Vatsa

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Waso (Buddhist Rains Retreat, Buddhist Lent, Vatsa, Vossa)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Buddhist)
Date of Observation: Mid-July through mid-October
Where Celebrated: Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand
Symbols and Customs: Candles, Dhamma-cakkappavattana-sutta, Travel Restrictions
Related Holidays: Tod Kathin

ORIGINS

Waso is part of the religious tradition of Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Waso

Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

Waso, the three-month period known as the Buddhist Lent or Buddhist Rains Retreat, is observed in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries from the full moon day of the lunar month of Waso through the full moon day of Thadingyut, which roughly corresponds to the monsoon season from mid-July through mid-October every year. In Cambodia it is known as Vossa, and in Laos it is called Vatsa. The Buddhist Lent is also observed in countries that do not have a rainy season, including China, Japan, and Korea.

The first and last days of this Lenten period are the most important. The full moon day of Waso is the day on which the Buddha is believed to have been conceived in his mother's womb. Born as Prince Siddhartha Gautama, he was twenty-nine years old when he saw the suffering around him and decided to renounce the privileged world into which he had been born to become a wandering ascetic. Leaving his wife and son behind, he made what is referred to as his "Great Renunciation" on the full moon day of Waso. Then, after attaining the state of bliss known as Enlightenment in 528 B . C . E ., he preached his first sermon (see DHAMMA CAKKAPPAVATTANA SUTTA ) to five companions on the full moon day of Waso. This day, therefore, not only inaugurates the Buddhist Lent but commemorates the Buddha's conception, Great Renunciation, and first sermon as an enlightened being. It is observed by bringing gifts, food, and other offerings to Buddhist monks in the monasteries to which they will be confined for the next three months. The gifts that people may bring are usually restricted to the "Eight Requisites" that Buddha permitted a monk to own: robes, a belt, a bowl for begging, a razor, a sewing needle, a water strainer, a toothpick, and a staff.

Although the Lenten period primarily affects Buddhist monks living in monasteries, Buddhist laypeople are expected to be more restrained and spiritual during these three months, avoiding such acts as getting married or moving to a new house. Because it is a popular time for young men to enter the priesthood, ordinations are common. Monks, who are subjected to TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS during the rainy season, usually spend their time in the monastery praying and meditating, conserving their "spiritual energy" for when they are again allowed to resume their travels. The Lenten period concludes with a joyful celebration of the rainy season's end in the form of a Festival of Lights-a period of up to three days during which Buddhists illuminate their homes and temples with candles and colored lamps or lanterns.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Candles

Candles play an important role in the observation of Waso. A large candle is often lit on the first day of the Buddhist Lent amidst much ceremony and then kept alight for the entire three-month period. In rural areas of Cambodia, for example, one of the villagers usually makes the Lenten candle and then it is carried in procession, often via boat, to the local monastery, where it is presented to the assembled monks along with other gifts and offerings. In Thailand, there is a candle festival at which beeswax candles many feet high, carved in the shape of birds and other figures, are carried through the streets in procession before being brought to the temple or monastery.

Dhamma-cakkappavattana-sutta

The Buddha's first sermon after achieving Enlightenment is known as the Dhamma-cakkappavattana-sutta, which means "the setting in motion of the Wheel of the Dhamma"-the Dhamma (or Dharma) being the Buddha's teachings or doctrine. The symbol of the many-spoked wheel, which is often associated with Buddhism, originally stood for the Buddha's proclamation of this doctrine during his first sermon, which took place, according to Buddhist belief, on the full moon day of Waso near the sacred city of Benares (now Varanasi) in India. In this sermon he explained the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, his basic message being that the root of all suffering is desire or attachment to earthly things-a state that can best be alleviated by following what is known as The Middle Way, which guides the believer along a path somewhere between complete self-indulgence and complete self-denial. The full moon day of Waso is often referred to as Dhamma-cakka Day, and Buddhists often recite passages from Buddha's sermon during the period between sunset and moonrise, which is believed to be the time of day when Buddha delivered the Dhamma-cakkappavattana-sutta.

Travel Restrictions

Buddhist monks are confined to the monasteries during the three-month Buddhist Lent for a very specific reason. When Buddha originally told his monks to go forth and spread his teachings throughout the world, they did so regardless of the weather. This meant that during the rainy season, they often ended up tramping through fields and forests, unwittingly hurting farmers' crops and killing insects and small animals they could not see in muddy or flooded areas. When the BudWaso

dha heard complaints about this, he decided to restrict the monks' travel during the three-month monsoon season. Today, the monks are allowed to travel short distances if they absolutely have to, but they are expected to return to the monastery at night to sleep.

FURTHER READING

Bechert, Heinz, and Richard Gombrich. The World of Buddhism. New York: Facts on File, 1984. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Bowker, John, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.

WEB SITE

Burmese Buddhist Temple in Singapore www.bbt.org.sg/wasomessage.htm

Vatsa (Ho Khao Slak)

June-July to October-November; full moon of Asadha to the full moon of Karttika
Vatsa, also known as Ho Khao Slak, is the Laotian observance of Waso or the Buddhist Rains Retreat. It begins later in the year than the traditional season observed in many other Buddhist communities, and the customs associated with it are also slightly different in Laos. But it is still a three- or four-month period when Buddhist monks must stay in one place in retreat rather than remain on the move.
People draw the name of a monk in the local monastery and bring him a gift of food, flowers, or one of the eight essential items that Buddhist monks are permitted to own (a robe, an alms bowl, a belt, a razor, a needle, a filter with which to strain water, a staff, and a toothpick). Parents often give toys and candy to their children as well. At the end of the festival, boat races are held on the rivers at Vientiane, Luang Phabang, and Savannakhet.
SOURCES:
RelHolCal-2004, p. 221
WrldBuddhism-1984, p. 57
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