The Buddhist robe is made of patchwork. There are many pieces of clothe sewn together. This i because originally the robes were mad of rags. The monks took cast away pieces of cloth and stitched them together. In many cases these pieces of cloth were taken from the charnel grounds where dead bodies were cremated. The bodies were wrapped in a shroud and then burnt on a pyre of sticks and logs. Often there were bits of cloth left.  In some places bodies were left to be eaten by vultures or other animals. Thus charnel grounds supplied many rags that found their way into monk's robes. The robe would then be dyed yellow or orange.

There is much symbolism in all this and wearing such a robe immersed one in all these meanings and, although the robes nowadays are made from fresh cloth, the symbolic meanings still touch one.

The word for a robe in the Indian languages is a kashaya. This word has the original meaning of 'stained' or 'dyed'.

The bits of cloth taken from the funeral lands symbolise death. This has a double meaning for the monk. On the one hand the monk is dead to the worldly life. He has himself been wrapped in a shroud and the worldliness has been burnt out of him. In our lives there are many dead parts. On the other hand, we can also see that there are many 'dead', mechanical parts to our existence and the purpose of the spiritual practice is to bring us to new life. So the monk is living his new life beyond his death-to-the-world and this new life brings to life all the parts of himself that used to be deadened. The deadness has been burnt out of him. When that fire has gone out - which is one of the meanings of nirodha - he is reborn, enlightened, liberated.

So the robe is made of all the bits of our old life - all the dead bits - sewn together and then stained or dyed. It is dyed in the Dharma. The Dharma is the dye that unifies and renews the old. It makes us part of the spiritual community which is the enactment here and now of the new life. This community is a manifestation of love, compassion and wisdom.

This dyed cloth envelops the priest. It is what does the job. Inside, I am still the foolish old fellow, but in my robe I can do some good. New members of the sangha can be abashed when asked to do some holy task - who am I do do such a thing. In fact, indeed, one is nobody, but the robe can do it. When one is in the robe one can perform the part. It does not matter what sort of foolish fellow I am, I can stand before the altar and make offerings to the highest Buddhas.

So this is a little of the meaning of the robe. Traditionally a monk has three. This enabled him to travel in India. The robe was his or her clothing, mattress and sleeping bag. So at all times he was enveloped in these deep meanings and they protected his actions and his dreams.

Views: 70

Replies to This Discussion

Somehow this makes me think about the businss of taking on any identity. It can be useful as designation, label, metaphor, reminder, a self-gathering rather like the gathering of a rob, a self sewn from the bits and pieces and detritus of everyday life and experience. Useful in its place yet often erroneously assumed to be who we actually are. Then we end ip getting trapped in it, trying to defend it, and generally losing energy maintaining it. I love the idea of a patchwork self, suitable to keep one clothed and warm but endlessly reformable and renewable.



ITZI Conference 2019

Subscribe to ITZI Conference Newsletter

* indicates required

Blog Posts

Sagesse féline...

Posted by Tamuly Annette on September 29, 2019 at 12:00 1 Comment

En l'absence de Darmavidya, j'ai - en ma qualité de voisine et d'amie - le privilège de m'occuper (un peu) de Tara, la petite chatte. C'est un bonheur  de la voir me faire la fête chaque fois que je me rends à Eleusis: elle s'étire, se roule sur le dos au soleil ou saute sur mes genoux. J'ignore si elle a profité de l'enseignement du maître des lieux, mais j'ai comme l'impression qu'elle me donne une belle leçon de sagesse: elle…



Posted by David Brazier on August 20, 2019 at 21:38 2 Comments

At the moment I am feeling very sad for the state of the planet. As I write the great forests are being consumed by fire, both the tropical forest in Brazil and the tundra forest in Russia. The great forests are the lungs of the earth. I myself have lung problems. When there are parts of the lungs that don’t work anymore one can run out of energy. It can strike suddenly. We will probably not do anything serious about climate change or wildlife extinction…



Posted by David Brazier on June 26, 2019 at 18:04 10 Comments

My medical condition continues to be a mystery. It is clear that I do not have any of the big nasty things - brain tumour, cracked skull, stroke, etc - as these have been ruled out by MRI investigation. Nonetheless I continue to have persistent, continuous head pain that varies in intensity and I become exhausted by the least effort so that I am functioning like an invalid incapable of doing very much. There is always a possibility that the whole syndrome is a…



Posted by Dayamay Dunsby on June 2, 2019 at 1:02 4 Comments

“Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark Valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us… Continue

© 2019   Created by David Brazier.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service