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Daily Connect: Sitting in the rain

In Theravadan Buddhism-- which works with the teachings from the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma (or Dhamma, in Pali), those that are attributed to the historical Buddha and not reinterpreted by later teachers or other cultures – July’s full moon marks the beginning of a three-month period of intensified practice known as Vassa, or the Rain Retreat.

As with most things involving the historical Buddha, there’s a practical reason for this: the timing coincides with the rainy season; it can begin with the full moon in June, depending on when that falls, and usually continues through October. (This year, the time period is July 16 to Oct. 12.)  

For centuries before the Buddha, wandering ascetics would stay put during this time because muddy roads and flooded rivers made traveling difficult. The Buddha adopted this custom, and it became part of the rules for monks and nuns. (Vassaṃ Vasati, Vin.III,10)

The Buddha also had ethical (but again practical) concerns about the possibility of wandering monks damaging the crops that were coming up or killing the insects that proliferate at those times.

Vassa is sometimes casually called Buddhist Lent because lay people may choose to observe it by adopting more ascetic practices, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking. Young men will enter the monasteries for the three months, taking the vows for that time only.

The practice didn’t spread because other parts of the world don’t have to worry as much about the rainy season; although the three-month retreat is a standard practice in many lineages, it's not tied to the rains. Nor do they have old-school monks who depend on the kindness of others, for the most part. There are exceptions, of course.

That doesn’t mean the practice doesn’t have value for modern times, nor that it is entirely confined to rainy countries. Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, founded by Dharma Punk Noah Levine, bases its practice on the Thai Forest tradition, which, as the name indicates, was preserved in remote forests in Thailand and was relatively unaffected by outside forces; it adheres most closely to the historical Buddha’s intentions, Levine says.

The Boston Dharma Punx group, the beautifully named Profound Existence, offers a challenge – along with support and a forgiving attitude – on Facebook, where it invites us to “Commit To Sit.”

To correspond with this event, we personally intend to sit at least 30 minutes every day for the next three months. Daily meditation may be broken down into multiple sessions. For example, you can sit 10 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night, or for 10 minutes three times a day. The duration doesn't matter—the point is just to do it every day.

It's helpful to practice with others, so feel free to use this page to stay connected throughout the commitment…. Use it to support each other's practice.

And if you miss a day... just get back on the cushion the next.

IDP generally asks students in its classes to commit to 10 minutes a day for the duration of a class. there, Making a commitment, taking a vow, increases the power behind the practice – it sets intention, creates energy.

You’re spending your time doing something. Can you take 30 minutes to just sit? Or 10,20, whatever..

Oh, yeah --- Vassa ends with a festival, Kathina,at the full moon in October. Traditionally, lay people give the monks cloth to make new robes. You could get yourself an article of clothing -- end-of-retreat socks, maybe.  Does that sweeten the deal?

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