Buddha had commented one of the four resources (Cattaro Nissaya) of a monk is Rukkhamula senasana (lodging at the root of a tree). In Mahasunnata Sutta (The Greater Discourse on Voidness) in the Majjhima Nikaya, Buddha mentioned the usual dwelling of monks is a ‘secluded resting place which can be at: the forest, the root of a tree, a mountain, a ravine, a hillside cave, a charnel ground, a jungle thicket, an open space, a heap of straw.’ It is good for the monk ‘to strive so long as life shall last’.
Buddha advised Ananda that a bhikkhu (monk) does not shine ‘by delighting in company’, ‘by rejoicing in society’ (enjoying sensual pleasures) and it will be difficult for him to obtain at will the ‘bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. Only when a monk lives alone in solitude, withdrawn from society, he will obtain at will, without trouble or difficulty,’ that bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace and the bliss of enlightenment.
In the Khaggavisana Sutta (The Rhinocero’s Horn) of the Sutta Nipata, a monk is advised to avoid sensory attachment and association with others. ‘If one does not find a wise friend, a companion living according to good virtues, and prudent, then like a ruler who has abandoned his conquered country, let one lives alone like a rhinoceros’s horn.’ With no suitable companion, a monk should wander alone like a rhinoceros.
Monks were advised to live in solitude for the practice and they came together to observe Uposatha in the early days. They lived together only during the rainy season when wandering had to be suspended. For three months usually from the middle of June, rains were torrential with overflowing rivers and widespread flooding. The monks had to seek shelter to avoid damage to crops and insects. The rainy retreat was a universal customary observance among wanderers of all sects. While Buddhist monks had their Vassa; the Jains had their Pajjusana; and Brahmins their Dhruvasila (fixed abode).
The monks took up vassa (rainy retreat) residence on the day after the full moon of Asalha (mid June) or a month later and continue in it for three following months. They were allowed to go out of the settlement only under certain specified conditions when their presence elsewhere was required for good reasons but their absence cannot exceed a week.
Avasa: The beginning of a monk settlement was the avasa for the rainy retreat. Huts were mainly rain shelters. The Setthi of Rajagaha could build 60 small, flimsy huts in one day for the monks’ rainy retreat. These avasas were temporary setups, which were later dismantled by monks at the end of the vassa period.
Later, they became semi-permanent. Some bhikkhus returned to the same avasa to pass the rainy retreat. They were known as Samana-samvasaka. Then, there were monks who decided to stay on in the avasas after the rainy retreats and they became known as Avasikas (dwellers at the avasa).
Monasteries called viharas came later. Buddha declared that “The Viharas ward off heat and cold, beasts of prey, creeping things and gnats. They are for purpose of residence, ease, meditation and gaining insight (vipassana). The gift of a vihara is the chief gift to the Sangha.”
The original purpose of a vihara was to provide shelter from weather and noxious things during the vassa period. The oldest vihara consists of one cell only for a single ascetic, or a group of huts for a small group of monks. Hence, a vihara may be occupied by a single monk or by a small group of monks. The allotted portion for each monk was called a Parivena.
Requisites of a suitable place would be a “secluded place, neither too far nor too close to the city, accessible to those who desire to visit, pleasant, not crowded during the day, not too noisy at night, with as few sounds as possible, airy and fit for the privacy of men”
No monk could have lodging without opening it to other members of the Sangha. If a monk builds his hut without bringing the required quorum of monks to mark the site, an offence was said to be committed. If some laity offers a monk, without his asking, he can accept monasteries or mansions. Otherwise, he is not permitted to make by himself a hut larger than 12 spans in length and 7 spans in width. (As stated in Vinaya Pitaka)
Buddhaghosa mentioned other abodes suitable for monks: addhayoga: gold - colored house with turned up eaves pasada: long storeyed mansion with an upper storey completely covering the lower hammiya: pasada with an attic on top guha: caves.
The settlement requires its own boundaries. The demarcation and fixing of boundaries (sima) became of some importance to allow a body of Bhikkhus to live together by themselves. In the Dipavamsa, the Island Chronicle of Sri Lanka, Arahant Mahinda mentioned that the sangharama or monastic settlement would only be properly established when the boundaries (sima) were fixed. The limits of the sima should generally coincide with natural boundaries such as a mountain, rock, wood, tree, path, anthill, or river. If no such limits could be fixed, the boundaries of the village or market town (gama-sima or nigama-sima) could serve the purpose. The monks could then carry sangkakamma within the sima where they participated in a collective congregational life like recital of Patimokkha, Pavarana (Invitation for Moral evaluation) and Kathina (Distribution of robes).
Some of the monk settlements were in the forest (Arannakaswere forest dwellers) or in city known as arama. The arama was usually a property within a town, city or suburb of a well- to- do citizen. If it was given to the monks by the owner for permanent usage, it was named a Sangharama and to be used by Bhikkhus of the four quarters. The donor of an arama would continue to look after the property and employ a special staff of servants (aramika) and superintendents (aramika-pesaka) to take care of them. King Bimbisara employed so many that they had to be accommodated in an entire village known as ‘Pilinda gama.’ The kappiya-kuti would always be stocked amply with provisions.
Viharas were mainly gifts given to the Sangha by lay disciples. The following are famous aramas:
Veluvanarama at Rajagaha. It was the first gift of an arama to the Buddha and the Sangha by King Bimbisara. Buddha spent 6 rainy retreats here.
Jetavanarama near Savatthi donated by Anathapindika. Buddha spent 19 rainy retreats here.
Pubbarama at Savatthi donated by Visakha. Buddha spent 6 rainy retreats here.
Jivakarama at Rajagaha, donated by the renowned physician Jivaka.
Ambapali-vana at Vesali donated by Ambapali, city courtesan of Vesali.
Nigrodharama at Kapilavatthu.
Kukkutarama, Ghositarama and Pavarikambavana at Kosambi.
Archaelogical finds were found in the following three aramas:
Jetavanarama 2. Jivakarama 3. Ghositarama
Jetavanarama Anathapindaka, a wealthy bankerof Savatthi, became a Sotapanna upon listening to the dhamma by the Buddha while on a visit to Rajagaha. On return, he decided to purchase the pleasure grove of Prince Jeta who demanded as much gold as possible to cover the ground of the Jeta Grove. Anathapindaka purchased it with wagons loaded of gold coins, and converted it into a sangharama. It is made up of ‘viharas, parivenas, kotthakas (chambers), upatthanasalas (meeting halls), kitchens, store-houses, privies, promenades,open wells, covered wells, bathing places, bath-rooms, ponds, mandapas (pillared halls with awnings).
Jivaka, the renowned physician attended to Buddha and Sangha members. Realizing the advantage of having a monastery close to his residence, he erected one at his mango park. After the dhamma talk at the consecration ceremony of this monastery, he became a Sotapanna.
After Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana, there was a Brahmin Ghotamukha who was so impressed by Venerable Udena’s sermon, that he desired to make an offering to him. He wanted to set aside for the monk’s personal use a daily allowance out of a grant he enjoyed from the king of the Anga. Udena refused the offer of money. Ghotamukha next offered to build a vihara for him. This also was refused, but Udena said to him: ‘Well, if your wish is to build, then build a Upatthana-sala for the Sangha at Pataliputta.’ The hall still exists and is called by the donor’s name (sa etarahi Ghotamukha’ti vuccati’ti).
The process of transition from wandering ascetic life to settled life was a slow and gradual one and the Sangha soon became a settled monastic society.