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.

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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.

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