Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

3
From Wandering to Settled Life

'BEHOLD ye, how the clouds congregate in the sky and torrents of rain oppress the earth with their fury': thus a Seer (Ṛṣi) of the Vedic age describes what is a familiar climatic phenomenon of India, the annual cloud-burst of monsoon.1

It ushers in the rainy season over the country. 'The random breezes die, at great altitude a haze covers the sky, and upon tensely expectant people and dessicated plants, the monsoon breaks.'2

The countryside gets flooded; the rivers swell and pulsate to the beat of the rain; shrunk streams become unfordable; cross-country tracks are washed away and effaced. This seasonal rainfall occurs round the middle of June, but in some years it is nearly a month late in starting. The season lasts roughly for a period of three months.

Those who were wanderers by their calling had to reckon with the monsoon conditions which made inevitable an annual break in their wanderings. So it became customary for all sects of the wanderers' community to suspend wandering and seek shelter for the season, and the custom was already very old--it had even gained from antiquity the character of a ceremonial observance in the community--when Prince Gotama forsook the world and joined it.

The rule that a wanderer must suspend wandering and remain in retreat during the season of rains occurs among the canonical regulations of different sects: the Buddhists call it Vassa, the Jainas Pajjusaṇa, and the Brāhmaṇical Sannyāsins are enjoined to be 'of fixed residence' (Dhruvaśīla) during the time.3 This 'rain-retreat' seems to have been a universal customary observance among wanderers of all sects.

The first step in the individuation of the Bhikkhu-saṅgha, differentiating it in character from other sects in the community, was taken when the general custom was specialized by the Buddhists. The Jaina and Brāhmaṇical wanderers had no regulations prescribing 'living together' during rain-retreat. In the Brāhmaṇical texts, it is

____________________
1
Atharva-veda, IV, 153.
2
Taken from Hart New India's Rivers ( Bombay. Orient Longmans, 1956), p. 8.
3
The texts are: Āruṇeyopaniṣad, 3--Varṣāsu dhruvaśīlo' aṣṭou mārsānekākī yatiś- caret dvāveva vā caret (see The Samnyāsa Upanishads, p. 13); Kaṭharudropaniṣad, 1 commentary)--caturo māasān vārṣikān grāme vā nagare vāpi vaset (see Ibid. p. 18); Nārada-parivrājakopaniṣad 3--Ekavāsa avāso vā . . . ekadṛṣtir' alolupaḥ: eka eva carennityaḿ varṣsyekatra saḿvaset (see Ibid, p. 66) and passim.

-53-

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