Yarney is a six week retreat period that monks practice in the summer, beginning over two thousand years ago at the time of Buddha Sakyamuni. Dakpa Gyamtso, a monk from the Ritoma monastery in Zorgey, Ganlho Tibetan Autonomous prefecture, shares the origins and rituals around Yarney with us.
What is the origin of Yarney?
Yarney began two thousand years ago, at the time of Buddha Sakyamuni. One summer, the Buddha overheard some Hindu ascetics talking about the Buddhist monks who were going about begging for alms. “Shakyamuni’s Gelongs don’t seem to respect life, whenever they go about in this wet season teeming with insects and tiny creatures, they can’t help but trample on them”.
The Buddha reflected: “Even animals like birds and horses stay put during those months, so why can’t monks? If they can’t be an example of consideration for the lives of others, then people may be reluctant to give them alms.” This argument for respecting the lives of tiny creatures in the summer months became the reason the Buddha decided to establish the Yarney tradition.
The following summer, the tradition of a six weeks summer retreat was established.
What is the benefit and reason for doing Yarney?
The benefit is to preserve the lives of small creatures that would be trampled when going about.
Staying put in a time like the monsoon is a way of accumulating merit. Also, humid weather is unhealthy and it is a good time for a practitioner to stay put and concentrate on practice.
How does Yarney function?
Yarney practice is the same in Ritoma monastery and in other monasteries. Generally, at the time of Yarney, only the monks responsible for running the monastery are exempted from participating.
The practice involves staying within the monastery and doing all the usual activities monks do at other times, some more often and more intensely than usual. They will hold the morning confession ceremony, a ceremony in which monks assemble to regret all the (minor) infractions to their Gelong vows, absolving themselves in the process. They then attend their scripture classes and debating sessions and are expected to not miss any.
What responsibilities or chores do you hold during Yarney?
There are no particular chores. The main principle is, by avoiding going out, doing everything within the walls of the monastery. This is an opportunity for monks, by abiding by the monastery rules that dictate their attendance at assembly and debating sessions, to spend all their time devoted to study, recitations, meditation and other virtuous occupations.