Disciples of the Buddha
are fully awake both day and night,
in cultivating the heart.
Dhammapada v. 210
The Buddha encouraged the cultivation of our heart’s potential to awaken. We are already aware of the need to look after our physical health, and the benefits of maintaining mental well-being; if we heed the Buddha’s advice we will also invest in those qualities which lead to wisdom and compassion. Wisdom sees the advantages and disadvantages in any given situation. Without wisdom we risk seeing only that which pleases us. Sometimes it is more wise to endure discomfort and disappointment for the sake of being able to see deeply, beyond the world of preferences. Compassion, the heart’s warmth and impulse to care, is the natural expression of wisdom.
In India, where Buddhism began, there is a three-month-long rainy season. According to the Vinaya (Mahavagga, Fourth Khandhaka, section I), in the time of the Buddha, once during this rainy season, a group of normally wandering monks sought shelter by co-habitating in a residence. In order to minimise potential inter-personal strife while co-habitating, the monks agreed to remain silent for the entire three months and agreed upon a non-verbal means for sharing alms.
After this rains retreat, when the Buddha learned of the monks’ silence, he described such a measure as “foolish.” Instead, the Buddha instituted the Pavarana Ceremony as a means for dealing with potential conflict and breaches of disciplinary rules (Patimokkha) during the vassa season.
Pavarana usually falls during the eleventh lunar month – October – and it marks the end of the three month ‘rains retreat’ which began on the full moon of Asalha. Literally ‘pavarana’ means ‘inviting admonition’.
The three month period (vassa) is often used by lay and monastic folk alike to make a variety of determinations; to take up a particular devotional or meditation practice, to challenge or renounce some old habit – like eating sugar or smoking or drinking coffee (or worse). In Asia this may even be taken to the extent of lay folk taking temporary ordination for all or part of this time. The full moon of Pavarana marks the end of this period and is a time of celebration. For those who have maintained a strict practice it means they can relax a bit; hopefully having learnt something about the particular thing they had been investigating and not falling back into old habits.
For monastics it ends a period of containment within the boundaries of the monastery.
The Buddha appreciated how this containment can sometimes cause difficulty between people and he outlined a ceremony to be performed by the monks and the nuns on the Pavarana day. There are several aspects to this ceremony but the underlying spirit is one of asking for admonishment. This is not that one wants a good telling off but invitation is formally given to one’s ordained brothers and sisters to offer any reflections on one’s past behaviour. This invitation need not be taken up then and there but an opening is created.
The words of part of the ceremony are as follows:
“Venerable One’s, I invite admonition from the Sangha. According to what has been seen, heard or suspected (of my actions), may the venerable one’s instruct me out of compassion. Seeing it (my fault), I shall make amends. I ask this of you for the second time; and again I ask for the third time.”