For those unfamiliar with the custom and practice of Theravada Buddhism, the Rains retreat marks the time during the year in which monks stop their homeless wandering and stay at a single residence for three lunar months.
paths were poorly marked, if at all; and, in addition to that, all sorts of creepy crawlies would be slithering about - snakes, mosquitoes, and all the other wonderful things that buzz, hiss, and bite. This, of course, goes without mentioning the discomfort that comes with living outside and unsheltered for three rainy, rainy months. It was neither a pleasant nor safe time to be wandering, so during this time monks would seek shelter at a monastery and determine to stay there until the monsoons passed, the crops were harvested, and all the creepy crawlies subsided with the arrival of drier times.
For the lay people, it is also seen as an opportunity to intensify their own practice and engagement with their spiritual lives. This might mean making larger donations, of time, money, or both, spending every full and new moon day at the temple or at home practicing chanting and meditation, or going without meat, sex, food after noon, or other helpful don'ts for the three month period. They can also do just as the monks do - sleepless and starving, and why not?
Now, you might rightly wonder why we honor this custom in England, during it's most beautiful and sunny months when the rain briefly subsides and the sun graces this green land, time which would be best spent wandering and not holed up in some temple somewhere. It's a good question. Some monks continue this tradition outside South and Southeast Asia as a way of paying their respects and expressing their gratitude to our founding teacher, the Buddha, and the global Sangha, especially those in countries beset by the rains. Another reason is that this time has been deeply engrained within the psyche's and calendar's of many from Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand as a time of piety and practice. It's just what you do in August and the other months.
Whatever the reason is, this has been an auspicious and fruitful time for the community, gathering together wayward strands and sectors to create a more united and supportive multinational Sangha in Cambridge. It began with a day of celebrations on the 5th of August and we at Buddha Metta hope to continue to keep this spirit of community, harmony, and practice alive and well.