Episodes from the Life of the Buddha 2: The Invitation

Every second week, with the waxing and the waning of the moon Buddhist monks hold the uposatha meeting. If there are enough monks available (4 or more are needed) then we will confess our offenses and the Pātimokkha will be chanted by one of the monks, while we sit together in unison.

Every second week that is, except for the week at the end of the Rains Retreat, which falls at the close of the 3-month period held during the Rainy Season which is today this year.

Then the monks gather, and with their 3-month sojourn together as background, invite criticism for any mistakes they have made, and make criticism or other monks. This is known as the Pavāraṇa, or Invitation.

I remember my first Pavāraṇa, I was a little anxious, and expecting to be criticised as I had left the monastery before the Rains Retreat to go and stay in an isolated kuṭi on a coconut estate. This is allowed under the vinaya rules, as long as you are meditating comfortably and have your teacher’s consent, which I did.

Still I was worried because I had gone to my ordination temple for the ceremony, and I knew some of the other monks didn’t approve and expected to be asked to explain myself. In fact, like many meaningful things in the religion today, it turned out only to be a formality: in all the years I have been ordained I have never seen anything other than the formal invitation, and never once anyone criticised.

The only place I ever even heard of the invitation being properly observed is in Sāsanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary, under the guidance of Bhante Aggacitta. There they do in fact discuss any faults and problems that may have been encountered during the period. I have never attended the invitation there, so I don’t know how it works out in detail, but I do know it can take several hours discussion and the procedure is taken seriously.

Here is a text and translation of the founding of the Invitation as it is recorded in the Pāḷi Vinaya. It is part of a series I am making about episodes in the life of the Buddha and is not published elsewhere yet.


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Living Uncomfortably

At that time the Awakened One, the Gracious One, was dwelling near Sāvatthī, in Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery in Jeta’s Wood.

Then at that time a great many monks, friends and companions, who were living in a certain dwelling in the state of Kosala, undertook the Rains Retreat. Then this occurred to those monks: “By what means can we, harmoniously, joyfully and without disputing, dwell for this Rains Retreat comfortably, and not get tired because of the almsfood?”

Then this occurred to those monks: “If we neither talk nor converse with each other, and if he who returns first from the village with almsfood were to prepare the seat, [1] and were to put out the water for the feet, the footstool, and the cloth for drying the feet, and after washing the rubbish bin were to set it up, and also were to set up the water for drinking and washing.

And he who returns last from the village with almsfood, if he should wish he could partake of whatever is left over, or, if he doesn’t wish to eat, then having thrown it away where there is little grass, or dropped it in water where there are no living-beings, he could remove the seat, and put away the water for the feet, the footstool, and the cloth for drying the feet, and after washing the rubbish bin he could put it away, and also he could put away the water for drinking and washing, and clean the refectory.

And if he who, seeing the water-pot for drinking, or the water-pot for washing, or the water-pot for the lavatory empty and void were to set them up with fresh water, and if this were not possible for him alone, then having called a second monk with a gesture of the hand, with a sign of the hand, he were to set it up, but not because of that would he break into speech, then we could, harmoniously, joyfully and without disputing, dwell for this Rains Retreat comfortably, and not get tired because of the almsfood.”

Then those monks neither talked nor conversed with each other, and he who returned first from the village with almsfood prepared the seat, put out the water for the feet, the footstool, and the cloth for drying the feet, and after washing the rubbish bin set it up, and also set up the water for drinking and washing.

And he who returned last from the village with almsfood, if he wished he partook of whatever was left over, or, if he didn’t wish to eat, then having thrown it away where there is little grass, or dropped it in water where there are no living-beings, he removed the seat, put away the water for the feet, the footstool, and the cloth for drying the feet, and after washing the rubbish bin put it away, and also put away the water for drinking and washing, and cleaned the refectory.

And he who, seeing the water-pot for drinking, or the water-pot for washing, or the water-pot for the lavatory empty and void set them up with fresh water, and if this were not possible for him alone, then having called a second monk with a gesture of the hand, with a sign of the hand, he set it up, but not because of that did he break into speech.

Now it was the custom for monks who had emerged from the Rains Retreat to go to see the Gracious One. Then those monks, having emerged from the Rains Retreat at the end of three months, having set in order the living place, after taking up their bowl and robes departed for Sāvatthī.

Gradually they approached Sāvatthī, and the Gracious One in Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery in Jeta’s Wood, and after approaching and worshipping the Gracious One, they sat down on one side.

Now it is the custom for Awakened Ones, Gracious Ones to greet with appreciation the incoming monks. Then the Gracious One said this to those monks: “Can you bear up, monks? Can you carry on? Did you, harmoniously, joyfully and without disputing, dwell for this Rains Retreat comfortably, and not get tired because of the almsfood?”

“We did bear up, Gracious One, we did carry on, and we, harmoniously, joyfully and without disputing, venerable Sir, did dwell for this Rains Retreat comfortably, and we did not get tired because of the almsfood.”

Knowingly the Realised Ones ask, and knowingly they do not ask; having understood the right time they ask, and having understood the right time they do not ask; the Realised Ones ask about what is beneficial, not about what is unbeneficial; the Realised Ones have broken down the bridge to what is unbeneficial. With two things in mind the Awakened Ones, the Realised Ones question the monks: Thinking: We will teach the Doctrine, or, We will lay down a training rule for the disciples.

Then the Gracious One said this to those monks: “But, monks, in what way did you, harmoniously, joyfully and without disputing, dwell for this Rains Retreat comfortably, and not get tired because of the almsfood?”

“Here we, reverend Sir, a great many monks, friends and companions, who were living in a certain dwelling in the state of Kosala, undertook the Rains Retreat. Then this occurred to us, reverend Sir: ‘By what means can we, harmoniously, joyfully and without disputing, dwell for this Rains Retreat comfortably, and not get tired because of the almsfood?’

Then this occurred to us, reverend Sir: ‘If we neither talk nor converse with each other, and if he who returns first from the village with almsfood were to prepare the seat, and were to put out the water for the feet, the footstool, and the cloth for drying the feet, and after washing the rubbish bin were to set it up, and also were to set up the water for drinking and washing.

And he who returns last from the village with almsfood, if he should wish he could partake of whatever is left over, or, if he doesn’t wish to eat, then having thrown it away where there is little grass, or dropped it in water where there are no living-beings, he could remove the seat, and put away the water for the feet, the footstool, and the cloth for drying the feet, and after washing the rubbish bin he could put it away, and also he could put away the water for drinking and washing, and clean the refectory.

And if he who, seeing the water-pot for drinking, or the water-pot for washing, or the water-pot for the lavatory empty and void were to set them up with fresh water, and if this were not possible for him alone, then having called a second monk with a gesture of the hand, with a sign of the hand, he were to set it up, but not because of that would he break into speech, then we could, harmoniously, joyfully and without disputing, dwell for this Rains Retreat comfortably, and not get tired because of the almsfood.’

Then we, reverend Sir, neither talked nor conversed with each other, and he who returned first from the village with almsfood prepared the seat, put out the water for the feet, the footstool, and the cloth for drying the feet, and after washing the rubbish bin set it up, and also set up the water for drinking and washing.

And he who returned last from the village with almsfood, if he wished he partook of whatever was left over, or, if he didn’t wish to eat, then having thrown it away where there is little grass, or dropped it in water where there are no living-beings, he removed the seat, put away the water for the feet, the footstool, and the cloth for drying the feet, and after washing the rubbish bin put it away, and also put away the water for drinking and washing, and cleaned the refectory.

And he who, seeing the water-pot for drinking, or the water-pot for washing, or the water-pot for the lavatory empty and void set them up with fresh water, and if this were not possible for him alone, then having called a second monk with a gesture of the hand, with a sign of the hand, he set it up, but not because of that did he break into speech. In this way, reverend Sir, did we, harmoniously, joyfully and without disputing, dwell for this Rains Retreat comfortably, and not get tired because of the almsfood.”

Then the Gracious One addressed the monks, saying: “It seems to me, monks, that these foolish people have been living uncomfortably, while agreeing that they have been living comfortably; it seems to me, monks, that these foolish people have been living like animals, while agreeing that they have been living comfortably; it seems to me, monks, that these foolish people have been living like goats, while agreeing that they have been living comfortably; it seems to me, monks, that these foolish people have been living like foes, while agreeing that they have been living comfortably!

How can those foolish persons, monks, take up this dumb practice as the sectarians take it up? This is not, monks, for the clarity of those who are unclear, nor for the development of those who are clear; this is for further unclarity of those who are unclear, and for changing the mind of those who are clear.”

Then the Gracious One, having scolded those monks in many ways, after giving them a talk on Dhamma, addressed the monks saying: “You should not, monks, take up this dumb practice as the sectarians take it up, he who does take it up, has an offense of wrong-doing.

I allow, monks, for the monks who have emerged from the Rains Retreat to invite correction for three reasons: owing to what was seen or heard or suspected. [2] That will be suitable for all of you so that you emerge from offenses, and place the Discipline first.

 




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Notes:

  1. This and what follows are the normal duties that are incumbent on the monks. The only thing different from what is laid down in the Discipline (Vinaya) is that the monks keep silence.
  2. This is the lightest class of offenses in the Discipline, but it still is an offense and must be confessed if broken.

1 comment to Episodes from the Life of the Buddha 2: The Invitation

  • kahchoon

    Dear Bhante

    I think this would be an important series as they would add considerably to the depth of awareness about the episodes in the Buddha’s life. They would, also for me, provide context on the teachings.

    Wth metta

    Kah Choon

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