Nikini full moon day falling due one month after the commencement of “Wassana Kala“ the rainy season: is of special significance for Buddhists due to a number of incidents that took place on this day.
Attainment of Arahatship by the Buddha’s chief attendant, Ananda Maha Thera, commencement of the first Dhamma Sangayana, convocation to settle the Buddhist canon and “Pasu Vas” or the commencement of the “Vas” period by those who had not started the period of sojourn on the Esala full moon day are some of them. For Sri Lankans this day is further more significant because of the world famous Kandy Esala Perahera which normally ends on this day.
The rainy season in Dambadiva-India beginsduring the month of Esala (July – August). It is extremely cold in the snowy peaks of Himalayas and in the valleys where ascetics meditate under the shade of trees.
Due to cold weather and heavy rain it is not convenient for them to sit under trees and meditate. Even birds build sheltered nests to live in during this season with birdies. Some of them even migrate to other countries where there is less rain. Buddhist monks also sojourn with house holders during this season.
The “Pali” word “Vas” means the rains “Viseema” means dwelling. Therefore “Vas Viseema” means to sojourn during the rainy season. “Vassana Kala” or the rainy season of three months begins on Esala full moon day. Commencing the “Vas” period from Esala full moon day is called “Purmikawa” or “Pera Vas”. However the bhikkhus who could not commence the Vas period on Esala Full Moon day are allowed to start observing Vas on the Nikini Full Moon day. This is called “Pasuvas”.
Buddhist monks commence “Vas” on Nikini full moon day in keeping with the enactment called “Santhaha Karanaya” The circumstances which led to the enactment of “Santhaha Karanaya” was the hardships caused to the bhikkhus due to rain.
After the establishment of Buddhasasana bhikkus engaged in the propagation of Dhamma and meditation during all four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter regardless of adverse weather conditions specially during the rainy season. People were concerned about the hardships caused to bhikkus and pains taken by them which the people thought was “Attakilamathanuyogaya – giving extreme pains to the body or physical exertion. Some people went even to the extent of criticizing the extreme pains taken by bhikkhus. These criticisms reached the ears of King Bimbisara.
On a day before the Nikini full moon day King Bimbisara requested the Buddha to sojourn for the rainy season from Nikini full moon poya day in his kingdom, at Rajagaha Nuwara. The Buddha accepted this invitation.
‘Pasuvas’ or the custom of commencing the ‘Vas’ period from Nikini full moon day came into being in that manner. Thus bhikkus sojourn in ‘wassawasa” place of residing in the rainy season starting from Esala full moon day or Nikini full moon day.
It was on the Nikini Full Moon day three months after The Buddha’s “parinibbana” that the first Dharma sangayana-convocation was held to settle the Buddhist canon.
The immediate cause for conducting the first Dhamma Sangayana was the behaviour of a monk named Subaddha after the parinibbana of the Buddha.
All the ordinary bhikkus who had not attained Arahatship excepting monk Subaddha lamented and mourned over the prinibbana of the Buddha. Buddha’s ”Agra Upasthayaka” chief attendant and “Dharma Bhandagarika” – the treasurer of Dhamma, Ananda Maha Thera was among those who lamented. Monk Subaddha who had become an ascetic during his old age not actually to practice acsetism but because he had no other way of living and requested the monks not to mourn but to be happy as thee was no one after Buddha to give them orders.
The Maha Sangha led by Maha Kashyapa Thera felt that the behaviour of ascetic Subaddha was an indication of probable problems among the members of the sangha community and on Esala Full Moon day two months after the parinibbana of Buddha to hold a convocation to settle the Buddhist canon. This is the first Dhamma Sangayanawa (Convocation).
It was conducted during a period of three months from the following Nikini Full Moon Poya day.
Even during the time of Buddha, problems arose among Bhikkhus such as the “Sangha Bedha” -division among bhikkhus – caused by Devadatte Thera and the differences among Dharmadhara bhikkhus (those versed in morals and “Vinayadhara” bhikkhus (those well versed in and observed the precepts of property of conduct) but the Buddha settled them amicably,”
Arahat Maha Kassapa Thera was a bhikku who spent most of the time in Himalayas as an ascetic. This he did presumably to avoid being mistaken by the people for Buddha as he was physically identical with the Thathagatha.
Maha Kassapa Thera was in the city of Pava at the time of Buddha’s parinibbana. As soon as he heard about the Maha Parinibbana he came to Kusinara with his followers. Maha Kassapa Thera consoled the ordinary monks who mourned the Parinabbana of the Gauthama Buddha and after the funeral of the “Thathagatha he made arrangements for the first Dhamma “Sangayana”.
By that time, Arahat Sariputta and Arahat Moggalana had attained parinibbana and the convocation was held under the patronage of Arahat Maha Kassapa. Five hundred Arahats participated in the convocation. Arahat Maha Kassapa Thera selected originally 499 participants and after attaining Arahtship by Ananda Maha Thera at night on previous day the vacancy was filled by him. The convocation was held at Rajagahanuwara in Magadha Rata. Presumably Arahat Maha Kassapa Thera was confident of Ananda Maha Thera’s attainment of Arahatship before the commencement of the first Dhamma Sangayana. It was because of this reason that a place was kept for him.
Ananda Maha Thera had gained eminence in eradiction and possessed a lot of knowledge in Dhamma and was second only to Buddha in preaching. Buddha appreciated him when he preached Dhamma to a group led by Mahanama Sakya king.
He was “Dhamma Bhandagarika” treasurer of Dhamma having heard all the discourses of the Buddha. He was also second only to Buddha in intelligence, good sense, prudence and circumspection. He had reached the apex in understanding and apprehension. In serving as “Agra Upasthayaka” – Buddha’s chief attendant, he did every thing possible for the safety and comfort of the Buddha.
When the furious elephant, Nalagiri came chasing after the Buddha, Ananda Maha Thera stood in between the Buddha and the elephant exhibiting his courageousness when he felt the need. He was second only to the Buddha in rationalism, prudence and wisdom. Yet for all such virtues and good qualities he had not attained Arahatship by the time of Buddha’s Parinibbana presumably due to his desire and ambition to tender aid to, minister and serve and wait upon the Buddha.
He had attained “Sowan” the first of the four paths to Nirvana having heard the Dhamma preached by Arahat Punnamattaniputta Thera a few days after entering the priesthood. Since he had not attained Arahatship he could not bear the pain of mind when he heard about Buddha’s decision to attain Parinibbana. He leant against the door post of the Viharaya and started crying.
Buddha summoned Ananda Maha Thera and consoled him reminding him about the transitory nature of all existing things from which even the “Thathagatha” cannot deviate. Buddha said that Ananda Maha Thera had accumulated enough merit to attain Arahatship before long and advised him to be courageous. Ananda Maha Thera made up his mind and did every thing what should have been done.
Three months after the Buddha’s Parinibbana and at night on the day preceding the day when the first Dhamma Sangayana was held Ananda Maha Thera attained Arahatship and was qualified to fill the vacancy kept for him by Maha Kasspa Thera. The vacancy was kept because Ananda Maha Thera was indispensable for the successful convocation of the Buddhist canon. He was the most knowledgeable person in the doctrine, being the Dharma Bhandagarika – the treasurer of the Dhamma and having listened to all the discourses of the Buddha.
The convocation went on for three months. Dhamma Pitaka and Vinaya Pitaka were classified into Digha Nikaya, Majima Nikaya, Sanyutha Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya and Kuddaka Nikaya.
They were learnt by heart. The responsibility for each part was entrusted to leading participants of the convocation.
Arahat Ananda Thera and his followers were entrusted with the responsibility for Digha Nikaya. The followers of Arahat Sariputta Thera were entrusted with Majjima Nikaya. Sanyutta Nikaya was entrusted to Arahat Maha Kassapa Thera and his followers. Anguttara Nikaya was the responsibility of Arahat Anuruddha Thera and his followers. All the Theras were made responsible for the Kuddaka Nikaya. Vinaya Pitaka was entrusted to Arahat Upali Thera.
This convocation was known as “Pancha Sathika Sangikthi” as it was held with the participation of 500 Theras who had attained Arahatship.