Many Buddhists around the world will observe this important ceremony once a year after the Vassa or ‘Rain Retreat’ is over. The sharing of this Buddhist practice is useful for lay Buddhist to understand the significance of this event.
This Dhamma sermon with regards to Kathina offering was originally delivered by Sayadaw U Pannathami. May you also share the joy in conducting this auspicious merit in Kathina robes offering.
‘The Gift of Truth Excels All Gifts’
Today all devotees are performing the Kathina ceremony. All of you have just offered the Kathina robe to the sangha who have finished their vassa in this vihara. Here, I would like to briefly explain to you what is the meaning of Kathina.
The meaning of Kathina is firmness or stability. Because of the celebration of Kathina monks can get 5 privileges for a certain period. Monks are allowed to celebrate a Kathina ceremony within one month of completing their vassa.
The robe which is offered by the devotees is called the Kathina robe. The monks should not hint either directly or indirectly that people should offer the Kathina robe; it must be offered through the devotees’ natural desire to support the Sangha. The Kathina robe must be “fresh” according to the Buddha’s teaching. That is to say, after accepting the Kathina robe, the monks must perform the Kathina robe ceremony at the Sima Hall on the same day. According to the Vinaya rules (monastery rules), if it is performed the next day, it is a “stale” robe. A “stale” robe is not allowed for the Kathina. The robe must be intended for the Sangha, not for an individual.
I have just recited “IMAN CIVARAM KATHINATTHAYA SANGHASSA DEMA” in order to perform the Kathina ceremony according to the Vinaya rules. The meaning is “We offer the robe for the Kathina ceremony to the Sangha”; which refers to the monks who have just completed their vassa in this Vihara.
During the time of the Buddha, monks used to sew and dye their own robes because at that time devotees simply offered cloth to the Sangha. Nowadays, the monks sneed not swe and dye the robes themselves because the devotees offer the finished robe.
Here, we should understand why the Buddha allowed the Sangha to perform a Kathina ceremony. While the Buddha was staying at Savatthi, at the Jetavana monastery, in Anathapindika’s Park, a group of 30 monks, who practised Dhutanga (austerities) to shake off their defilements, went to pay respect to the Buddha. But they could not reach Savatthi in time. So they remained at Saketa city on the way to Savatthi for their vassa. Because they were obliged to spend their vassa away from the Buddha they were not joyful. Their thoughts were on their separation from the Buddha. Immediately after finishing the vassa they left for Savatthi but it was raining heavily during the journey. Since they were Dhutanga monks they had only their three robes and bowl; they didn’t have any umbrella like present day monks so they were exhausted with caring for their requisites whey they eventually arrived at Savatthi to pay their respects to the Buddha.
The Buddha greeted them and asked about their journey. After hearing about their difficulties the Buddha decided it would be good to allow the Kathina for such monks who used only three robes so that they need not take any double robes when they travelled. Former Buddhas, too, had allowed the Kathina. The Buddha said: “Monks, I allow monks who have completed their vassa in a certain place to perform a Kathina ceremony.”
This is the Agenda for the Kathina Ceremony:
1. Acceptance of the Kathina robe from the devotees.
2. Selection of a monk who should perform the Kathina ceremony.
3. The giving of the Kathina robe to the selected monk in the Sima Hall by the Sangha.
4. Discarding, by the selected monk, of his old robe after accepting the Kathina robe.
5. Putting a small mark (Kappa Bandhu) on the corner of the new robe.
6. Determining the Kathina robe by an adhitthana (determination).
7. Performance of the Kathina ceremony with the new robe.
8. Expression of their consent and approval by all monks in the Sima Hall.
The monks who have performed the Kathina ceremony and expressed their consent can get 5 privileges:
1. Anamantacara – which means he can go anywhere without asking for permission. A monk who has performed the Kathina ceremony can go to the town or village, or to the house Dana without asking permission from the monks. Because of taking part in the Kathina he is released from this obligation for 5 months.
2. Asamadanacara means that he can keep a set of robes – an inner robe, an outer robe and one double robe – anywhere that he wishes.
Let me explain how monks use their robes. They can determine in one of the two ways:
i. The first way is to determine them just as miscellaneous requisites (Parikkhara-cola). He just uses the robes as clothing without giving them specific names.
ii. The second way is to specifically determine the three robes (Adhitthanacivara).
If a monk wants to use the robes as Adhitthanacivara he must be more mindful. But even though he uses the robes as Adhitthanacivara he can use extra robes if he wants. But it is different for a Dhutanga monk. A monk who practices Dhutanga must only use 3 robes. He cannot keep any others and wherever he goes he takes the 3 robes.
A monk who uses Adhitthanacivara has to keep his 3 robes, including his double robe, within his reach at dawn. If he is separated from his robe at dawn he offends the Vinaya rules. But if he has performed the Kathina ceremony, he can leave one robe anywhere he likes since he has the Kathina privileges and can go freely wherever he likes for 5 months after the ceremony without taking the double robe with him.
3. The third privilege is Ganabhojana which means he can take a meal in a group of four or more monks even though they have been invited in unsuitable terms. Unsuitable terms means that the kind of food to be offered is specifically mentioned.
According to the Vinaya rules, a group of four or more monks must not take a meal together unless they are invited in suitable terms. The Omniscient Buddha laid down this rule as a consequence of Devadatta’s unseemly behaviour.
Devadatta had attained Abhinna (supernormal knowledge) and because of that he used to receive a lot of requisites. But after he had committed many offences against the Buddha and encouraged Ajatasattu to kill his father, he lost all his powers. The people lost their respect for him and even complained to King Ajatasattu who supported Devadatta. As a result, King Ajatasattu withdrew his support and Devadatta and his followers, unable to get any food, asked for food from one house to another and ate together. When the Buddha was told about this he laid down the rule that eating in a group of four or more monks is Pacittiya offence.
But the monk who has performed the Kathina ceremony can take a meal together in a group of four or more monks, even if they have been invited in unsuitable terms, during a period of 5 months after the Kathina.
4. The fourth privilege is Yavadattacivara which means he can keep the robes for the 5-month period without Addhitthana (determination) or Vikappana (assignment). According to the Vinaya rules if a monk has received any cloth or robes he would have to declare either Adhitthana or Vikappana within a period of 10 days in order to use them respectfully. Here, Adhitthana means determination and Vikappana means assignment. The robes which are determined for his own use are called Adhitthanacivara. Extra robes which he does not acknowledge as his own but assigns to other monks who should live at the same place, are called Vikappanacivara. If he does not determine or assign them within 10 days he will have to give them up and confess his Nissaggiya Pacittiya offence to other monks.
At the time of the Buddha, monks were carrying heavy packs of robes, others were putting them on their heads, others were carrying them on their hips. When the Buddha saw them he thought it was improper for a monk to try to keep too many robes. It would be better to set a limit for the number of robes. Then the Buddha carried out a test to see how many robes should be sufficient for a monk. While he was residing at Vesali during a bitterly cold winter he sat at night with only one upper robe. In the middle of the night he felt cold so he used another robe, then another until, by the end of the night he was wearing four robes. He realised that these four robes should be enough for a monk. So now, monks use an inner robe, an outer robe and a double robe. The Buddha told the monks that it was awkward for a monk to carry and care for too many robes and that he had tested the robes. Then he made a rule allowing the monk to use 3 robes.
One day, Venerable Ananda received an extra set of robes and wanted to offer it to Venerable Sariputta who, at that time, was away in Saketa for nine or ten days. Ananda asked the Buddha what he should do. So the Buddha amended the rule in order that a monk who received an extra robe could keep it for 10 days without determination or assignment. But if the monk has performed the Kathina ceremony he can keep extra robes for a period of 5 months without making a determination or assignment.
5. The last privilege is Yocattha Civaruppada which means that robes or other requisites offered by devotees can be shared among the monks who have completed their vassa in the same place. But a monk who has broken his vassa or did not express his consent during the Kathina ceremony in the Sima Hall should not share the requisites.
According to the Vinaya rules, if the devotees offer requisites to the Sangha in a certain place the monks will have to share them without discriminating between resident and visiting monks. If there is not enough for all they must be distributed by drawing lots or the Sangha should agree to whom the requisites should be given. But the monks who have performed the Kathina ceremony and expressed their consent may share the requisites among themselves during the period of 5 months and are not obliged to share them with others.
Only the performance of the Kathina ceremony can release monks from some of the rules. After the Buddha laid down the Vinaya rules no one could revoke or add to them, and apart from the Kathina no other Dana could release monks from the Vinaya rules. Let me say, even though you offer a magnificent Vihara it cannot release the monks from their Vinaya obligations, therefore this Kathina Dana is more excellent than other Danas.
The donors of the Kathina robes can also get five results like the Sangha. In the Abhidhamma it says “Janeti sadisam pakam patisandhippavattiyam” which means “This giving produces similar results at rebirth and during one’s lifetime.” The donors who offer Kathina robes can:
1. Go anywhere without danger.
2. Whatever they eat they are in no danger from their meals.
3. Their property cannot be destroyed by fire, water, wicked kings, thieves and bad sons and daughters.
4. They can get many clothes, and
5. They can own many other possessions.
But I would also like to remind you that if while offering Kathina robes you feel happy then, since you have practised Vipassana meditation, you should be aware of the feeling of happiness. And if your practice is keen enough and sufficiently developed you will realise how mind and its objects are arising and passing away. If you understand the reality of anicca and you will also understand dukkha and anatta. In this way you can attain nibbanic peace.
May all the donors of the Kathina robes and devotees be well and happy, may they attain nibbanic peace.
Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.