The rainy season affords an opportunity for Buddhists to acquire merit
This is the rainy season or ‘Wassanakala’ in this part of the world, where the majority of Buddhists live. ‘Wassanakala’, commences some time during the months of July-August and ends either in October or November. The Vas, another name for Wassanakala, period or the rainy season sees monks sojourn. Due to torrential and incessant rain, in the valleys near Ganga, Yamuna, Brahmaputra, Neranjana, places get flooded. This makes ascetics, who sit under trees and meditate, find it difficult to continue with their way of life. Moreover, it is extremely cold and chilly in the snowy peaks of Himalayas and in the valleys. Even beasts and birds find safe and sheltered places like caves. Birds build nests or migrate to other countries where the climatic conditions are better. They do so to overcome the torments of adverse weather conditions.
Under such circumstances Buddhist monks too sojourn with householders during this season. It is customary for the Buddhist monks to commence the period of Vas on the Esala Full Moon Poya Day. By Binara Full Moon Poya Day the monks who had commenced their sojourn (Pera Vas) on Esala Full Poya Day complete the sojourning period of two months. Those who had commenced their rainy season sojourn on Nikini Full Moon Poya Day (Known as Pasu Vas) complete their sojourning period of one month. Hence Binara is regarded as the peak period of Wassanakala.
The Enlightened One has named this period especially for monks to be in meditation and gain merit.
During the time of the Buddha, Buddhist monks learned the methods of meditation from the Buddha and observed the law of qualities, efficacy and moral philosophies at places where they sojourned during the Wassanakala. At present the monks learn methods of mediation from their preceptors or from books. During this period Buddhist monks learn how to observe passion and subdue such thoughts to gain merit.
There are thirteen passion subduing ordinances to be observed by Buddhist monks. They are called “Teres Drutanga.”
The first ordinance is “Pansukulikangaya”, dust heap ordinance. This requires monks observing this Drutanga to make robes from rags collected from dust heaps or cemeteries. These rags are generally obtained from the dead before their bodies are cremated.
The second is “Pindapatikangaya”. It is the Buddhist monks’ ordinance of mendicancy or begging with the bowl. Under this ordinance the Buddhist monks are required to go from house to house with the begging bowl for food and should consume whatever is offered by householders.
The third is “Tecacarikangaya” which requires the Buddhist monks to design their attire in a particular way. A priest’s attire must consist of three components, “Andanaya” or under garment, “Tanipota Siwura” or single robe and the “Depota Siwura” or double robe. Even when bathing no other robe or clothe should be worn.
The fourth is the “Sapadana Carikangaya”. This is the Buddhist mendicant’s ordinance which requires the Buddhist priest to procure food by going from house to house and waiting at the doors until food is served by the house holders.
Fifth is the “Ekanansikangaya ordinance. This is the ordinance which requires the Buddhist monks to use only one seat.
“Paggapindikangaya” is the sixth ordinance which enjoins Buddhist priests to take only one meal a day exactly at mid day. What is leftover after the meal should not be consumed again.
Seventh ordinance is the “Arannyangaya” or the forest dwelling ordinance which requires the Buddhist monks to dwell in forests or in solitary places. Ninth of the Teres Drutanga or the passion subduing ordinances is the “Rukkhamulikangaya”. This ordinance enjoins upon a priest to always lodge at the foot of a tree without any other shelter other than what the little tree affords.
The Tenth Teres Drutangaya or the passion subduing ordinance is “Abbhokasikangaya”- the open air ordinance which requires monks to live in the open air altogether without shelter.
“Sosanikkanaya”is the eleventh passion subduing ordinance recommended for the Buddhist priest which enjoins devout meditation in a burial ground at midnight.
The twelfth Teres Drutangaya or the passion subduing ordinance is “Yathasatthanikangaya”(Yatha = as ,”satthanika”= spread and “angaya” =ordinance).
This is enjoining upon the Buddhist priest not to shift or alter the mat or the bed when spread out to repose on. As it is spread so it must remain.
The last or the thirteenth passion subduing ordinance is “Nesajjikangaya” requiring Buddhist priests not to lie down, but to sleep in the sitting posture . This is not to say that a Buddhist priest observing this ordinance should be seated throughout. He should also walk about, but should not lie down.
Monks may observe any or all the thirteen passion subduing ordinances. Those observing them need not tell the others about their observances. During the time of Gautama Buddha a Bhikkhu named Chakkhupala, who observed the ordinances without any sleep and without telling anyone about the observances, lost his eyes. Despite being blind he continued with his meditation and observation of the law of qualities, efficacy and moral philosophy. His remarkable endurance came to light when the other monks found that he had trampled on ants and insects which he would never have done if he could have seen them. Chakkhupala thera attained Arahantship. Buddha praised his infallible effort.
Ordinances that may be observed by Bhikkhunis as well
Although bhikkhus may observe all these passion subduing ordinances, bhikkhunis are allowed to follow only eight of them.
Wasanthakala is a period when the laymen too accumulate merit. Laymen gain merit by ministering, serving or attending to monks- who observe methods of meditation- and by observing the same qualities themselves. Thus this is the period of the year where “Suwanak pirisa” or the Buddhist community comprising Bhikkhus (monks), Bhikkhunis (nuns), Upasakas (male lay devotees) and Upasikas (female lay devotees) accumulate merit.
During this period laymen accumulate merit by engaging in religious activities like Dana (charity), Seela (Morals) and Bhawana (Meditation). In almost all the Buddhist temples special religious rites are performed during this period.
In Buddhist counties like Thailand and Myanmar students in educational institutions, including schools, are given holidays during this period to enable them to engage in religious activities.
Seruwawila Mangala Maha Seya
The annual religious festival of Seruwila Mangala Maha Seya is conducted on Binara Full Moon Poya day. This temple was constructed by King Kawantissa. This is a sacred place. The “Lalata Dhatu”, the forehead relic of the Enlightened One, is enshrined there. It is believed that treasures had been brought from King Kawantissa’s Kingdom in Magama to be enshrined in this temple.
Girihanduseya is the place where the “Kesha Dhatu” (Hair Relics of the Enlightened One) are kept.
Girihanduseya is regarded as one of the oldest places of Buddhist worship in the world.
Two merchants named Tapassu and Bhalluka, who had arrived from the city of Uthkala, met the Enlightened One at Buddha Gaya. This was when the Buddha was spending the seventh week after his enlightenment under Rajayatana Kiripalu tree. Having worshiped the Enlightened One and taking refuge in Him they had requested for something associated with the Buddha for them to take with them and enshrine in a place.
The Enlightened One had offered them a lock of hair. The two merchant brothers had brought the Hair Relics to Sri Lanka and placed them in Girihanduseya, built in the Eastern Province. The annual religious festival of this temple is conducted on the Binara Full Moon Poya Day.