Where Gauthama Buddha Spent His rains retreats

Unique to Gauthama Buddha is the Full Moon Day in the month of May which came to be known as "Wai-Shakya" after Him. Waishakya means victory of the Shakyan. This day has come to be known as Wesakha in Thai and or Wesak in Sinhalese.   It is unique that He was born, enlightened and passed away (pari - Nibbana) on this same day.  This is significant in order to show  that anything born will die.

c. 480 BCE
Birth of the Buddha in Kapilavastu.
c. 450 BCE
The Buddha's enlightenment and first sermon.
c. 405 BCE
Passing away of the Buddha. (Maha –Parinirvana)

The Buddha’s successful ministry lasted 45 years. From the date of His enlightenment until passing away on His 80th year, He served humanity both by example and precept, with no personal motive.  Throughout the year He wondered from place to place teaching the Dhamma to the people and liberating them from suffering the bondages of Samsara.  During the rainy season (Vassǡna – Rainy season – July to November)   He retired into a single dwelling place, usually an “Aramaya,” a park with huge trees, lakes and the like, found in cities of ancient India at the time, as was customary with all ascetics of the day. This was due to the incessant rains, which made teaching impossible enroute.

The First Twenty Years

The Buddhawamsa commentary gives the following.

1st Year – Benares
After teaching the Dhammacakka Sutta on Asalha Full Moon day, He spent the first Vassa Retreat at Migadaya Deer park in Isipatana (Modern day Sǡr-nǡth)  near Benares (Ancient name Varanasi =Benaris) Here, there was no special building for Him to reside.

2nd, 3rd, 4th Years – Rajagaha 
When the Buddha visited King Bimbisāra, he offered his Bamboo Grove named Vēluvana to Him and His disciples. This was an ideal solitary place for monks as it was neither too far nor too close to the city. Here too there was no special building. Three rainy seasons were spent in this quiet grove.

5th Year Vesāli
During this year whilst He was residing in Pinnacled Hall at Mahāvana(means big forest) near Vesāli, He heard about the impending death of King Suddhodana and reparing to his death chamber, preached the Dhamma to him.  Immediately after he attained Arahantship, for seven days he enjoyed the bliss of Emancipation and passed away.

Order of Nuns.

After the passing away of King Suddhodana,  Queen MahāPrajāpathi desirous of joining the Order to practice approached the Buddha.  Even by this time, there were yet no buildings nor monasteries built for the sake of the Buddha and his disciple monks.  The monks mainly resided in Aramayas (These were beautiful parks only- mind you not with tents or anything of the like) or in the forest under a tree or inside a cave.  They mainly led a very austere life, sustaining on alms food and using “Pānshakūla Civara” as robes to cover themselves not to mention other extremely harsh and simple ways of living. (Pānshakula means the cloth with which a dead body is covered and thrown away with the corpse on to the burial grounds. Normally the corpses were left for the vultures to devour.  It was customary for a wandering ascetic to take these left over pieces of cloth from the burial grounds, wash them in Saffron to disinfect them,  which gave them the saffron colour,  and use them as a robe after sewing the pieces together.  Civara means robe). 

Most of the time monks spent the night under a tree or a hut sitting in meditation until dawn.  There were no beds nor chairs, or anything else that the monks used. They got wet in the rain and scorched under the hot sun and weathered the cold winters and dry summers of North India living outdoors throughout.  They did not use money/gold/silver/ nor indeed even wear shoes or use umbrellas. The monks were ready to forsake all comforts in order to attain Nibbāna and liberate themselves thereby.

Such circumstances were not conducive for women to  practice the path. It was not advisable for women-kind to enter into ordination and practice. Indeed today, even men would  find such a life very hard.  If women did enter the order, they would have had to undergo these severe hardships, which could not be endured by their female bodies.  So, rather than get enlightened they would have died instead. The hardships they will have to bear would tell on them and handicap the enlightening process, rather than be conducive towards it.

Therefore, the Buddha at first did not give his consent for the women to become Nuns.  However, when Visakhā and others built monasteries and offered them to the Sangha, the circumstances changed and were ready for women too, to enter the order. Thereafter, Maha Prajāpathi Gothami and other royal ladies entered the order and became Arhants.  We can see that there were monasteries already built during the time of Arhant Meheni Dhammadinna. As we now know when Meheni Dhammadinna wanted to practice in her lay life, she was readily taken to a monastery by her husband where women were practicing, with due respect befitting her status.  Thereafter, she entered the order, became fully enlightened  and came to be known as Arhant Meheni Dhammadinna. (Refer Culla-vedalla Sutta that shows her prowess in explaining the Dhamma –Majjhima Nikaya Sutta No 44 ). This is proof to show that by the time Dhammadinna wanted to enter the order there were already existing ladies' monasteries.

The story that Mahā Prajāpathi Gotami, without listening to the Buddha’s advise, donned the robes and with other royal ladies…, stood outside the Gates of Veluwanarama Park,  where the Buddha was staying...., and that Venerable Ananda had to entreat the Buddha in this regard cannot certainly be believed. 

It is true that Maha Prajapathi, considered the Buddha as her son as it was she who brought Him up. However, a mother will readily listen to a grown up son who speaks with logic and reason. She will not like to put herself, and more so put other royal ladies who are very young and cannot definitely live under trees and inside caves, in dire conditions  to make them suffer.

Instead she would definitely wait until monasteries would be built. Then circumstances would be suitable  for them to enter the order.  They could to stay inside and practice an austere life.

Whoever believes the story is welcome to do so, but it is very unlikely. The Buddha knew all along that women can be enlightened.  Fully enlightened.  Indeed there were many women who proved Him right and became Arhants. The Buddha himself has told us not to believe anything on heresay.   I strongly feel that this story was a later concoction. A concoction by people who could never believe that the Buddha gave his consent for women to enter the order.

Once the monasteries were built, circumstances were ripe for women too to enter the order and we  can see that they did so with Maha Pajapathie Gothami leading the way.

6th Year Mankula Hill
The Buddha performed the “Yamaka Maha Prathiharya” the Twin Wonder -for a second time here to convert others.

7th Year Tāvatimsa Heaven
The Buddha visited Tāvatimsa Heaven in his 7th year after enlightenment to teach his mother, Maya who passed away on the 7th day after His birth and was born in this heaven as a Deva.  Tāvatimsa is considered to be like a Brahma world where the Devas can get enlightened.  During the rains retreat three months He  taught the Abhidhamma 1 to the Devas of this heavenly realm, headed by the mother Deva. During this discourse the mother Deva became enlightened as a Stream Winner –“Sota-patthi” the first stage of saint hood. The Buddha visited the earth daily, and gave a summary of his sermon to Venerable Sariputtha, who in turn taught it to his disciples here.  What is embodied in the Abhidhamma Pitaka is supposed to be this detailed explanation of the Dhamma by Him.

8th Year – Bhesakāla Forest.
Near Sumsumara Rock in the Bhagga District.

9th Year-  Kōsambi
Māgandiya harboured a grudge against him.

10th Year - Pārileyyaka Forest
Owing to a dispute that could not be settled between two parties of Bhikkus the Buddha retired to this Forest. There an elephant became so caring and attended to his needs while a monkey too copied it.

11th Year - Ekanālā, Brahmin Village
The interesting Kasibhāradvāja Sutta was delivered here.

12th Year – Vēranjā
During this period the Buddha and His disciples were compelled to live on food meant for horses.  The introduction to Vinaya was formed here.

13th Year – Cāliya Rock

14th Year- Jētavana Monastery, Sāvatthi
Venerable Rāhula received his higher ordination on completion of his 20th Year. Venerable Rāhula became an Arhant at the age of 18.

15th Year- Kapilavatthu
The tragic death of King Suppabuddha, the father of Princess Yasodhara  occurred in this year.  It should be noted that the Buddha spent only one retreat in His birthplace.

16th Year – City of  Ālavaka
Ālavaka the supposed demon who was enraged with the Buddha,  became enlightened as a Stream winner.  His daughter who listened to the same discourse given him, became a Non –returner – Anagāmi.

17th Year – Rajagaha

18th Year – Cāliya Rock

19th & 20th  Year- Rajagaha
It was on the 20th year that the Buddha tamed Angulimala who was a terrorist and had murderers 999 men, due to being misled by one of his teachers at the university.  Angulimala became fully enlightened and thereafter as an Arhant helped mothers who were in pain during childbirth, to have their babies safely and well ( through his powers of Mettha.

The remaining twenty five years - Sāvatthi
By now  (the 21st year on-wards)  there were Monasteries built and donated to the Buddha by His two chief benefactors. Therefore, the rains retreats were spent at Sāvatthi, at the Jetavana Monastery, built by Anāthapindika the chief benefactor, and at Pubbarama built by Visākhā, the chief benefactress. Both belonged to the millionaire business class of India (in  ancient times they were called Cetti “the busines caste").

(Source referred to - A manual of Buddhism by Venerable Naradha Thero)