Yarney: the Summer Retreat
  • Manage No, Sortation, Country, Writer ,Date, Copyright
    Manage No EE00002324
    Country Bhutan
    ICH Domain Social practices, rituals, festive events
    Bhutan is particularly rich in Vajrayana Buddhist history and many Buddhist institutes and monasteries are spread across the country. Some of the present Buddhist institutes observing Yarney include Tago Trashithang Shedra and Dodey Drak Shedra in Thimphu; Sang-ngag Choekhor Shedra in Paro; Khothakha Shedra and Gangteng Shedra in Wangduephodrang; Tamzhing Shedra and Kharchu Shedra in Bumthang; Kanglung Shedra in Trashigang districts and so on. The Sangha members studying and residing in these institutes and monasteries undergo one and half months (45 days) Yarney in order to dedicate themselves to spiritual practice to keep the teachings of the Buddha alive as prescribed. During the period of Yarney, the assembly of monks and nuns, both young and old remain in residence within the premises of their institutes and monasteries and cannot leave except for necessary exceptions. Inside the congregation hall of the monastery, monks are involved in consistent recitation and practice of vows: Pratimoksha vow, so thar dom pa in Chokey; the Bodhisattva vow, jang sems dom pa; and Tantnric vow, ngags dom pa; as well as discussion and clarification of Buddhist teachings and philosophy. They do continue their everyday work making prayers for the wellbeing of patrons, the faithful, the deceased, and for the peace and harmony of Bhutan and the flourishing of Buddhist teachings.
    Year of Designation 2022
Description Yarney is one of the mainstays of monastic life in Buddhist communities, the tradition descends from the time of Buddha until today. It is observed as one of the most important annual events in Buddhist monasteries and institutions. ‘Yar’ means ‘summer’ and ‘ney’ means ‘to stay or abide’. Varsavasa is the Sanskrit term for Yarney, and like the Chokey term it is rather literal: varsa means ‘rains or rainy season’ and vasa means ‘dwelling or residence.’ The term widely used in Bhutan is Yarney. The origin of Yarney practice can be traced back to the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, 2600 years ago in India. The first Buddhist monks did not build monasteries and temples; they were mostly homeless and depended solely on alms for their sustenance. However, the summer’s monsoon rains presented a number of obstacles to Lord Buddha and his Sangha Buddhist community to make daily customary alms round from village to village and teaching tours. Not only is it unhealthy and uncomfortable to be unhoused in the rains, but the nurturing rains bring forth insects and worms who inhabit the muddy walkways and small plants and newly planted rice paddies would start budding in the fields. At that time the Tirthikas non-Buddhist critiques of Buddha Gautama would criticize the practice of alms round, reasoning that walking for alms especially during the summer killed several animals and insects. So to keep from crushing insects or young crops in their tender state; and avoid the health hazards of the monsoon rains, flooding, and displaced wildlife, the Buddha established the rainy seasons as a time for retreat. This is codified in the Vinaya rules for the monastic community. Instead, they would remain within the premises of their residences or dwelling places, most often monasteries, each summer or venture to a specific rainy season retreat. For the monasteries, the place Sangha members observe Yarney must be conducive to spiritual and mental development. One of the main objects of observing Yarney is to set aside time to practice meditation outside the schedule of preaching the Dharma to lay devotees or going on alms rounds. The period for the retreat lasts three months by the lunar calendar, usually starting in June or July and would continue until September or October. This established a formal practice of observing Yarney – Buddhist monastics using the summer or the rainy season as an opportunity to take retreat. The Buddha and Sangha would stay and spend days in their residences. This was a period for the Sangha to spend time in quiet and serious meditation, give local Dharma talks and help laypeople and junior Sangha members in spiritual development. It was also opportune time for them to clarify their understanding of every aspect of the Buddha’s teachings through questions and discussions. As the tradition progressed, it became renowned as a productive period in which the sutras were said to have been written down. Thus, during Yarney monastics engage their vows; listen and contemplate lob pa thoe sam; and meditate on teachings pong wa sam tan they received from their Khenpo or abbot. During Buddha’s time, many monks and practitioners were said to have achieved the accomplished state of Arhat, non-returner, and once-returner through this deep study.
Social and cultural significance Yarney, the summer retreat, was first instituted by the Buddha himself for the benefit of his disciples/followers, and his patrons and devotees and sentient beings in general. It has today become an important occasion of great religious and social significance for the monks and Buddhist laity. During the time of the Buddha, his monastic followers solely depended on alms begging for survival. They had to go from village to village and house to house to collect alms all through the year. However, in summer especially during monsoon it was not appropriate to as walking on the damp earth crushed abundant insects and tender crop shoots. Moreover, non-Buddhists would criticize the followers of Gautama Buddha for being merciless if they killed insects and worms walking distances into villages for alms. The monsoon also poses a risk to the health of wandering sangha members between heavy rains and scorching summer heat. So the Buddha laid down a rule for his followers to settle in one place and remain within the premises of the dwelling areas and not to go beyond the demarcated retreat areas for a period of three months. Though the period of Yarney was three months during the time of the Buddha, corresponding roughly with June or July until September or October, it was shortened to one and a half months when Buddhism reached Tibet and Bhutan. All Buddhist communities follow a version of the Yarney tradition introduced by the Buddha with variations due to respective geographical locations and cultural context. Buddha’s idea of implementing Yarney also intended to allow the Sangha to avoid worldly distractions of villages and instead dedicate to actual spiritual practice and to become the better practitioners to benefit others. This quiet retreat is a special time for the members of Sangha to focus more on listening, studying, contemplating and meditating: thoe sam gom sum. Yarney is also an opportune time for the Sangha to purify and restore their broken vows and replenish positive virtues; and to make prayers for the living and the dead and for the peace and harmony in the world. Yarney is also the best time for laity to express their devotion to the cause of Buddhism by supporting the Sangha with offerings in cash and kind and participating in the practice themselves. They regard it as a potent source of merit making. Overall, it promotes the feeling of being one interdependent community dedicated to a single virtuous purpose. The practice is immensely powerful and monks get time to concentrate on their practice. During the time of the Buddha, many monks and practitioners were said to have attained the status of Arahat, non-returner, and once-returner just being in the Yarney retreat.
Transmission method This practice is organized annually by the monastic institutions. The proceedings are detailed follows: i) Sojong Vows On the first day of Yarney, the monks and nuns have to formally declare that they will observe Yarney, taking yar khelen vows. They will dwell in that manner in the selected monastery or dwelling and observe Sojong, vows, and Vinaya the formal rules of monastic discipline. The first day begins with the Sojong vows – a practice for purifying and restoring broken vows. So means “to restore” and relates to any vows they may have broken in the past being replenished with positive virtues. Jong means “to purify” and refers to clearing away negative karma and harmful deeds. Traditionally, Sojong is practiced on the 14th, 15th and 30th day of every other monthly by members of the sangha to restore any broken Pratimoksha vows. During the period of Yarney, monks are required to wear their formal ceremonial robes in the Yarkhang congregation hall; they partake in a main meal at midday from an alms bowl at the Yarkhang; and to fill their time with prayer, study, discussion and observing the Vinaya vows. They are instructed not to leave the demarcated premises; not to indulge in entertainment; not to eat after the midday meal. Although there are slight variations in its practice depending on lineage, the main daily practices and observances of the Vinaya Sutra consist of the following: • Wake up at around 3 am • Congregate in the congregation hall (Yarkhang) • Recite Pratimoksha vows by presided over by a Khenpo • Undertake practice of Pratimoksa vows • Recite branch Pratimoksha vows • Conduct sang incense offering • Recite/take Bodhisattva vows and undertake its practice • Conduct monlam prayers for the patrons • Lunch • Take tantric vow and undertake its practice • Conduct Solkha, monlam and sur-ngo Such observances are understood to accumulate great merit. This purification practice was also observed by some lay people during the time of Buddha. ii) Food Provisions/Meals During Yarney, monks take a vow, in accordance with the Vinaya tradition, not to eat dinner. Anything that is chewable is prohibited to eat in the afternoon, evening, or at night. However, they are allowed to have tea. Coordinators within the monks are appointed to take care of and arrange all daily needs such as preparing meals and tea for those in Yarney. Any offerings in cash and kind made by the general public are received by the coordinators, who maintain proper records of the donations. Monks eat lunch from lhungze, the traditional monks’ bowl, following the Vinaya tradition whereas breakfast and tea are taken in normal way. iii) Making of Offerings by lay people/community Yarney is the perfect time for lay people to earn merit by supporting the monastic community. During the time of the Lord Buddha, kings, patrons, the common people showed their devotion and appreciation and would visit the temples where monks were in Yarney, and would offer food, water, clothes, thread and needle, medicine, and other necessities. In the Buddha’s day, the period of Yarney was observed also by lay men and women by giving up things like eating meat, drinking alcohol, or smoking. Lord Buddha himself would give teachings to his patrons and lay devotees, and many attained higher states of realization in their spiritual practices. So, this is a very precious time to spend on spiritual practice, earning merit, and exceling in your journey to enlightenment. It is said that merit that one accumulates during the Yarney and other auspicious occasions is different and comparatively higher in status. Whether one offers only a simple chocolates or offers food to the monks, they reap equal merit from the act of offering or giving. So this is one of the best opportunities for the lay people to earn merit. People from all sections of society make visits to Buddhist institutions and monasteries observing Yarney to make offerings and pay their respect. In order to make contributing easier for lay people, the institute or monastery makes an inventory of costs for breakfast, lunch and evening tea depending on number of monks. Then lay people make groups and contribute cash to or individually host breakfast, lunch, or tea. Besides contributing cash, they can also offer food provisions in kind like rice, butter, cheese, oil, vegetables, fruits, juice, etc. This promotes the interdependency of the sangha and the laity and is an important merit making opportunity. On the last day of the Yarney, the chagyeb cash offerings made by public during Yarney are distributed amongst the monks who observed the practice. iv) Philosophical Debate On the last day of the Yarney – after a month and a half vigorous engagement in strict teaching, study, meditation, and discipline in retreat – it is time for the monks to display their achievement of study through debate in front of the whole assembly of Sangha members and lay devotees. The debate is one of the most interesting parts of a visit to the concluding day of Yarney and attracts a huge crowd of lay people to watch. It usually takes place in the main shrine hall. Philosophical debate is part of choeshed droleng teaching and discussion and is one of the essential parts of monastic culture. The main purpose is to sharpen the mind and clear misconceptions to aid the development of wisdom. Monks debate on various philosophical issues and concepts. At the start of the debate, monks are divided with one group sitting and the other standing. The standing monk poses the question that is the subject of the debate, and the sitting monk has to answer. The monk asks his question which is normally composed of a logical argument on the philosophical teachings of Buddhism. While asking question he emphasizes his point with shouted phrasing, feet stomping, hand clapping and extravagant gestures, and bodily movements. The whole debate rages back and forth between the two debating groups, who exchange questions and answers in logical progression. Debaters seek the understanding of the nature of reality through a very careful analysis of natural phenomena. This search for the basis of reality is the most essential part of a monastic debate. v) Last Day of Yarney On the last day of the Yarney, members of Sangha walk out of the monastic premises about 5 km along the road carrying alms bowl. The patrons, devotees and lay people line up at the road side and make offerings and receive blessings. At a designated location, lunch is served or hosted by the local community and the monks in return make prayers for their wellbeing. This walking round performed by monks is a symbolic of going for alms round or collection after completion of Yarney in accordance with the tradition followed during the Buddha’s time. It also symbolizes the return of the monks to their respective villages after the Yarney.
Community Following the Yarney tradition observed in India according to the Vinaya Sutra, every summer Buddhists throughout the world engage in some form of Yarney in nurturing virtuous life as prescribed by Lord Buddha. Though the historical Yarney of Buddha Gautama lasted for three months, it is observed for only 45 days in Tibetan Buddhist traditions due to the harsh climatic conditions of the mountains and plateau. When the practice of Yarney was formally transmitted to Bhutan with Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651), the same duration of days like in Tibet was observed in Bhutan. However, with the passage of time the Yarney tradition virtually vanished in Bhutan, until when the 68th Je Khenpo Chief abbot of Bhutan H.H. Tenzin Dondrub (served 1986-1990) re-established it around 40 years ago. Today, it is being observed in many Shedra monastic schools and other Buddhist institutes around Bhutan. It commences on the 15th day of the 6th month of the Bhutanese calendar and concludes on the 30th day of the seventh month. Data Contributed by: Dr. Yonten Dargye, National Library & Archives
Information source
National Library and Archives of Bhutan

Materials related to