The Rains Season: “Summer”/”Winter” Training

The Rains Season: A time for intense practice and cultivation –

September 14th through December 15th, 2013

This article by An Giao Roshi, from our September 2010 newsletter, explains our “Summer Training”

In the time of the Buddha, all monks and some laypeople came together for training during the Rains Season. Our Rains Season observance is just about to begin.

In the beginning, monks traveled throughout the year, going from village to village spreading the Dharma. But during the time of monsoon, when it was very wet, people complained to the Buddha that new life (plants and animals) was being harmed when the monks slogged through the water and mud on their travels. Recognizing that this was a problem, the Buddha called the Sangha together. He announced that from that time forward monks and nuns would cease traveling for 90 to 100 days during the Rains Season and would gather together for a period of self-cultivation. Older monks would teach the newer monks through sutra recitation, dharma talks and group meditation. The season, which became known as Summer Training, lasted from April 15 to July 15 on the lunar calendar. The training period began as an act of compassion for all life during a time of year when life is bursting forth from the earth.

Many problems arose with this practice from the very beginning: who would be in charge (not all monks could stay with Sakkyamuni, there were just too many)?, who would teach?, how would food be obtained and managed (with the monks not going out on their alms rounds)? From this situation arose the framework for the monastic system that would later flourish. Dharma age — which determined one’s senority — changed from how long it had been since one’s ordination, to how many Summer Training sessions in which a monk had participated. Monks were asked their age –Dharma age — when they joined the group for the Rains Season. The eldest then would function as the leader (later Abbot), the second eldest would be the Head Monk (in charge of the daily routine), and so on. Monks would sit, walk in procession, and take meals according to their age. Lay people began to bring food to the encampment of monks, and the wealthy donated parks and buildings for the use of the Sangha.

Almost from the beginning, there were too many monks for the Buddha to personally train. He turned them over to his senior disciples for training. As time went by, monks asked the Buddha to set standards of authority and responsibility: who was qualified as a teacher, who could train monks, and who could ordain. Using this new notion of Dharma age, the Buddha established, over time, the following:

– The time one served as a Novice Monk was set at two years minimum and then the monk was eligible for full ordination.
– Once fully ordained, one was required to stay and study, and care for the master for five years.
– Having finished five Summer Training periods a monk was considered qualified to teach, given the title of Acharya, and could go off on his own.
– Having finished ten Summer Training periods as a monk, the monk was considered a senior monk (Thera, elder) and could ordain and train a novice.
– Having finished twenty Summer Training periods, a monk was considered a very senior monk (Mahathera) and could lead the full ordination of a monk receiving the 250 precepts.
Having finished thirty (in some cases thirty-five) years as a monk, the monk was considered a most senior monk and was often in charge of many groups of monks. This became our notion of Patriarch.

Today, Summer Training period begins with the feast and ceremony commemorating the birth of the Buddha and ends with the Ullambana (Vu Lan) feast and ceremony performed in honor of our ancestors, past and present. During the training period, monks participate in an intense training practice where they are not allowed to leave the temple grounds (at least in Asia). The laity increases their own practice by attending Dharma lectures, retreats at temples, and as many ceremonies as they can.

The Desert Zen Center observes the Rains Season from the middle of September to the middle of December when the Bodhi Day/Rohatsu weekend retreat commemorating the enlightenment of the Buddha is held. This time period follows the Japanese tradition and honors the intent of the Asian tradition, which observes Rains Season training during their winter (monsoon) period. During this period of time, there will be a retreat, Day at the Temple or workshop on the second full Saturday of each month.

Some suggestions for personal participation during this time are:

– Meditate daily in front of your home shrine
– Increase your daily meditation: 10 to 15 minutes, 20 to 30 minutes.
– Keep a vegetarian diet on the 15th and last day of the month.
– Read and study a sutra for 15 to 20 minutes a day.
– Recite the Heart Sutra daily at home.
– Bowing, offer incense and fresh water at your home shrine daily.
– Recite the name of the Buddha (Namo Sakyamuni Buddha) when rising in the morning and when going to bed at night.
– Learn some of the gathas recited by the monks for daily activities.