= ceremony held at the end of the vassa.

The ceremony marks the end of the three months of the vassa. Donors present a Community numbering at least five bhikkhus with a gift of cloth that the bhikkhus then bestow on one of their members. With the help of the Community, the bhikkhu receiving the cloth must make it into a robe before the dawn of the following day. When the robe is finished, he announces to the other bhikkhus the 'spreading of the kaṭhina', after which they express their approval. As a reward of having spread the kaṭhina, the bhikkhu who spreads the kaṭhina and those who approve it receive a series of privileges that, depending on certain conditions, may last until the end of the cold season, five months after the end of the Rains.

These privileges include being allowed to go off without having asked permission, or without taking all three robes, to participate in a group meal, to keep robe-cloth as long as one wants, to have sole rights to any cloth accruing to the Community in the residence, to participate in an out-of-turn meal.

The name of this procedure comes from the frame (kaṭhina) used in the time of the Buddha for sewing a robe, much like the frame used in an American quilting bee. However, there is no requirement that the bhikkhus making the robe in one day must use such a frame. Rather, the term kaṭhina is used figuratively for the time period during which the privileges that come from making the robe are in force. Similarly, the terminology used in connection with this time period is taken from that used in connection with the physical frame. The frame could be rolled or folded up. Thus, when put into use, it was unrolled and spread out. When no longer needed, it was dismantled and rolled or folded back up. Similarly, the establishment of the privileges is called the spreading of the kaṭhina; the ending of the privileges, the kaṭhina's dismantling.

The Canon does not explicitly state why the Buddha formulated this transaction. In the relevant origin story, he gives his allowance for the transaction when a group of bhikkhus coming to pay their respects to him — after the Rains-residence is over but while actual rains are still pouring — arrive with their robes soaking wet. The Commentary maintains that the Buddha's purpose in allowing the kaṭhina was (1) so that bhikkhus traveling during this time period could be given the privilege of not having to carry their complete set of robes with them, and (2) so as to follow the custom of previous Buddhas. However, the first purpose could have been served simply by making this privilege contingent on completing the Rains-residence.

So the question arises as to what further purpose the transaction might fulfill so that Buddhas would want to maintain it as a custom. The Commentary offers no explanation, but a few moments' reflection will show that the transaction promotes cooperation and a sense of community among the bhikkhus: It encourages them to maintain the Rains without break and to work together on the project of making a robe. At the very least, it affords an opportunity for senior bhikkhus to pass on their sewing skills to their juniors. At the same time, because the privileges attendant on the spreading of the kaṭhina are in force as long as one has a sense of commitment to one's monastery, they reward a bhikkhu who wants to maintain a relationship with a particular residence. This, in turn, encourages on-going relationships between bhikkhus and their lay supporters.

Bodhi leaf

Includes sentences copied from "Buddhist Monastic Code II: Chapter 17",
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 18 September 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/bmc1/bmc1.ch05.html