Kathina – Robe Offering Ceremony
Kathina is an important Buddhist festival that has been practiced annually in Theravada Buddhism countries. Kathina is defined as a soft of thank giving or a time of giving to express gratitude to monks, in which the laity offer new robes and other necessities to the monasteries. Kathina is a Pali word means a wooden frame which is used in sewing robes in the ancient time of India. Kathina in Khmer is called ‘Bon Kathen’ or ‘Kathen Tean’. This significant observance is essentially connected to the three months rainy retreat, Vassana. Because Kathina is taken place right after the end of Vassana.
It should be reminded that rainy retreat came into existence as a result of complaint made by the people. They complained that the monks were moving from place to place all the time without a permanent dwelling. During rainy season, the monks did damage the plants and crops and also injure insects. So the Buddha laid down a rule that Buddhist monks stay in one place during three months of rainy season to meditation and study, and it became known as Rainy Retreat (Vassana).
Kathina has five characteristics that obvious from other Buddhist ceremonies.
1. Kathina must be prepared in a preset period of the year within 29 days from the 1st waxing moon of 11th lunar month to 15th full moon day of 12th lunar month. This period of time is called ‘Kathina season’. Kathina must be prepared only one time for each Buddhist monastery within this time frame. Bhikkhu can receive Kathina robe only one time in each Kathina season.
2. The Kathina robe are loincloth (ស្បង់ចីវរ) and multilayer cloth (សង្ឃាដី) which already made properly as prohibition imposed by Buddha. Even though, the laity willing to offer all three pieces of clothing, the Bhikkhu will just choose only one to be the Kathina robe. Normally, the multilayer cloth will be chosen, because it’s the biggest piece which can be used as a sleeping mat when it’s cold.
3. Generally, people believed that making offering with one Bhikkhu could not gain a lot of merit comparing to make offering with the Sangha (Sangha is an assembly of at least four Bhikkhu). Traditionally, Kathina can be fully presented, the congregation needs at least five Bhikkhus to represent the quorum of Sangha assembly.
4. Only Bhikkhu that can receive Kathina robe, young monks can not. And only Bhikkhu who has fully completed the three months rainy retreat without break any rule, will be valid to receive the Kathina robe.
5. Beside the laity who offered Kathina robe will obtain merits, the Bhikkhu who received Kathina robe is permitted to ignore five minor rules (also known as five relaxations) within 5 months.
- Bhikkhu can leave the monastery without inform his fellow, as a rule he must do so.
- A Bhikkhu has to carry all the three pieces of robe whenever he goes. After he has been offered Kathina robe, he can leave one behind if he wish.
- He can also accept as many robes if offered during the period of five months.
- Bhikkhus were not allowed to keep leftover cloth for their own future use, but after he has been offered Kathina robe, he can keep as much robes as he wish.
- Monks on usual occasions are not supposed to accept food offered by someone using the term of layman culture, but once offered Kathina robe a Bhikkhu can receive such food given to him in that way.
How Kathina is prepared in Cambodia
Starting from the 1st day after the end of Vassana until the next 29 days, Kathina is taken place through out Cambodia, all the pagodas in the country are preparing Kathina for their Bhikkhus. Each pagoda will have only one Kathina in the whole season, the exact date is set from the discussion of the pagoda management team and the owner of ceremony (the laity). We might witness this event with the ceremony halls along the road in Phnom Penh city. And people are invited to participate their Kathina to gain merits together.
Normally, if someone is interested in preparing a Kathina, they would select a pagoda, most often that pagoda locates in their home town. It’s also a pagoda was introduced by someone they know that the pagoda might need budget for constructing some necessary buildings. Because nowadays, Kathina is not only a ceremony to offer Kathina robe, but also offer other necessary items in daily need of living to the monks and raising fund for various need of the pagoda, mainly for construction.
One day before the Kathina day, the ceremony owner will have a reception to his guesses who were invited to join him. The more guesses he has the more fund he raised for the pagoda. In the evening, the reception will be started to receive charity fund from the guesses, and the guesses will be served with some foods as dinner. Also in this evening, all the items including Kathina robes are prepared. Monks are invited to perform some ceremonies.
In the next morning, all the items will be delivered to the pagoda. Many people will join the match with chhey yam(a kind of Khmer traditional music), everyone are happy. Whenever they arrived the pagoda, they are welcomed by the villagers and the management team. All the donations are kept in Preah Vihear (the main sanctuary). Then there is a large community meal, with monks eating first, then laypeople, prepared by the pagoda. The pagoda is now very crowded with people.
After lunch, there is a ceremony of making procession three rounds around Preah Vihear. The Kathina robes are placed on the golden trays and are carried on the head by the ceremony owner and family members. Other items also must be carried for the procession. The procession is led by Achar and chhey yambeing as the head of the procession, next are monks inciting the Dhamma, following by the laity. The ceremony owners are covered with parasols, wearing traditional cloths, holding the tray of Kathina robe on their head, walking happily. Everyone who join the procession are not allowed to wear shoes.
The procession is walked three rounds around the Preah Vihear, then the ceremony owners come forward with their gifts, which are accepted by the designated monks in the Preah Vihear.
After the donations are accepted, all the Bhikkhus in the pagoda are gathered in the Preah Vihear to perform closing ceremony of Kathina. This ceremony is participated by monks only. Normally, Bhikkhu who is chief of the pagoda will make a request to have one Bhikkhu represent the Sangha assembly to entitle the Kathina robe. Traditionally, Bhikkhus with unusually shabby robes are given priority, and after that the robes are designated according to seniority.
History of Kathina
Once in the Buddha’s time, there were thirty forest-dwelling monks wished to spend their rainy retreat with Buddha and they traveled together to Jetapuna monastery in Savathiya city, where the Buddha would be staying for rainy retreat. Unfortunately, their journey took longer than they expected, and they have arrived Saket, a village next to Savathiya city, when they rainy season started. So they found a place to stay together during the three months retreat. They were very disappointed because the distance to reach Lord Buddha is very near, but they couldn’t reach him on time. As soon as rainy retreat has ended, they hurriedly to find Lord Buddha with the muddy and wet robes wearing. Because along the way, it was raining and the roads were thick with mud.
Lord Buddha greeted them warmly and asked how their retreat was going on. Had they spent time together harmoniously? Had they had enough food? All the monks has described all their difficulties during the rainy retreat and along the way they were here. After listened, Lord Buddha has preached about the Endless Cycle of Death and Re-birth to those forest-dwelling monks, and they all has achieved the Arahantship. After all, they were going back to their previous dwellings.
After all the monks had gone, Lord Buddha considered that if the Kathina is preset, those monks would not have to carry all the three pieces of cloths with them, which would have made their journey less difficulties. Then Lord Buddha allowed Kathina by saying that: all the Bhikkhus who has fully completed the three months rainy retreat will be entitled Kathina-robe and those who entitled Kathina-robe will be rewarded the five relaxations.
Then Bhikkhus were allowed to receive robes offered by the laity within one month time from the 1st waxing moon of 11th lunar month until the 15th full moon day of 12th lunar month.
The laity who offered Kathina robes is entitled as someone who regarded Lord Buddha’s decision, as someone who feel compassion toward monks who has spent three months for rainy retreat, and as someone who prolong the life of Buddhism. One who offered Kathina robes will gain the great merit for the next life with prosperous in heaven or even on earth.