THREE-MONTH MONSOON MEDITATION AND PUBLICLY DECLARING ONE’S FAULTS: A DIFFICULT, YET SIMPLE LIFESTYLE TO REDUCE GREED, DESIRE AND SELF-CLINGING. Seniority ranking in the sangha, one meal per day, no fixed abode, the three month rains retreat and fortnightly Sojong (confessing faults) (17th Karmapa Summer 2022 Teaching, Day 2)

“Generally, within our worldly society, most people consider seniority to be based upon age. However, in the Vinaya, it is based on the length of time you have taken and held the vows.”
 
“If one has qualities and realizations, even if a person is made to sit at the end (or back) of the row that becomes, in actuality, the head of the row because they are the one with the greatest experience and realizations.”
 
“The height of thrones and their connection to privilege and power are actually from the Chinese Imperial tradition. It is not a Vinaya tradition. It is not a Vajrayana tradition. It is a Chinese Imperial tradition with the Chinese emperors.”
 
“The rains retreat had a particular feeling for the monastics at that time, whereas these days, we are always staying in the monastery, so we do not feel anything special about the rains retreat, right? It is like a particular ritual, but when we say yar (summer) ne (place),  we do not have a sort of feeling or a thought of this being a different special event or retreat, as they did.”
 
“The King said:  “we normally hide all of our faults every day, we hide all the faults we commit our entire lives, but the monastics are explaining all the offences they have committed in just a fortnight, every fortnight. This is so  amazing that they do that.” So, in their minds, they began to feel more faith. So, if it will increase the faith of members of the public, then it was permitted for them to come and see the Sojong ceremony.”

—17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje (Day Two, August 2022)

Continuing on from my Day One write up of the Karmapa’s detailed and profound teachings on the origin of the Early Buddhist sangha, here is Day Two (video here) in which the Karmapa covered the following:

  1. SENIORITY AND RANKING IN THE SANGHA.
  • Based on age of Vows not physical age. 
  • Secret Mantra  based on level of realization and  the Chinese Imperial tradition of higher thrones. 
  • Rechungpa’s violent expulsion from a Kadampa monastery 
  • The donkey brought to the head of the row by scholar, Tsangnak Tsondru Senge
  • The ‘quickest runner’ ranking. 
  • Conflict and division based on privilege and ranking

2. LIFESTYLE OF THE MONASTIC SANGHA.. 

  • No entertainment or worldly pleasures. 
  • Reasons for begging for alms/food.. 
  • Reason for only eating once and not after midday. 

3.      THE SUMMER MONSOON ‘RAINS’ RETREAT.. 

  • The time period of the rains retreat – three months only unless serious danger/risk. 
  • The three permissible times for ending the rains retreat. 
  • How did the rains retreat begin? Not just a Buddhist tradition.. 
  • Retreat residence – the place where they stayed.. 
  • Reasons for the difficult, yet simple lifestyle. 

4.      THE SOJONG (REPAIRING AND PURIFYING RITUAL). 

  • The origin of Sojong. 
  • The auspicious days for Sojong. 
  • What was recited during Sojong. 
  • The Pratimoksha Sutra and ‘Perfect Purity’ Offering. 
  • Why the early morning time for Sojong? 

The full, edited transcript is below. I have tried to keep the teaching as close as possible to the style and voice of the Karmapa, and not to read like a bland, voiceless textbook.

To summarise, one might wonder why the one of the most senior and realised teachers within Tibetan Buddhism and head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, the 17th Karmapa is speaking so much about monastic life and Vinaya, particularly when so many of his followers are laypeople, myself included. My intuitive feeling is that the Karmapa seems to be telling all his followers, including the monastics, that no-one is really following the Vinaya rules properly these days. That the current lifestyle of most monastics is drastically different from the original monastic sangha, who travelled from place to place with no fixed abode, ate one meal per day that had to be begged for, that did not allow any possessions or worldly pleasures and entertainment. 

The Karmapa explained how teachers being seated on high thrones, for example, originated in Chinese Imperial tradition based on power or privilege and had nothing to do with the Vinaya or Vajrayana. The Sojong (confession of breaches/downfalls) was done every fortnight, where all monastics had to confess in front of the whole Sangha the breaches of their vows and so on. A ritual, the Karmapa explained, that Kings of India at the time found inspiring and moving.

In addition, his main point about the rains retreat needing to be three months (Unless there was a very good reason not to do so), despite the fact most monasteries today only do it for one and a half months is a serious one as it is one of the three main Vinaya rituals.

Whatever the reason, the Karmapa’s persistent focus on this topic, perhaps to the frustration of many die-hard Vajrayana types, is that he clearly feels that it is time for us all to connect with and understand the roots and origins of Buddhism itself, before even thinking about the Secret Mantra Vajrayana, which may have become divorced from that simple, yet difficult lifestyle walking the Middle Path between harsh ascetiscm and worldly, sensual hedonism. Perhaps one that even lay pracitioners might be wise to consider as the foundation of a successful Vajrayana practice.

As someone who is based in India, who knows the mists and rain of the Himalayan regions well, I can only imagine how it must have felt to spend three months under the canopy of a forest, or inside basic dwellings, while the rain poured outside. It is a perfect time for meditating, but not so easy without any monastery, begging for food daily and no possessions other than robes and a begging bowl.

Music? Going Back to My Roots by Odyseey, Here Comes the Rain by the Eurythmics and Rain by The Cult.

May we all reduce our greed, desire and attachment to worldly things. Adele Tomlin, 23rd October 2022.

 

17TH KARMAPA SUMMER TEACHING (2022) TRANSCRIPT

“Today, is the second day of the Summer teachings and I am continuing to speak about the origin of the secret mantra. However, I probably will not get to speak about secret mantra. Some of you might be wondering when I am ever going to start speaking about the origin of the secret mantra, in any case. Today, what I would like to speak about among the different topics that I spoke about yesterday, is the lifestyle and way of living of the monastic Sangha.

1. SENIORITY AND RANKING IN THE SANGHA

Slide from Karmapa’s (August 2022) presentation, Day Two.

“1. RANKING AND HIERARCHY IN THE SANGHA Based on the time of taking the vows not physical age

2. LIFESTYLE OF THE MONASTIC SANGHA.

-No entertainment or worldly pleasures.
-Only being allowed to eat before noon.
-Only one meal/sitting for food per day.
-No playing games or leisure activities.
-No speaking about worldly matters.
-Only speaking about Dharma matters.

In brief, the aim was very clear. It was a very simple lifestyle and easy to understand. In order for there not to be obstacles to practice, and not to fall into the two extremes, it was necessary to have this lifestyle.”

Based on time of taking monastic Vows not physical age

If someone asks how did the sangha organize themselves in terms of structure or hierarchy, the first thing I want to speak about us about is how they determined seniority. For example, in  society, we often talk about seniority in terms of age.  So, there is the issue of a higher or lower rank in society. So, if you wonder, well, how does one determine seniority and rank within the Sangha? It is actually different in the Sangha than it is in society. It depends on the earlier or later time when you took the vows, So, whoever has taken the vows earlier is considered senior and more important, so you pay respects to them, and so forth. When talking about the protecting the monastic vows, the Rabjung and going forth, the novices or the Getsul, then the ones who took the vows earlier would be considered senior and so forth. And that gives you your position or your rank. Those people who take them later are considered younger, and are ‘lower’ in ranking. 

When talking about those with full ordination vows, the Bhikshus (Gelong) and their vows are the most important.  So what determines your seniority as a Gelong are those who have taken vows earlier have higher seniority, those who have taken them later, have lower seniority. Those with the earlier vows are considered higher and more senior those who took the vows later are considered junior.  In the Vinaya, there is no consideration of your age, such as putting the older people are on a higher rank than younger people.

These days, there are elderly people who have reached the age of 80 and younger people who are 20 who take the full ordination vows together. However, if the 20-year-old takes the vows first, and the older one takes it later, then the 20-year-old sits above the older one because it is done according to the order in which you have taken the vows, not according to your age. So that is one point.

Another important point, is that there is a tradition of doing it according to realization. So sometimes, if you have a higher realization, those of lower realization are put lower, but there is nothing like that in the Vinaya. Whatever your level of realization, all seniority is entirely according to the vows and precepts and not according to realization. There is no saying to someone: ‘Oh, you have higher realization so sit higher.’ So, they are in the order of taking vows and that is the strict rule of the of the Vinaya. 

So generally, within our worldly society, most worldly people consider seniority to be based upon age. However, as I said, in the Vinaya, it is taken on the length of time you have held the vows.

Secret Mantra ranking based on level of realization and  the Chinese Imperial tradition of higher thrones
Karma Chagme who wrote the famous text, Mountain Dharma

Now, in the Secret Mantra, there is consideration of the levels of realization, or of the levels of wisdom awareness (yeshe). This does not happen in the Vinaya, where you give some a higher senior order, because of higher realizations and so forth. However, in our Tibetan society, there is a particular tradition of determining the highest rank dependent on those who were stronger and more privileged who were given the higher seat, and those with less power and privilege were given a lower seat. There is a text by a Khedrub Karma Chagme called Mountain Dharma, most of you know about it. There is a song in it called ‘the song of the tradition of higher and lower thrones and ranks’.

What he says in the song is that that the height of Thrones and their connection to privilege and power are actually from the Chinese Imperial tradition. It is not a Vinaya tradition. It is not a Vajrayana tradition. It is a Chinese Imperial tradition with the Chinese emperors. The way we speak about it in Tibet, we are talking about the Mongol Dynasty, or the Yuan Dynasty in Chinese. We also talk about the Ming Dynasty and then later,, there is also the Qing Dynasty.

During those three eras, many Tibetan lamas were invited to be the main gurus to Chinese emperors. For example, during the time of the Yuan Dynasty, the most highly ranked Tibetan Lama who was a guru to the emperor and had a high position was Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, the fifth leader of the Sakya school.  During the Ming Dynasty, the most senior guru was 5th Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa.  Later, during the Qing Dynasty, it was the Dalai Lama who was given this position. Not only those, there were many Lamas who became the main Lamas to the Chinese emperors. Once those lamas had been given that position, then everyone had to pay respect to them. If you did not pay respect to the emperor’s guru, then you were not paying respect to the emperor. Also, once you have become the emperor’s guru, they had a particular seat, and were given a red stamp.  There was the tradition of having a high throne and playing the horns when you come in and so forth. There were many privileges of being a high Lama.

In worldly terms, these are important and something that we need to respect. However, in terms of the Dharma, if we ask, is rank and privilege important? It is not important at all. Now, the reason it is not important, to give one example, there are the Kagyu ancestors, Marpa the translator, the lord of yoga Milarepa, and also the unparalleled Gampopa. Similarly, there was the glorious pandita Dusum Khyenpa, Drikung Kyobpa who were like actual Buddhas who had come to this realm. Did they have any position that was granted by the Emperor? No. Were they given any red seal? No. Then did they have any thrones or privileges? No. 

Phagmo Drupa (1122-1192)

We talk about the Kagyu four elder and eight younger lineages. If we think about the eight younger lineages, the origin of the younger lineages is Drogon Phagmo Drupa (1122-1192), who was the student of Gampopa and had the widest activity of his students.  He had over 5800 people who had the merit to have parasols above their heads and who deserved a lot of respect. When he gave empowerments and instructions to these many students, what kind of seat did he have? He did not even have a meditation cushion, he sat on very thin mat. So even though he had such great experience and qualities, he only sat on a very thin seat. it is not like he sat down and got upset about sitting on a low seat thinking ‘I am an important person I have had a lot of realization’. It is not like he had a fire burning his belly about that. He did not care at all.

Rechungpa’s violent expulsion from a Kadampa monastery 
Rechungpa, great yogi and student of Je Milarepa (1083-1161)

There is a story that is related to this, Milarepa’s student Gampopa was said to be like the sun coming up and Rechungpa was like the moon rising. Rechungpa one day thought maybe I will get some tea and he went to a Kadampa monastery.  The monks in the Kadampa monastery were seated in the ranks and Rechungpa sat at the end of the row, by himself. He always wore a white cotton robe because he was a Repa (yogi) he did not have any monastic robes to wear. So, because of this, the discipline master someone who is checking things, said: ‘Hey white goat, you have no place with us! It is not okay for you to worm your way in within and you immediately have to leave’. There was no question of him saying yes or no, he took Rechungpa by his arm and threw him out the door.

Not only did they throw him out but even before he had time to get out of the door, they slammed it really quickly and one of his feet got crushed by it, which was extremely painful for Rechungpa. If your foot was stuck in the door, when someone slammed it, that would hurt a lot right? Then, at that point Rechungpa got upset and sad, and sang a song about it and there was a well-known Kadampa master called Jayulwa who heard the song. He thought ‘Oh Rechungpa is really different than others’. He felt faith and shed some tears. Then, in secret, he would meet Rechungpa and received teachings from him and served him as a teacher.

So, if we look at the story of Rechungpa, who did not get a seat even at the end of their row, forget about the head, even then, the Kadampa Geshe Jayulwa followed him as a guru and received teachings from him. So actually, there is distinction of rank in those ways, but in actuality that may be a delusionary way.

The donkey brought to the head of the row by scholar, Tsangnak Tsondru Senge

There is another story, I am not sure if it was a Sakya monastery or another one, it was a monastery in Tsang. In any case, at that monastery, there was a big dispute among the monks about who would sit where in the rows and who should be higher and lower, it was a massive dispute. At that time, there was a great scholar Tsangnak Tsondru Senge, he was really well known for study of logic,validity and epistemology. When he went to that monastery, he only got a seat at the end of the row, not the top of the row. He was kind of offended by it because he was a little bit proud about being so learned, the pride of a scholar. 

The next day, when the sun was just rising and they were doing the puja. He brought a donkey and dressed the donkey in  the three Dharma robes and brought it into the shrine room to the top of the row. When he brought it to the head of the row, everyone thought: ‘What is going on? Why is he bringing a donkey into the Shrine hall?’ When they asked him about it, then the Scholar Tsangnag said as “If you need a good voice, he’s got one, so he’s worthy of sitting at the head of the row, and I have dressed him correctly.”  So, I think we can understand from this is that normally, because the Umze have good voices, and so the Umze, chant master, sits at the head of the row. Otherwise, the chant masters they do not have any other qualities. They have a good voice and they wear nice clothes and are made to sit at the head of the row.  So, he brought the donkey to do the same thing, he was mocking that by dressing the donkey nicely and so on and saying ‘let’s seat it at the top of the row’. 

So, Karma Chagme said there is something important to understand in this, which is that if one has qualities and realization, even if one is made to sit at the end of the row that becomes, in actuality, the head of the row because they are the one with the greatest experience and realization. If you have any qualities of experience and realization, if you have clean discipline, then if you are sitting at the end of the row, when the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas see you, they see you as sitting at the head of the row, not at the end of the row. So, what this shows is that what is important is how much individual experience and realization one has, not where you are sitting on the rows. 

The quickest runner ranking

Likewise, in Tibet, there is another way of determining your rank/order called the quickest or running rank.  What is meant by the ‘running rank’ is that instead of arranging the ranks according to seniority or anything, all of the Sangha members wait by the monastery door, and then the discipline master or whoever was in charge, would say ‘run!’ and whoever was the quickest and got to the top of the row, the head of the room, could stay seated there. So, there is that tradition, which is called the quickest running one. 

So, this is the tradition that they had.  I have heard about it before at one monastery I do not need to say the name of it, but basically, when they talk about the rushing rank it is important.  There was a pillar there and whoever got to that pillar first, they would give them a yak. All the Sangha members were really like, pressed together like they are almost dying, then they would all rush like crazy to the pillar, and some of them would crack their heads on the pillar because they were running so quickly and there would blood all over their foreheads and everyone’s faces were all bloody [laughing].  When you hear about these things, there are these really strange customs in Tibet. 

Conflict and division caused by ranking, thrones and privileges
Tibetan wooden throne

So, in brief, sitting privileges and rank are really just a total pain. Drug Gyalwang Je said that basically the eight worldly Dharmas come from ranking in the seats and so it is better to make everyone the same.  If we look at history, there have been more than a few conflicts caused by disputes over higher and lower thrones and privileges.   Even when we have the Kagyu Monlam, when we invite great Lamas from other schools and lineages, our greatest worry is not whether we are going to be able to host the lama but the question of if the Lama comes, how high a throne should we have for them, once they arrive, and who should we put on the right or left, that is the biggest worry and concern. 

When we have organizational meetings for this, then people have various different opinions. So, when I express my opinion, what I always say is either we do not invite a guest, but once we have invited a guest, then even if we are unable to give them a welcome and preparations that surpassed their highest expectations, at the very least, we need to satisfy them, we must not offend them. Likewise, by paying respect to them, and putting them in a high position, that does not diminish us. It is the opposite, if we put someone at a lower position and put yourself in a high position then, and in actuality you are diminishing yourself. When there are such situations like that, we need to be able to think in a way that is appropriate for the situation and the time. We need to understand what the main point is. Otherwise, if we say ‘Oh, the Karmapa has such a high status in China in Tibet so that no one should be seated on a higher throne than him even a little higher. If we speak in this way, it shows that we are actually kind of brainless and have a small heart. It is not something that someone with a really open large and great heart and a lot of intelligence would say, and that is how I see it.

So, basically, I think the Vinaya tradition, the tradition of seniority of vows is the is the best way to do it. It is the least complicated version. That is just a digression. Now I am going to continue with the main meaning of the text. 


2. LIFESTYLE OF THE MONASTIC SANGHA

Slide from 17th Karmapa’s Summer Teaching (Day 2, 2022)
No entertainment or worldly pleasures

Now the next topic is the livelihood of the Sangha, which was one that is free of the enjoyments and pleasures.  It is not like we worldly people, who always enjoy hanging out, with our bellies full and enjoying ourselves, that is not at all how the Sangha lived. For example, in the afternoon you are not allowed to eat food. There are strict rules against playing any sort of game, or a new sport and so forth, there is no such thing allowed.

Also, from the moment you woke up in the morning, until you went to bed in the evening, you primarily had to practice the Dharma and the Dharma only. For example, after you wake up in the morning and wash your face, then you would put on your robes properly, and then go to your Khenpo to study the Vinaya and request the transmission of the Vinaya. Requesting a transmission is different than when we talk about receiving transmissions. Then, they would go to them and they would recite the words and then they would repeat them. So, you would study it, and repeat it orally in order to memorize it. One would recite it a minimum of three times to memorize it. 

Well, this is called the Khenlob, Khenpo and student relation: giving the oral transmission and the students receiving it. In brief, memorizing it, they were said to have received it as much as they had memorized it. So, then considering the meaning was the contemplating. So, repeating and reciting was listening, thinking about that was contemplating and then you also had to practice jnana meditation. So, one had to study like that. Likewise, during the Buddha’s lifetime, one had to go to the Buddha and receive Dharma teachings from him and if one had any doubts or questions ask them. That was the custom during that time.

No food allowed in the afternoon

Then, in the morning, after you have done all that study and before noon, they had to go to the villages and towns to beg for alms, for food. One had to finish the meal before noon. In the afternoon, one could not eat any food.  

In our Tibetan tradition and schools, we talk about going on the alms round and about the many reasons why we have to go begging for food. One of the main reasons is that you would be in the monastery, or in a retreat in an isolated place, and go from those isolated places into the towns or villages to beg for food, and then you would return to your isolated place.  In doing that, you had to do a lot of walking. That naturally gave them good exercise and was good for their fitness. In this way, it was good for the body and also because one had to keep this discipline of not eating in the afternoon, and so forth.

So, the householders would say ‘oh, they are so different than anyone else, we couldn’t do that’. So, they would praise, and pay them homage and so forth. Also, because it was a way of purifying the offerings, people thought that: ‘if I make an offering to the Bhikshus then I will gain merit’. As they thought that way, they were a purification of the offerings. In particular, because they had to live off of the offerings and alms of others, they had to have pure conduct and do what other people thought is good, they had no choice but to do it because if they did not do that, they would not get any food. So, since they had to go on the alms rounds, it naturally made their conduct pure and also reduced their pride.  They could not just go and be proud saying ‘You have to give me food’. They had to beg for it, which has the benefit of diminishing their pride. 

One meal per day (den chig) and reason for only eating once and not after midday

In any case, the monastics only had one meal a day, which had to be finished exactly by noon.  Now in our Tibetan Mulavastavarda Vinaya translations, the main reason the fully ordained and novices are not allowed to eat in the afternoon was not just a social restriction. What is the reason they were not allowed to eat food after midday? And what happened if they did eat?  If you eat in the afternoon then naturally one will become fat. In particular, if you eat late at night, then you get fat and you also get sleepy and get dozy and lethargic and feel dull.  So, dullness means your mind is not clear and kind of like blank in your mind. That happens quite a lot. 

For those reasons, this creates obstacles to listening, contemplating, and meditating. In particular, if one is practicing Samten meditation, one needs clear awareness. So, for us, we are not practicing that, so whether you are sleepy or not, it does not matter and we do not really see it as an issue.  However, if you are actually practicing meditation, you need to have really clear awareness. If you have a little bit of sleepiness or dullness. If you have unclarity, this is a big difficulty and obstacle for the jnana meditation. For that reason, that is the main reason for not eating in the afternoon.

However, some people, if they do not get food in the afternoon, their bodies start to shake and tremble. Like these days, there are people with diabetes and people on a very low blood sugar level, if they do not get food, then their bodies begin to tremble. So, there is an exception for such people who are allowed to eat in the afternoon. The reason such people are allowed to eat in the afternoon is because if they do not eat food that causes health problems, and it gives them the great suffering of hunger, which also creates obstacles to listening, contemplating and meditation. 

So, this kind of negates the earlier reasoning for not eating, here if you do not eat, it creates an obstacle to study, contemplation, and meditation. So that sort of individual is allowed to eat after noon and that is an exception for them. 

Never speaking about worldly matters, only about Dharma

Then once you have finished your meal, they would sit under a tree and practice jnana meditation. This is what the monastics in ancient India did. While doing the meditation they would stay until the sun was just about to set and then, they would get up and go to a shrine hall or an assembly hall to gather there.  Once they had gathered there, they discussed the experiences they had with the meditation and would compare with each other. Or they would go to their Khenpo and their Acharya teacher and ask questions and seek guidance. Or if the Buddha was present in that area, they would go to the Buddha and ask him about their questions or doubts. So, there was a tradition also of going to see the Buddha.

In brief, in those days the lifestyle of monastics is they never spoke one word of worldly things and only spoke about the Dharma. We normally speak about all sorts of worldly things. However, they did not speak about worldly things and spent their time only speaking about the Dharma or Dharma related things. All these sorts of worldly things such as politics and all that, they were not allowed to speak about and had to spend their time only speaking about the Dharma. This was a very strong tradition at that time. 

Then, after that, one would return to the monastic cell or, and continue without break, doing practice and jnana meditation. That was fundamentally, all of the activities, the daily life of the Sangha. 

In that way, if one asks how the Sangha lived, and the activities of their daily life, they had to be done according to the rules of the Vinaya, the monastic codes of conduct. It was a very strict code of conduct.  Now, the main work of the monastic community is to practice Dharma, they did not have any other job to do. Their main job was the practice of dharma, which means listening, contemplating and meditation, in order to gain the results of nirvana. Once one took full ordination, the reason why you need to try and work hard in a different way than others is for the sake of achieving nirvana. For this reason, at that time, all the monastics worked really hard. That particular lifestyle is really different than our current lifestyle. One could say it is a hard and a difficult lifestyle to master and it was primarily done in order to listen, contemplate and meditate.

3. THE SUMMER MONSOON ‘RAINS’ RETREAT

1. The time period of the rains retreat – strictly three months unless an exception
2. The rains retreat acted like a bridge that strengthened the connection between the Sangha and householders
3. Two different types of summer retreat places: residence house (avasa) and Joyful Groves (arama).
4.For three months, as they stayed together in one place it was possible to perform ceremonies like Sojong, and Ending the retreat and Kathin rituals.
5. At that time, as they were only temporary residences (vassa) of the Sangha they were not made into monasteries.

The time period of the rains retreat – strictly three months unless an exception

“Now I will speak about the topic of the rains retreat (Skt: Varṣāvasana, Tib: Yarney). The Buddha and his monastic disciples would normally travel without any fixed destination and go to all sorts of places, they would walk all over. It was rare that they spent a long time in one place. So, there was no fixed place, they were always moving. This is one aspect of their practice.

For example, there were many great Tibetan siddhas who had very simple lifestyles and Yogis who also would practice in no fixed location. Like Milarepa, who went to many various different places on the border of Tibet and Nepal, and so on. Also, during the time of the original spread of Buddhism, the Buddha himself as well as all the students in his retinue would go to different places. They would spend their time traveling and did not stay permanently in a single location.

However, every year in India, there are three months of monsoon in the summer, the rainy season. So, these three months of the monsoon probably begin the month of the fifteenth day, the full moon after June July, and continue for the next three months.  Whether for the early rains retreat or the later rains retreat, the Vinaya clearly states that the retreat should last three months. If one had no opportunity to stay for the early monsoon retreat, one had to stay for the later rains retreat. 

In any case, during the three months, the Sangha members all stayed in a single place and performed the activities of the monsoon summer retreat, or the Varṣāvasana. Now, at this very moment, many of our monasteries are holding the Summer retreat.

So, I thought I should speak a little bit about this topic. There are several points that are related to the rainy season retreat, and I cannot speak about them all but I thought it would be good to speak a few of them. The first of these is we generally have the earlier and later rounds or periods of the retreat.  Whether you are sitting for the earlier or the later rounds, whichever one you are staying for, it is said in the Vinaya that you must sit for a three-month retreat. These days, however, most Tibetan monasteries do the rains retreat for one and a half months, not for three months.

So, some might wonder if there is a source or quote in the Vinaya that says the retreat can be for only one and a half months instead of staying for three months?   Generally, when we are doing the rains retreat ceremony, we always make the promise to stay for the three summer months. However, if there are some circumstances that prohibit you from spending three months in retreat, there are exceptions. It is not that you absolutely must stay for three months. In Tibet, our practices are according to the Mulavastavarda tradition and they are basically based on the teachings in the Vinaya sutras. in which it says, after you have made the commitment for three months, if you hear that some sort of combative or trouble-making Bhikshu, who makes a lot of problems is coming to your place, then after you have held two or three Sojong ceremonies, they may hold the pravāraṇa (the ending retreat) ritual for the end of the rains retreat ceremony. 

There is also an Indian master Dharmamitra, who wrote a well-known and long commentary on the Vinayasutras, which says that after committing to the retreat, and after completing two or three Posadhas (Sojong) rituals, then on a full moon, or a new moon, the 15th day or the 30th day, it is permissible to do the pravāraṇa (ending the retreat). 

This is because the person has spent at least half or two thirds in the rain retreat. So, within that time, if there are some circumstances that make you unable to stay in the rains retreat then even just doing that time, you get all the benefits of doing the rains retreat. The reason for this is, as it says in both the Vinaya Sutras and the commentary, that ‘doing half of  some work, is doing it’. That is a common worldly expression. Also,  ‘doing most of it,  is doing it’, it is said among the noble beings. So, even if one is only able to spend half or two thirds of the rains retreat, then that is enough. 

Likewise, in most Tibetan commentaries, there is the commentary by Tsongkhapa, and also the Vinaya commentary The Garland of Jewels (Rinchen Trengwa) and one by the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje’s commentary ‘Orbits the Sun. What they say is that one might hear that someone who makes a lot of problems, someone who is really combative may  come to the place where you are doing the rains retreat, or if you are having difficulty in getting enough food or any medicines that you need for your health, if there are such difficulties, then you do not necessarily need to stay in the rains retreat. Instead, even if you have only done half of the retreat, you may leave. However, the point here is that is only when some sort of circumstance or difficulty happens, only then you can have that exception and do the Pravāraṇa ritual. Otherwise, if there is no such difficulty, it is just sort of like a custom, and you recite the ceremony and commit to staying three months, but in actuality only stay one and a half months without any of those conditions. So that is the tradition that we have but is there a source for that custom or not? It is difficult to say, I have not seen any source for doing this.

The three permissible times for ending the rains retreat

So generally, there are three types of Pravāraṇa ceremony that end the rains retreat: 

  •  at the proper time 
  • suddenly, or 
  •  communally. 

At the proper time

So doing the pravāraṇa ceremony at the end of retreat, at the proper time, means that if you have committed to the retreat on the 16th of the fifth Tibetan month, then you do the  pravāraṇa on the full moon of the eighth month. If you commit to do the rains retreat on the 16th of the sixth month, then you do the  pravāraṇa the end of rains retreat ceremony on the full moon of the ninth month. If you do the late rains retreat, starting in the seventh month, then you need to do the pravāraṇa on the 10th month. If you do the late retreat, which is starting on the sixth or seventh Tibetan month, the day after the full moon, you need to end on the full moon of the tenth month.

So, in any case, if one stays for the full duration of three months, and do the pravāraṇa at the end of the three months, this is doing it at the proper time. Once you have finished the retreat, you do the pravāraṇa ceremony. Now there are people who said that the early rains retreat needs to start in the fifth month. Some say that it starts in the sixth Tibetan month. Now these are two different opinions, but this is something I think we need to investigate, particularly these days in the Theravada tradition.

 The Theravada tradition starts the retreat on the 16th of the fifth Tibetan month. The Vaisakha month of the Saga Dawa matches our third Tibetan month. During the time of the Buddha, the longest day of the summer, the summer solstice, always happens during the earlier rains retreat. These days, the summer solstice is in the sixth Western month of June.  So somewhere around the 20th of June there is what we call that in the Tibetan tradition is basically in the fifth Tibetan month. Similarly, in the Vinaya, the Saga Dawa month is set to be the last month of spring. But these days in the Tibetan astrology, astronomy, then Saga Dawa, it falls in the first summer month not in the last spring month. So, there is a difference of about one month between the two. Now if we do it a month earlier, then from one perspective, it is in accord with the Theravada tradition and it is also in accord with contemporary astronomy. This is something that we need to think about and consider.

Now, the reason for saying this is all these topics are related with the three fundamental rituals of the Vinaya. It is said that if you have the rituals and they are practiced assiduously the teachings are present. If they are not practiced, the teachings are not present. So, it is not okay for us not to do them properly. 

Ending it suddenly

So, then there is the sudden (lobur) Pravāraṇa ending, when there are some circumstances as I described before, that you are unable to stay. One has taken it as a basis to stay for three months and it is fixed that one will stay for three months but you are unable to spend three months because of some unfortunate circumstance, some difficulty happens. What you need to do then, is that after two or three Sojong ceremonies,  then on either a full or new moon,  you can end it with the Pravāraṇa. And this is what we call a sudden Pravāraṇa.  Actually, you need to do at the end of three months but because of this particular situation, you can do it before the three months are finished and this is what we call a sudden Pravāraṇa.

Communally

There is also the communal (tsog gi) ending. What this means is, according to the Vinaya  sutras, for example if the Bhikshus are staying in some rough place, and all of a sudden there is a threat to their lives, like bandits are coming, or there is a flood, all of a sudden, there is a big danger. They do not have time to do the ending ritual, yet suddenly they have to stop the retreat and cannot wait till the 16th or the full moon. So, these Bhikshus, just pack up their things. Now, of course, they did not have many things at all, they just folded up their Dharma robes and would say to each other: ‘Actually, today, we should be doing it on the 15th but we have had this difficulty, so we cannot do it properly today. So, let us just go off where we are going to go. However, once again, in the future, we will get together and do the Pravāraṇa ritual properly”. If they leave, that is called a communal pravāraṇa. Or  another way of designating it, is that they do not have the actual time to do it, but they kind of designate as a Pravāraṇa and say that in the future, they will do the actual Pravāraṇa.

That is what we call a communal ending ritual. At that time, they cannot actually do the Pravāraṇa but they agree that after three months, the Sangha will gather again and at that point, they will do it. So, they discuss it communally and then they leave.

The difference between the sudden and communal ending of the retreat are very similar though. So, what is the difference? Both of them are actually supposed to stay until the end of three months. They are similar in they both end the rains retreat before the three months has finished. However, the difference between the two is that the sudden ending is done  after two or three Sojong ceremonies and they do not leave without doing the Pravāraṇa ceremony.

However, the communal Pravāraṇa difference is it does not matter how many Sojong have been done, if the next day you have to flee because of some danger then that is okay. 

What is clear here, is if there is no such bad circumstances or danger then you need to stay in the rains retreat for three months and do the Pravāraṇa at the end of three months. If in the middle, you have to leave after staying a month and a half due to such a danger that is acceptable. If there is no particular danger,  then generally one must stay for three months. 

Once in Bodh Gaya, during the Kagyu Guncho, we discussed the practices, the three basic rituals, and that time I noticed that staying in the rains retreat for three months was in accord with the Vinaya. They all had the intention that most of the monasteries would begin the practice of doing the three-month rains retreats. I thought that this was really putting your words into practice.  Actually, doing the practice of the three fundamental rituals of the teachings. That is something that is worthy of rejoicing about and is praiseworthy.   Thus, if it is possible, if there is not a lot of difficulty, then I think that if all the monasteries do the retreat for three months that is good. That is a bit of a digression.

Earlier or later period of the rains retreat

Now, I will speak about the earlier and the later rains retreat. If one asks do we have to do the earlier or the later retreat? Generally, one should commit to the earlier retreat, one is not allowed to just commit to the later rounds retreat. However, if there is no way for you to be able to commit to the earlier retreat, if there is some sort of difficulty or danger, and there is no way for you to commit to the earlier rains retreat,  then one can commit to doing the later retreat. If there arises another difficulty or danger, and you have no opportunity to commit to the later one,  then there is no fault to that. The Buddha is not saying you should do something that you cannot do, if you have tried to do it.  If you are not able to, it does not mean you absolutely have to do it. So, the Buddha did not insist on doing it. If you are unable to stay for the earlier rather than the later retreat,  there is no fault.  For example, if you are in a region where there are no fully ordained monks, if there are only novices, then in that location, they are not allowed to do the summer retreat. In such a situation, it is not a problem if you are unable to do the rains retreat. In any case, all of these discussions here are according to the Tibetan Mulavastavarda.

How did the rains retreat begin? Not just a Buddhist tradition

Returning to the actual topic, you might wonder how is it that the rains retreat began, or what was the reason for holding a rains retreat? The Buddha and his disciples normally just went to  various different places, they had no permanent location where they  would spend their time. They would stay under some tree in forests  It is not like there were any big monasteries as we have these days. However, in India, there are really strong rains in the summer, so there is the difficulty of  floods and with staying outside. 

Likewise, when the rains were torrential all the vegetation would grow, the grass and all the shrubs would grow, and all the different types of mosquitoes and other insects would be everywhere. Sometimes, they would bite people and even take people’s lives . So sometimes people would actually kill the bugs and insects. So, there is a danger to both of their lives. Therefore, for the three months of the monsoon it was unnecessary to go outside and necessary to stay in one location. 

These days, when we do the rains retreat  there is no special feeling for it because we normally stay in  a monastery. We are not moving around and we stay in a physical place. However, at the time of the Buddha and his disciples and the time of original Buddhism, as I mentioned before, the monks did not just stay in a single place. They were always wandering and traveling from place to place. They were always in these isolated places, unless they are going to these places. During the three months of the monsoon, they relaxed and spent three months in one place. For that reason, the rains retreat had a particular feeling for them, whereas for the rest of us, we are always staying in the monastery, so what is special about the retreat, right? It is like a particular ritual, but when we say yar (summer) ne (place) we do not have the idea of staying in retreat in one place. We do not have a sort of feeling or  thought of this being a different special event or retreat.

In general, the tradition of the rains retreat is not only a Buddhist practice, it also occurred in other religions. A modern Indian scholar named SR Goyal wrote that the rains retreat was practiced in common by the Brahmins, the Jains, and the Digamparas.  Often  we call them the Digamaparas, but the best name for them is the Jains. There were also the Buddhists. So, it was a common practice, it was not only a Buddhist practice, the Brahmins, Jains, and Buddhists also practiced it.  

The reason why we say the summer rains retreat Yar-ne is that literally it is translated as staying for the Summer.  So, for those three months they would stay at a single place (ne). During that three months of the monsoon season, as they had to stay in one place, they would depend upon or rely on the local community where they stayed. 

Also, for the general public in that area, there was a great benefit for them. The reason is because the Sangha would stay there for three months and so, during that time, the opportunity to receive Dharma teachings from them was much greater. The rains retreat was really like a bridge that created a deeper and stronger connection between the Sangha and the faithful public. Usually, there was not much of a connection. So, when they stayed in the area, there were many more opportunities for the Sangha to interact with the public and to make a connection with them. So it was like a bridge that connects the Sangha and the general public. This is what this Indian scholar says.

In any case, as the monsoon approaches in India, then the monastics stopped their traveling or wandering. Normally, these days, at the end of the rains retreat, we leave the retreat by going for a walk for a couple of kilometers. We do a kind of symbolic act and just go out for a little bit and then walk back. Actually, in the old days, the wandering was not like that. it was actually going from one place to another. 

Retreat residence – the two kinds of place where they stayed

There were no huge monasteries in the olden days, where many people could stay and gather. I will speak about this more in more detail later. These days, it is easy to move and go from one place to the next. We think:  I will go there and stay there  for a few days. Then I’m going to go on to the next place.”  So, the Tibetan term, jung gyu means traveling to countries in the literal translation. Jung is country and gyu  is traveling. So, they would take a break from the traveling and stay for three months. Then, all the wandering monks would gather out a fixed date every year, and have the rains retreat. They held the monsoon retreat at fixed time annually, as the custom.

While holding the retreat, the monastics would have to continue to go beg for their food and alms. So, the retreat place could not be in a far-off remote location, if they did that, they would not get any food. The place where they held the retreat had to be in a city or a town, or in the vicinity of one, because then it is easier to do the daily begging for alms. 

So there is the environment of the retreat place. There are two different types of places based on the environment. One of those was called avasa. The second is called arama. If we translate Avasa  into Tibetan, it means ‘ney-khang’, which is staying-place/residence in English. The word Arama means Kunga,  like ‘All-joyful’. Basically, during the rains retreat the place they stayed was called different things, according to the differences in the environment. Some of them would be called dwelling places, and some would be called Joyful Places (Pleasurable Groves). So, there are these two different types. 

However, these places where they held the retreats originally were not like the monasteries we have now, where you stay permanently. They were just places where you stayed temporarily. They were not permanent residences at all. When the monastics would come back to the rains retreat at the same place every year, then it slowly became like a permanent location.  

So, the sangha members would gather there and do the Sojong, and they would do the Pravarana and the Kathina ceremonies there, so many programs were held there. Eventually, the Sangha settled in those locations and the owners of these dwelling places would then continually re-invite the Sangha to come back and say, ‘please come back again here’. So, the sponsor would continue to make offerings for them and the Sangha members would also get used to going there. Also, the dwelling places in the Pleasant Groves became semi-permanent places. They were not permanent residences, but slowly they naturally became like semi-permanent places for the monastics who came annually to stay. 

They were not like the monasteries we have today, they were places where the Bhikshus would stay during the rains retreat. They would make boundaries for the place, as you have to do in the Vinaya for the venue chosen. They were places where you could do that but they were not like the organized monasteries we have today. 

Reasons for the difficult, yet simple lifestyle

What is the reason why the monastics had to lead such difficult lives? They wandered all sorts of places going begging for your food and during three months, they had a different place to stay, but it is not a definite place. It was just someplace that someone else had given them and did not belong to them.  There are several reasons why the monastics had to lead such difficult lifestyles.

The main reason was to have fewer desires and be content; to decrease their greed. To be content even with just meagre food and clothing. Instead of spending their time looking for food and clothing, they should mainly be spending the time practicing dharma. That is the reason why there had to be this particular style of living.

The aim of the monastic lifestyle is very clear.  The reason and aim should be very clear. If it is not clear to you, then living like that will seem pointless. Having a clear reason and aim is important and it is also was very simple. Even though it seems really complicated, it does not take a whole lot of time. It is easy to put into practice. It does not create any obstacles to your practice. This is not talking about the Vinaya, which is really quite complicated. At the very beginning, the Vinaya was not set. The rules just gradually expanded and became more numerous. Most of the rules were made during the time of the of the Buddha. However, there are some rules that seem to have been added later. It is difficult to say that the Buddha created them. During the 1000 or 1500 years afterwards, it is possible that the masters and the scholars of that time might have made some rules. For example, there were famous monasteries in India and it is possible they took the rules within their own organizations and added them to the Vinaya.

In any case, these days, the Vinaya seems to be like something that is difficult to practice. Originally, during the early times in terms of the Indian society of that time, it was something that allowed you to devote your life to practice. Also, the Brahmas and the Jains who practiced austerities, gave up even the most basic needs for living and even did not have any food and fasted. They were one extreme who also had a difficult lifestyle. However, it would make their bodies weak and they would also just get discouraged and make it difficult for them to practice. So, for that reason, the monastic lifestyle on the one hand, is the path that avoids a complicated lifestyle. On the other hand, it is not like Brahmins and Jains with an extremely ritualistic or ascetic lifestyle. It is practicing a lifestyle that does not fall on either extreme. That is the practice that the Buddha taught.

4.     THE SOJONG (REPAIRING AND PURIFYING RITUAL)

So, there are three fundamental monastic rituals one is the rains retreat. The other is in Tibetan: Sojong, in Sanskrit, Poṣadha. I am giving just an introduction. I am not speaking about how you do the entire practice. This introduction compiles the findings of contemporary researchers, as well as those in our traditional Tibetan texts.

The origin of Sojong
Sculpture of Buddha meeting a Brahmin.

How did the Sojong (confessing and purifying faults) originate? When Buddha first appeared in India, as I said last year, the Brahmins would perform animal sacrifices and rituals whenever possible. They  considered it really important to do these sacrifices to the gods. Everything depended upon the sacrifices, all of their activities, peaceful, wrathful, and so on.  They thought if you do the sacrifices, then everything will be fine. That was their view. There were extremely complicated rituals and eventually they became just like an external ritual, without paying much attention to the internal practice. Instead, they spent their time overly fascinated by all the external aspects of rituals. So, the Buddha refuted them and said they are pointless. The Buddhists did not hold such a view about the importance of these rituals. 

One of the main reasons why Buddhism spread so much in spirit at the time is that the Buddhists did not always say one had to spend time making offerings to the gods or to the Nagas, and to have these complicated rituals. They said they are not important and that the main thing is your actual practice. Increasing experience and realization that they held in high esteem. So, people said: “Oh, this Buddhism is really good.”  That was one reason Buddhism spread.

They did not have these sacrifices and making a big praise and homage is to the gods.  Of course, there are a lot of these in our secret mantra, but at that time, of the original Buddhism, the Brahmins had a lot of complicated rituals, and prostrations and praises and so forth.   The Buddhists did not adopt those rituals though. The Buddha said that one has to focus on achieving liberation yourself alone. Basically, there is no need to do these other rituals if you are primarily practicing only to gain liberation for yourself. As the Buddha was emphasizing this, then the internal practice alone became most important. The external rituals were not so important. 

These rituals were very complicated.  For example, at the outset, even the rituals of taking the vows were extremely simple. The rituals got longer, but at the very beginning, the rituals were very short. I can speak about that later. The main thing that the Bhikshus did was discuss, help, encourage each other.  They were Dharma friends who helped and supported each other. What was most important was to be able to proceed in that way. For that reason, if we look in the Vinaya, then when the monastics come together they had these different rituals, then later there were different  ceremonies they had to do. These were done so that they could advise and encourage each other. That was one reason they had to keep coming back together, so that the Sangha can gather and do these are rituals and performing actions.

The two most important of these rituals, of which there were many, are the  Posada/Sojong and this second was the Pravāraṇa/Ending ritual. As for Sojong, this is something that we do in the monasteries but if you do not understand what Posada is, then there is no point doing the ceremony.

The Sojong was not originally a Buddhist practice. Originally, it was a non-Buddhist practice. It is something that the Brahmins did, later the Buddhists took the Buddhist tradition and then it became a Buddhist practice. So, they took the Hindu practice and then made it their own. The  Indian scholar S. R Goyal said that originally there was no Buddhist tradition of doing the Sojong, it was a non-Buddhist practice, but later the King Bimbisara offered his opinion to the Buddha that it would be a good idea to do the Posada ceremony. So, the Buddha made the rule about observing Posada. 

Likewise, this Indian scholar says that when the Posada was originally instituted, the main thing they recited during that time were the most important practice instructions of the Buddha. They would repeat these instructions several times. Later, I will speak about more of this.  
So, the most important instructions of the Buddha, like the Four Noble Truths would be recited over and over again.  Later, the Buddha made all the rules in the Vinaya. So then,  they recited the precepts of the Vinaya. They recited: ‘The rules state one is allowed to do this, and not allowed to do this.’  In order not to forget the rules, they would recite them over and over again. So, all the monastics would gather together and recite or review the Vinaya together. Like they are doing homework and are reviewing them.

If there were any violations of any precept that violated the Vinaya rules, they had to admit  them to the Sangha without hiding them. Then the Sangha would consider the severity of the offense and either set a punishment, advocate leniency, expel the monk, or make them confess. So that was called ‘Sojong’ and that was its main aim/purpose.

The auspicious days for Sojong

Generally, there were six days of special observance each month when Poṣadha was held.  This was not only Buddhists did but that all the non-Buddhists were committed to doing.  These were the 8th, 14th, and 15th days in the waxing phase of the moon, and the 23rd, 29th, and 30th days in the waning phase. In the Secret Mantra Vajrayana, there are two additional days, the 10th in the waxing phase, and the 25th in the waning phase. On those days, the lay community would come to the sangha who would give them the five precepts and dharma teachings.

In Tibet, they are called the auspicious days and there are different ways of explaining them. For example, on in the 15th, it was said that Indra would come to the world and see if people  are performing virtues or misdeeds.I do not remember this well. In any case, they were considered to be sacred days. So, on these days, the public would come to the monastery where the Sangha was staying. They would take the five lay precepts, and also receive Dharma teachings. 

For the Bhikshu monastics there were two occasions each month for the monastic Sojong. According to the Indian scholar, they would gather the evening before an observance of Sojong, only the bhikshus would gather and recite the Pratimoksha Sutra. The Tibetan Vinaya tradition differs slightly: the evening before the Poṣadha (Sojong), bhikshus and novices would gather to spend the entire night discussing the Abhidharma. I do not know whether this was so in early Buddhism, as the Abhidharma is usually dated to the later era of Nikāya Buddhism.

I also have a doubt about what it means to say discussing the Abhidharma. These days, many scholars say that it developed later, during the time of Nikāya Buddhism, the time of the 18 different schools.  So, when we talk about having discussions about the Abhidharma, what people say is that this discussion must have arisen later. Yet, it does say this in the Tibetan Vinaya scriptures; that they would spend the entire night discussing the Abhidharma.   

Since Sojong is held twice monthly, the Abhidharma discussions were also held twice monthly. So, in the evening before the ceremony, these dharma discussions became important.  Then in the first dawn session, around 2.00 am, the Buddha or senior elders would come.  If the Buddha was present, the Buddha would attend. If the Buddha was not present, and the senior or elder Bhikshus would come and hold the ceremony.  Then at that point, all the novices would have to stay outside while the fully ordained monks recited the Pratimoksha Sutra from memory. The Pratimoksha Sutra lists all the precepts the 253 precepts of a Bhikshu.  So, the Sutra is like the basis of Vinaya discipline and so they had to review it, you to recite it from memory, and this is what they did.

What was recited during Sojong? No Pratimoksha Sutra at that time
Image from a Sojong ceremony

Before the Pratimoksha developed, there was no Pratimoksha Sutra to recite. Basically, the Pratimoksha Sutra a compilation of the complete set of precepts and rules made by the Buddha. So, before there were the Vinaya rules, what did the Sangha recite at the rituals? At that time, they only had a little bit to recite:

Do not commit any wrongs.
Perform abundant virtue.
Completely tame your own mind.
This is the buddhas’ teaching.

Restraint of the body is excellent;
Restraint of speech is excellent, too.
Restraint of mind is excellent.
Restraint in all is excellent.
A bhikshu who is restrained in all
Is liberated from all suffering.

Guard your speech and restrain your mind.
Do not perform non-virtues of the body.
If you purify these three paths of action,
You will gain the path the Sage has taught.

There were only these three verses. 

The Pratimoksha Sutra and ‘Perfect Purity’ Offering  

Later, as the Vinaya was compiled, and more rules were made, then the Pratimoksha Sutra appeared. Later, for that reason, they had to recite it from memory. The reason for memorising them is one had to recognize and remember what the precepts are. Otherwise, if one thinks “oh, what is it? I have to look it up in text”, that is not alright.  During the time of the Buddha, and the time of original Buddhism, the Buddhist scriptures were not written down, so people had to memorize them, and then tell them orally to each other and listen to them. There is a benefit to this, because once you have memorized that, then it is very clear in the mind, you do not have to carry a text with you and can immediately remember what you are allowed to do or not, and it is all saved in your mind.

Then after the Sutra had been recited, the novices would be invited inside. So, for the novices, every fifteen days, they would hold the Sojong ceremony. Then whatever offences were done in the previous fifteen days, they would have to confess without hiding it to the Sangha. If you do not have any faults, if you think you are totally pure, you have to explain why. This is called yangdak bulwa – the perfection (yangdag) offering.  This explanation of one’s purity is called the novices’ Sojong. So, the Bhikshus recite the Pratimoksha Sutras and the novices are offering perfection. 

Why so early in the morning for Sojong?  – Not allowing householders to come with the exception of Kings
King Bimbisara, the first King of the Haryanaka Dynasty ruled Magadha, from 544 to 419 BCE.

When the Sojong could not be held during the first dawn session, it might be held in the second dawn session at about 3.30 am. If circumstances prevented that, then it could be done in the last dawn session at about 5.00 am.   So, what is the reason they had to get up so early in the morning and hold the ceremony? Why so incredibly early, at 2 or 3am? The reason is so the householders will not come. If you do it during the day time, then it is quite possible that faithful members of the public will come to the place where they are staying and ask for Dharma teachings or make offerings. So doing it early meant the laypeople would come. The reason for not wanting them to come is that during the Sojong, you need to explain your offences within the Sangha.  When they are talking about all the offenses they have committed, then the householder hears them and might think ‘oh they are doing all these various bad acts’ and it is possible that they would lose their faith. So, this should be a private situation, an internal situation. The monastics need to speak up and confess it without hiding anything to the Sangha. However, if the householders hear it there is a risk them losing their faith, they do it when they are not present.  However, there is an exception to this. The exception is that If there are people who are not going to lose faith, when they hear them speak about their offences, but instead feel even more faith, then it is possible for them to come to see the Sojong.

The reason for that is during the time of King Bimbisara, or another king I am not sure, he would sometimes want to come. If the King wants to come you have to let them in, you could not say they could not enter.  At that point, when the King was not allowed inside, the King said:  “we normally hide all of our faults every day, we hide all the faults we do our entire lives, but the monastics are explaining all the offences they have committed in just a fortnight, every fortnight. This is so  amazing that they do that.” So, in their minds, they began to feel more faith. So, if it will increase the faith of members of the public, then it is allowed for them to come and see the Sojong ceremony. Otherwise, Sojong ceremony should be closed to the public.

In any case, I have explained all this according to the Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya tradition.

The gag-ye/pravāraṇa ritual  – ending the retreat

The 17th Karmapa continued the following day (on Day Three) with the ending ritual called the ‘Gag-ye’:

“Now I will speak about the  ‘Gag-ye’/pravāraṇa ritual. According to the Japanese scholar Umada Gyokei, at the completion of the rains retreat and before sangha members set out on their travels, they performed the ritual of ‘pravāraṇa’. As mentioned earlier, the designated confession time was every two weeks during the ‘poṣadha’ (Tib.: ‘sojong’) ritual. . So this is a ritual that the Sangha members would have performed before they went on to the traveling after the rains retreat.

However, according to our Mulavastavarda tradition, it is said that it has to happen over two days and I don’t know whether this is something that is said in other Vinaya tradition. The reason is because during the rains retreat, the monastics were not allowed to speak about each other’s offenses. Every two weeks there was the Sojong, where you talk about your offenses and so forth. During the rains retreat, you’re not allowed to speak about any offenses. As this is prohibited during the rains retreat, then once the rains retreat is completed, then the restriction of not speaking about the offenses is then released and you’re allowed to speak about the offenses after that. 

So, if you’re doing the Gag-yey authentically, then you can confess to all the offenses you have done without hiding any of it from the Sangha. Then, the Sangha would listen to the offenses and depending upon the severity of the offense would determine a punishment for the offense. That basically covers the Gag-yey section.”

 

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