Vassa

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This article is about the Buddhist practice. For the Swedish dynasty, see House of Vasa. For the 1983 Soviet film, see Vassa (film).

Vassa (from Pāli vasso, Sanskrit varṣaḥ, both "rain"; Burmese: ဝါတွင်း, [wàdwíɴ]; Khmer: វស្សា or ព្រះវស្សា; Lao: ພັນສາ [pʰán sǎː], sometimes ວັດສາ [wāt sǎː]; Thai: พรรษา, phansa, or วรรษา, watsa) is the three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada practitioners. Taking place during the rainy season, Vassa lasts for three lunar months, usually from July (the Burmese month of Waso, ဝါဆို) to October (the Burmese month of Thadingyut သီတင်းကျွတ်).[1]

In English, Vassa is often glossed as Rains Retreat[2] or Buddhist Lent,[3] the latter by analogy to the Christian Lent (which Vassa predates by at least five centuries).

For the duration of Vassa, Bhikkhus remain inside monasteries and temple grounds.[4][5] In some monasteries, monks dedicate the Vassa to intensive meditation.[4] Some Buddhist lay people choose to observe Vassa by adopting more ascetic practices, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking.[1] While Vassa is sometimes casually called "Buddhist Lent", others object to this terminology.[4] Commonly, the number of years a monk has spent in monastic life is expressed by counting the number of vassas he has observed.

Most Mahayana Buddhists do not observe Vassa, though many Son/Thien monks in Korea and Vietnam observe an equivalent retreat of three months of intensive practice in one location and in Tibetan Buddhism this period of intensive retreat is called 'Yarne'.

Vassa begins on the first day of the waning moon of the eight lunar month,which is the day after Asalha Day or Asalha Uposatha (Dhamma day). It ends on Pavarana day, when all monastics come before the community of monks (the Sangha) and atone for an offense he may have committed during the Vassa.

Vassa is followed by Kathina, a festival in which the laity expresses gratitude to monks.[6][7] Lay Buddhists bring donations to temples, especially new robes for the monks.[6][7][8]

The Vassa tradition pre-dates the time of the historical Buddha.[1] It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in India not to travel during the rainy season as they may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even themselves during their travels.[4] The observation of vassa is said to originate with the Buddha himself. Gautama Buddha ordered his disciples to observe a pre-existing practice whereby holy men avoided travel for a three month period during the rainy season, in order to avoid damaging crops

Many Buddhist ascetics live in regions which lack a rainy season.[7] Consequently, there are places where Vassa may not be typically observed.[7]

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