisonous animals. In addition, they will see the coming of the next Buddha and His enlightenment. Hence, lay people are encouraged to take part in this significant occasion. Despite the changes through the years, the Vassana and Katina tradition are faithfully observed in Theravada temples throughout the world. In Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka and Burma, and other Theravada Buddhist temples throughout the world, it is the most important event on the calendar. The offering of Dana (meals) to the Sangha, making robes and Preaching of the Dhamma. It is a tradition that brings together the monks and lay people during this Katina Season.
Venerable Nanda (Bhante Nanda)