Purpose of vassa rain retreat

Hi all,

I’m wondering what is the purpose of not allowing monks going out/travel during rainy season? Is it true to minimize the killing of small creature i.e. insects that may come out during rainy season as stated on Wikipedia:

The Vassa tradition predates the time of Gautama Buddha.[1] It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in India not to travel during the rainy season as they may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even themselves during their travels. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vassa)

If that is the case than I think there is benefit too of not taking shower for example, of course for the same purpose, unintentionally killing small creatures. Any thought will be appreciated, thanks.

The motivation for the rule was a slew of social criticism, not the first precept, which I’ve always found interesting. The first year(s) of the Sangha didn’t involve it; the Buddha didn’t think touring in the Rains was a problem in and of itself.



Yes actually this is the Jain perspective and practice. Unlike Buddhism, Jains contend that unintentional killing is of karmic significance, whereas in Buddhism, it is only a dukkata (minor offence), for example, to kill a baby that was lying on a chair by sitting on that chair unawares of the presence of the poor child!! And the dukkata here is not even for killing the baby, but for sitting without checking whether the chair was already occupied LOL!

But since Jainism is much older than Buddhism, Indian society came to take certain Jain mendicant/ascetic qualities as the expected norm. The Buddha’s only reason to adopt these standards seem to had been to accommodate social expectations. This applies to vassa and a number of other similar rules, such as not digging soil or harming plants, plus precisely what you mention, taking a shower or pouring water which one knows contains living creatures. But note that these rules are only for monastics, and except for vassa, they are rarely followed today by most monastics, I believe.

However, in the suttapitaka there are numerous instances where the Buddha speaks positively and affirmatively about being sensitive to the safety of gentle and dainty creatures (not including plants though), and in the vinaya as well, for example he prohibits the use of mud bricks for monastic building, out of compassion for the creatures living in the mud, and the story here does not show social pressures or expectations if i remember correctly. So the intention of the Buddha regarding this issue has been a matter of debate for quite a long time.

Meanwhile two things are sure: The Buddha never cautioned against unintentional killing, and the Jains view us as brutes! :stuck_out_tongue:


But I think the use of mud bricks for monastic building involves no intentional killing, then why Buddha cautioned against unintentional killing?

Do you know where the Buddha talked about the vassa and taking a shower?

:flushed: ???!

It wasn’t specifically about taking a shower but “pouring water” for any purpose. Check the “paccittiya” of the “bhikkhu vibangha”.

Living, in general, including breathing, standing, eating all includes unintentionally killing small animals. It’s not possible to ‘legislate’ for everything. If extreme non-violence is your cup of tea, best to attain Nibbana soon as possible and stop the killing. The Jain approach was to commit religious suicide, I believe.

With metta


I don’t see anything like that. Where might it be?

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Yes, this is the nature of samsara: a web of suffering entrapping us, making our most mindful and compassionate actions nevertheless cause pain to other beings. I often meditate on this realization.


It’s here, in Bhikkhu Parajika 2: https://suttacentral.net/en/pi-tv-bu-vb-pj2/8.

The offence of building a hut out of clay is a dukkata offence.


The sanghadisesa 6 and 7 also require that a site where no harm will be done to be picked for the construction of a Kuti or Vihara:

“If a monk, by means of begging, builds a hut on a site where harm will be done and which lacks a space on all sides, or he does not get monks to approve the site, or he exceeds the size limit, he commits an offense entailing suspension.”
"Where harm will be done: it is the abode of ants, termites, rats, snakes, scorpions, centipedes, elephants, horses, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, or hyenas, or any other animals; or it is bordering on a field of grain, a field of vegetables, a slaughtering-place, a place of execution, a charnel ground, a park, a king’s property, an elephant-stable, a horse-stable, a prison, a bar, a slaughterhouse, a vehicle road, a crossroads, an assembly hall, or a cul-de-sac— this is called “where harm will be done.”

The first characteristics refer to not disturbing some animal species.

I am curious how is this being observed in the case of Tilorien, can you tell Ayya @Vimala?



Good question!

First of all, this is a rule only for Bhikkhus and not for Bhikkhunis.

Secondly, in the time of the Buddha there were no building regulations. So we basically do not have much choice in where the building is being put. It has to be 11m from the middle of the road and 6m from each boundary and 10m from the stream. That does not leave much room for negotiation.

But most importanty, the works have to be done in the right Dhamma spirit. There is indeed enough space around the building and we of course try to minimize the impact on the environment in every way possible. I don’t think you can completely prevent that any insects will be killed. On several occasions we chanted for the animals and plants that might be harmed due to the works.


Thanks for the answer Ayya. Interesting to learn that this rule is not explicitly applied to Bhikkhunis.

Yes, it is impossible to be certain no harm will be done. Maybe that’s why the rule expects the local Sangha to agree on that. Tibetan monks I once met told me they try to locate and move any or termite hill they find. And of course, if there is any sort of hole in which an animal could live they would avoid interfering with it.


Indeed, we have to be practical also, otherwise we would not be able to build any monasteries anywhere at all. In fact the council-rule to stay away at least 10m from the stream has to do with the impact this would have on the environment.


Friend @gnlaera & Ayya @Vimala … The sanghadisesa does not apply in the case of building a monastery anyways, but only a private place of residence, and one that is being built specifically with ones own private resources and without lay sponsorship. And I agree that the most important thing is abiding by the local laws. Such a challenging mission already so good luck! :sunny:

Strangely, today I finish building a little hut in a wonderful place. Though it is sponsored, I was careful to follow the vinaya environmental rules. There’s a dukkata to ignore the following building rules:

  • not to destroy the lives or homes of living creatures due to construction.

  • not to damage any property of someone else due to construction.

  • not to build the hut in a place that will be attacked by termites, ants, rats, or other animals, or that is too close to the homes of dangerous animals (scorpions, snakes, tigers, etc.) that will endenger the lives of the inhabitant of the hut.

  • not to build the hut close to any kind of a busy or noisy place that would disturb the inhabitant.

  • not to build the hut where it will block or give no space around it to allow the passage of a cart driven by two oxen, or a man carrying a ladder, around the hut.

Errr! The last one is so tricky! What can I do!! :roll_eyes:


This is very true. In Tilorien we also have to build kutis.
And I’m not going to try to find a cart driven by two oxen to see if it fits :smile: But I think the building regulations themselves allow for plenty of space around the kutis also.


LOL. This is so curious because, in my case, there are actually plenty of carts, driven precisely by two massive oxen, going about here and there all the time! But should they ever come past my tiny little kuti I don’t think they will regard it as a blockade at all; they can stomp down that thing in a flash! :smile: luckily for me they are much more gentle than to do that.

It is really curious to me how many of those things we study in the vinaya and that sound so obsolete and alien, have so far come to actually occur for me, and involve me so directly! I find that really curious and amusing and it is one of those things which reinforce my appreciation to both Asia and the Vinaya!

And while many argue that the ancient vinaya is now living only inside those enclosed forested areas called forest monasteries, I have found it to be naturally and organically alive precisely outside of the claustrophobising boundaries of the forested monasteries!!


:+1: :sunglasses:


While the Arahat is still alive the unintentional killing will not stop.

Yes, I didn’t mean that but rather parinibbana, at the moment of death of an arahanth (and having no more birth).

With metta

Building a monastery using mud bricks doesn’t involve intentional killing, the intention is to build a monastery then why Buddha cautioned this unintentional killing?