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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


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.



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.


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.


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.


Burmese Buddhist Temple in Singapore www.bbt.org.sg/wasomessage.htm
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Waso (Buddhist Rains Retreat)

June-July to September-October; full moon of Buddhist month of Waso to full moon of Buddhist month of Thadingyut
Waso is a three-month period when monks remain in monasteries to study and meditate. At other times of the year, monks wander the countryside, but this is the time of monsoons in Southeast Asia, and the Buddha chose this period for retreat and prayer so they wouldn't walk across fields and damage young rice plants. However, even in China, Japan, and Korea—countries that don't have monsoons—the Waso is observed. It is also known as the Buddhist Lent . In Cambodia and India it is called Vassa or Vossa . In Burma (now Myanmar) and Thailand it is called Phansa, Waso, Wasa, or Wazo Full Moon Day ; and in Laos, Vatsa.
The months are considered a time of restraint and abstinence. Weddings are not celebrated, and people try to avoid moving to new homes. Many young men enter the priesthood just for the retreat period, and therefore many ordinations take place. The new young monks have their heads shaved and washed with saffron, and they are given yellow robes. Many lay people attend the monasteries for instruction.
The day just prior to the retreat commemorates the Buddha's first sermon to his five disciples, 49 days after his enlightenment.
In Thailand, the start of the retreat, called Khao Phansa, is observed in the northeastern city of Ubon Ratchathani with the Candle Festival, in which beeswax candles carved in the shapes of birds and other figures, several yards high, are paraded and then presented to the temples. In many places, a beeswax candle is lit at the beginning of Waso and kept burning throughout the period. In Saraburi, people offer flowers and incense to monks who walk to the hilltop Shrine of the Holy Footprint where they present the offerings as tribute ( see also Phra Buddha Bat Fair ). It is traditional everywhere for people to bring food and other necessities to the monasteries.
The end of this period, called Ok-Barnsa, or Full Moon Day of Thadingyut, is a time of thanksgiving to the monks, and also, according to legend, the time when the Buddha returned to earth after visiting his mother in heaven and preaching to her for three months. During the month of celebration (known as Kathin ), lay people present monks with new robes and other items for the coming year.
Boat races are held on the rivers in Laos at Vientiane, Luang Phabang and Savannakhet, and in Thailand at numerous places. A special ceremony takes place in Bangkok when elaborate golden royal barges, rowed by oarsmen in scarlet, proceed to Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), where the king presents robes to the monks.
At Sakon Nakhon in northeastern Thailand, people build temples and shrines from beeswax and parade them through the streets to present them at temples. After the presentations, there are regattas and general festivities.
In Myanmar, a Festival of Lights called the Tassaung Daing or Tazaungdaing Festival is held at this time, when the moon is full. Homes are lit with paper lanterns, and all-night performances are staged by dancers, comedians, and musicians. A major event of the festival is an all-night weaving contest at the Shwe Dagon pagoda in Rangoon (officially called Yangon); young unmarried women spend the night weaving robes, and at dawn they are offered to images of the Buddha at the pagoda. Similar weaving competitions are held throughout the country.
See also Thadingyut
Tourism Authority of Thailand
0611 N. Larchmont Blvd., 1st Fl.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
800-842-4526 or 323-461-9814; fax: 323-461-9834
BkHolWrld-1986, Jul 23, Sep 22, Oct 20, Oct 29
EncyRel-1987, vol. 2, p. 551
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 412
HolSymbols-2009, p. 1033
RelHolCal-2004, p. 220
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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