The Buddhist Pavāraṇā Ceremony
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
The last day of the Rains Retreat (vassa) is known as Pavāraṇā Day or ‘Leaving the Vassa’. It is also known as ‘Saṅgha Day’.
Pavāraṇā means ‘to invite’ and on the following day monks (nuns) who have completed the Retreat invite their fellows to admonish them for any failings. This is usually a positive occasion for the monastic community when they seek to let go of recent shortcomings and start afresh in their practice of the Way.
The three-month long period (vassa) is often used by lay and monastic folk alike to make a variety of determinations: to take up a particular devotional or meditation practice, to challenge or renounce some old habit. In Asia this may even consist of lay folk taking temporary ordination for all or part of this time. The full moon of Pavāraṇā marks the end of this period and is a time of celebration. For those who have maintained a strict practice it means they can relax a bit, having learnt something about their particular problem and not falling back into old habits. The day after Pavāraṇā Day is is also the first day on which the Kaṭhina may be held.
According to the Vinaya account of the institution of the Pavāraṇā ceremony, the monks (nuns), in order to avoid quarrelling during their retreat in the rainy season, had decided to refrain from criticizing each other’s conduct altogether (Mv. IV 1.1-14). However, when at the end of the rainy season they put their solution before the Buddha, the latter objected to it on the ground that they behaved like heretics who maintained the vow of silence. Upon this, the Buddha ordered the institution of the Pavāraṇā. During this ceremony each individual monk invites the other monks of the Saṅgha to tell him what errors he had committed according to them in order that he may make amends. On the basis of the introductory story to the account it is generally believed that the ceremony took place once a year at the end of the rainy season before the monks (nuns) set out on their wanderings again. At the same time, in the Vinaya the Pavāraṇā ceremony is mentioned in one breath with the Uposatha day, the centerpiece of which was the recitation of the Pātimokkhasutta.
Source: Journal of Indian Philosophy 30: 271-289, 2002 and Re:Online