The significance of Kathina robe offering ceremony
The significance of Kathina robe offering ceremony is based on the fulfilment of three months Rainy Residential Retreat observed by monks. This is the ceremony purely connected with monastic conduct enjoyed by monks supported by devotees.
The Kathina Ceremony is one of the most significant Buddhist festivals which falls once in a year celebrated in every Buddhist monastery. This is very special ceremony and rare occasion to accumulate more merits for both monks and the devotees. The “Kathina Robe Offering Ceremony” takes place once in a year after the completion of three months “Residential Rainy Retreat” of monks begins on the Full Moon Day of July to Full Moon Day of October based on the “Disciplinary Acts.” At this robe offering ceremonial occasion, the Buddhists all over the world enjoy the ceremony in every monastery with cultural entertainments and making various meritorious acts with offering robes for the Sangha.
It was mentioned in the Nagita Apadana, the Kathina dana (offering) is the highest meritorious deed among the act of wholesome deeds in the realm of Sensual world (Kamavacara Kusalakamma). The advantage and results of merits accumulated by offering of Kathina robe, the Venerable Nagitha Thera had declared that he had enjoyed heavenly pleasures for more than 100 times borne as a sakra or the king of the heaven and being borne more than 1000 times as universal king (Cakkavati Raja in Pali and Cakravarti in Sanskrit) as a result of offering one Kathina robe. According to him he has not suffered in the hell or other unfortunate planes till he attained Arahantship (the highest spiritual achievement of perfection after the eradication of greed, hatred and delusion) after the great wholesome and meritorious deed.
Ven. Nagita Thera, further explained the advantage and results of merits accumulated by offering of Kathina robe, by answering to the question asked by the Buddha how he was so luckiest one with the lot of merits among the monks and all the human beings.
Here I prefer to give only the meaning of three stanzas answered by Ven. Nagita to the Buddha in Pali quoted from the “Kathinanisansa Katha” (the story about the result of Kathina) of the Nagita Apadana: Ven. Nagita pointed out: “I have never experienced in the lower realms in the period of thirty aeons with the advantage and result of offering the Kathina robe to the Noble Community of monks.” “Each and every place of my birth alone with all the worldly luxurious material gained I became a very noble superior person with the result and merits of offering Kathina robe to the Noble Community of monks.” He further pointed out that “I have never known in any lower realms excepts being born only to the human and heavenly world with the results and merits of offering the Kathina robe to the Noble Community of monks.”
Preparation for the Kathina ceremony starts from the day of invitation to the monks for the rainy residential retreat. During the Buddha’s time Buddhist monks did not want to attach to a permanent dwelling place or a particular group of people. So they enjoyed mendicant life wandering from place to place. In following such life there was a particularly practical obstacle. The period of monsoon rain in north India begins about mid July and lasts for three to four months. Thus during this period the monks were exposed with the weather and experience serious illness. The Buddha recognising these reasons asked his disciples to remain for three months at a particular place and thus began the practice of vassavasa which literally means the rainy residence. Based on the commentary, the practice of three months rainy retreat for monks came to exist into Buddhist monastic life especially criticised by the Jaina followers saying that the Buddhist monks travelling place to place walking round on the muddy, grassy and paddy areas stepping on just newly sprout plants and crops and harming and disturbing newly born creatures on earth. This was a biggest concerned to people as the Jaina monks and many other mendicants already observed a retreat during rainy season without traveling. Hearing this practical criticism, the Buddha laid down the discipline especially for monks to observe three months residential rainy retreat to prevent harming any creatures and newly plants that spring out of the ground. During this period of three months, the monks also determine to fulfill the three stages of training, such as learning the Dhamma, practicing disciplines and developing insight meditation and gaining highest wisdom.
As the mater of fact for monks to stay in one place during the rainy season, the faithful devotees began to build monasteries and invited the monks to dwell in their monasteries in the hope of doing many meritorious and religious activities by offering meals for monks, observing precepts, listening to regular Dhamma sermon, and practising meditation and so forth.
The observation of the vassavasa retreat was brought great benefit to both monks and laymen. This retreat also has important and valuable consequences for the practice of Buddhist devotions and for the spiritual development to the monks and devotees as well. During the vassana period generally the monks spend their time either in meditation and study or teaching or instructing the laity on various aspects of the Buddha Dhamma and encourage their lay disciples to practice the doctrine. In this way the lay people accumulate lot of merits by inviting monks for rainy retreats at monasteries and providing monks for their basic necessities of food, robes medicine and dwelling places during the rainy season.
Establishment of permanent resident or aramas (dwellings) for monks started as a result of the ideal friendship maintained in between monks and lay followers during the rainy retreat. Later on these monasteries became great centres of learning and propagation of the Buddha Dhamma.
The month followed by the end of the vassana season is known as the civara masa in Sinhala language which literally means the month of offering the kathina robe. The “Kathina” simply means difficult, grave, profound, pure or stable.
According to the Vinaya rules, the offering is done in the first instance by the lay followers who bring the cloth to the vihara and then offered to the Sangha. After preparing the robe in a proper way, the Maha Sangha then gather in a specific place call “sima” or chapter house according to the code of discipline and decide to hand over it to the monk who has completed the vassa retreat successfully at that particular vihara. In this way there are two stages of process of offering; first to the sangha by lay followers, and then the Sangha offers the robe to the monk who successfully observed the rainy-retreat. In this manner, both the monks and lay followers can accumulate lot of merits out of this kathina robe offering ceremony.
All the gifts offered by the devotees on the day of kathina celebration valid meritoriously same as the offering of kathina robe. It is said even if you offer a tread or a needle or even one penny to the Sangha today, you are able to possess as much merit as you offer the kathina robe.
In brief, Kathia ceremony is the most significant and profitable wholesome deed which we can participate once in a year. It is connected to a number of Buddhist performances; such as, invitation to the monks to observe vassa retreat for three months in a Vihara, maintaining a vihara or dwelling place and attending regular religious programme of the monastery, providing basic necessities and look after the monks for three months and finally offering the Kathina robe at the end of the vassa retreat.
Fulfilling these procedures we are possessing enormous and powerful wholesome thoughts, from which we gain all the blessings in this life, future lives and finally attained the highest goal of Nibbana.