The Kathina

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

The Kathina

All these things depend on cooperation, which is probably why the Buddha instituted the Kathina to begin with. If you look in the Viniya, there’s not much explanation (about Kathina). It doesn’t say who was the first person to think of the Kathina or how it came about. It’s a very unusual section in the Viniya.

The word, Kathin or Kathina, in Pali, means a frame, like the frame they use in a quilting bee …making it possible for a lot of people to sew all at once. This was a time when the monks could pass on their sewing skills. The older monks could teach the younger monks how to cut the cloth, how to sew, how to dye the robes. All of which are very important skills.

So before the monks scattered in the forest, they would get together to make one robe together as a group. As a result the Buddha relaxed some of the pretty minor rules for the monks who participated in the Kathin like this.

The Buddha would encourage the monks to participate in the Kathin by relaxing some of the rules. So, the Kathin was important. If there was a sense of rapport between the monks and the lay people, the Buddha encouraged you to develop that rapport. It was a way of encouraging a sense of community.

People think of Theravada as a selfish form of Buddhism, but it’s not. It depends more on voluntary cooperation and more on a sense of community than most people would suspect.

Look at how the Kathin happened today: it was all volunteer. It all came together; things worked; and then, everybody cleaned up afterwards and went home without anybody having to give orders, without anybody being under any compulsion.

There’s a Thai word that literary means “heart juice” or “heart water.” It’s the quality of willingness to give of yourself when nothing is being required, just for the goodness of the act, in itself. That’s a quality that cooperation develops.

The Buddha didn’t just teach meditation. He taught a whole social structure for the monks, cooperation among the monks, cooperation between the monks and the lay people, as the context for the practice.

This quality of willingness to give of yourself is very important in all aspects of the practice. Meditation doesn’t happen unless you give of yourself… The practice requires the willingness to make sacrifices, the willingness to give of yourself. You can’t wait for everything to be proven. You have to give of yourself first before the results are going to come.

This is why the Buddha created the monkshood and the relationship between the monks and the lay people to be one of voluntary cooperation to develop and encourage this quality of giving of yourself… This was one of the qualities the Buddha was trying to develop when he set forth the tradition of the Kathin.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the talk, The Kathina, October 30, 2005.

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