Story of the Rain Retreat — Dharma Talk on 2024.05.26

Story of the Rain Retreat
Dharma Talk on 2024.05.26
By Thay Phap Kham, the Director or AIAB

Plum Village Hong Kong / Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism started the annual Rain Retreat on May 26, 2024.  There were around 100 friends joined the Day of Mindfulness.  The Director of Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism shared the story of Rain Retreat before the Face-To-Face Ceremony.  Hereunder is the edited Dharma Talk.

… Three months after the Buddha enlightenment, he gave his first dharma talk in the Deer Park.

Before that, he met five ascetics monks who practiced austerities to solidify their practices which they had to go through fasting and enter heaven after died. By that time, they will enlighten. The Buddha, Siddhartha, practiced this for six months but he gave up. He thought that to abuse the body it is not appropriate. He went to Bodhgaya, to practice sitting meditation mindful breathing and other mindful practices, and found the way out.

After Siddhartha was enlightened, he went to Deer Park. He met five friends who practiced austerities. The friends were not happy because when they saw the Buddha, they thought that the Buddha abandoned them. He abandoned the way halfway. But the Buddha He said: “no, I never abandon you. I found out a new way, a new path to practice to be enlightened.”

The Buddha gave the teachings of the Four Noble Truth and the Noble Eightfold Path, which are the foundation of the Buddhist teachings, including the practice of Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration and Right Insight which are the three pillars of Buddhist teachings. Whatever traditions of Buddhism, we already rely on the Four Noble Truth, Noble Eightfold Path, and the Three pillars of practice – Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration and Right Insight.  His five friends became his disciples.

About a week later, there was a young man named Yasa. He was the son of most reputable and rich merchants in Varanasit. He was walking around. The son was frustrated with his life because he had everything, but he was not happy. He wanted to find the way out. When he met the Buddha, the Buddha gave him the teaching. He becomes the 6th student of the Buddha.

Yasa’s parents, went around and looking for him. They found that he already ordained. Parents invited the Buddha and six monks to their home. This is where the Buddha gave the teaching of Five Mindfulness Trainings, the Five Precepts. Yasa’s parents become the first lay disciples of the Buddha. After that, Yasa’s friends, 60 of them become the Buddha disciples. All of them were from very wealthy families and educated. For the first year after enlightened, Buddha already had 66 students.

The Buddha stayed in Deer Park, and had the first rain retreat with his 66 students.

He spent three months in Deer Park and taught the practices to the new monks. After that, the Buddha said, “we have a duty to spread the teachings. Every year, we have to go back here to have an annual Rain Retreat. But after that, we will go out. None of us will go the same direction. I will go this way, you go this way, you go this way. Why? Because we have to spread the Dharma in every direction.” That is the Bodhisattvas’ ideal. The idea of Bodhisattvas was already existed in the original sangha.

After that, Buddha went back to Bodhgaya to visit the children who had supported him, Svdsti , Sujata and Nandabala and others. There he met Kassapa who was a brahman and had 1,000 disciples. They practiced the worshipping fire. After being with Buddha and learnt from the Buddha, the Buddha converted them into Buddhist. Kassapa and his 1,000 disciples became Buddha’s students.

The Buddha planned to visit King Binbisara as he promised to visit him. Gaya was too small which was difficult to support 1,000 persons. The 1,000 disciples asked to go with the Buddha. The Buddha agreed. They divided into 36 groups with 25 persons each and walked together. Over there, the King Binbisara greeted the Buddha and offered the Buddha a placed called Bamboo Forest . You know, we have the Bamboo Forest Monastery here, Brothers’ dormitory. The Buddha accepted King Binbisara’s offer by pouring clear water into Buddha’s hands . At that time, the offer was made.  So when our friend, our lay supporter here, Dr Charles Yeung and the Board of directors of the Lotus Pond Temple, invited us to be here and practice, they also poured clear water into Thay’s hand, inviting Thay and the sangha to stay here to practice. That is the start of the Lotus Pond Temple and the Bamboo Forest Monastery. They had the connection at the time of King Binbisara offered to the Buddha.

After that, there were two elder students, Shariputra and Moggallana. They belonged to different schools. They saw the monk, Assaji walked very joyfully, peacefully. They asked “who is your teacher? Why you are so joyful, walk peaceful, like walking mediation? What did he teach?” Assaji replied, “the Buddha says: it is like that because that is like that.” The Buddha actually taught the idea of interdependent. Immediately Shariputra and Moggallana were aware that Buddha was the teacher they were waiting for. They became the Buddha’s students. There were 250 parivrajake brothers of Shariputra and Moggallana, they also became Budhha’s students.

In the second year, the Buddha had 1,250 students. Plus 66, it was about 1,300 students at that time already. That‘s why in the sutra, it is always said that when the Buddha gave a talk, there was assembly of  1,250 monks. That is the 1,250 monks coming from.

The bamboo forest, it was the place where all the procedures and practices of rain retreat were established in the second year.

There were big number of monks. The monks would not go around for alms because that would cause a lot of destructions. Thus, the lay sangha would offer food at the monastery. While the monks are practicing, the lay friends will help to gather food and necessities. The Buddha accepted the lay to practice. Here, we also opened up the Sunday practice for lay people, same as the past. Because the lay friend helped with the supports of food and necessities, so we now offer back to the lay sangha.  Here, we open the Sunday Day of Mindfulness, that is what we are doing now, right?

At that time, there were no nuns yet. There already had the three fold sangha, bhikkhu and lay male (upasaka) and lay female (upasika). The four fold sangha developed five years after the Buddha enlightened.

When the sangha practiced together, the lay sangha followed the monastic sangha, the monastic sangha supported the lay sangha. We walked in harmony. Whatever the Buddha taught to the monks, the lay sangha also benefited. With that, they had the three months practice every year. We call it Rain Retreat. It is because in India, the months of summer mostly rain. When the monks avoid stepping on worms and insects which were washed up during the rainy season, they wanted to avoid killing the innocence, the worms and insects.  This is the tradition of many other spiritual practices. We call it rain retreat because it happens mostly in the rain season. In Vietnam and East Asia, rain season happens mostly in summer. So it is called Summer Retreat.  But basically, we called it Rain Retreat.  In Plum Village France, the rain reason happens in the winter, we called it winter rain retreat. The rain retreat, we refer to the monastic practice every year.

Today we have the ceremony to carry out the traditions from 2,500 years. The monks and nuns and lay friends here are the continuation of the monks and nuns during the Buddha times, and also the lay sangha during the Buddha time. This tradition have been going on 2,500 years, it never stopped. In one country, may be with some reasons there is no Rain Retreat, but in the other countries it will continue. This tradition has never been stopped.

During this rain retreat, we will have a chance to listen to what the Buddha taught in the Rain Retreat, the “Heart of the Buddha Teachings”. We will learn about the Four Noble Truths the Noble Eightfold Paths. The four establishments of Mindfulness, the Mindfulness of breathing. All the things the Buddha taught in the first year in the rain retreat will be shared in this Rain Retreat. You are invited to come to the weekly DOM, like in the Buddha time, practicing with the Monks and Nuns, sharing the food and practices that the Buddha passed down, the sangha passed down 2500 years ago.

With that background, you are all invited to participate in the Face–to-Face ceremony where the monks and nuns will take refuge in each other. The lay friends will practice to take refuge to the monks and nuns in the next three months.

Brothers took refugee to Thay Phap Kham, after Thay Phap Kham took refugee to the Brothers. 

Sisters took refugee to Sister Trang Nghiem, after Sr Trang Nghiem took refugee to the Sisters.

The lay family. Vietnamese friends take refugee to Thay Phap Chung while Hong Kong friends take refugee to Sr Trang Pho Da.

After the ceremony, we have a group picture to celebrate the happy moment.

From interdependent origins
All things arise
And all things pass away
So teaches the Perfectly Enlightenment One.

Referred to Chapter 29 of “Old Path White Clouds” Thich Nhat Hanh

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