Interview about Buddhist Robes

I was recently interviewed for an article posted on patheos.com
There are quite a few vinaya rules in this article.
See which vinaya rules you can pick out and post a response below:

Here are just some of the vinaya references with mixed references from BMC 1, BMC2 and PTS Mv

So, I asked my parents if I could become a monk at this Mahayana monastery, and they said, “No!” (You had to have your parent’s permission to join the monastery.)

“A son whose parents have not given their permission should not be given the
Going-forth. Whoever should give it: an offense of wrong doing.” — Mv.I.54.6

. For example, some of the pieces must be cut and then sewed together. This is especially true with the robe’s boarders. But some manufacturers want to just fold the fabric and sew it—creating a fake seam—because that reduces the time it takes to make the robe by about 1/3. But it actually renders the robe unusable.

So, the robes were in colors like a drab maroon or brown.

“Robes that are entirely blue (or green) should not be worn. Robes that are entirely
yellow … entirely blood-red … entirely crimson … entirely black … entirely orange …
entirely beige (§) should not be worn. Robes with uncut borders … long borders …
floral borders … snakes’ hood borders should not be worn. Jackets/corsets, tirīta-
tree garments … turbans should not be worn. Whoever should wear one: an offense
of wrong doing.” — Mv.VIII.29

Now at that time monks wore yellow robes, (the colour) of ivory,4 not cut up.5 People
looked down, criticised, spread-it about, saying: “Like the householders who enjoy pleasures
of the senses.” They told this matter to the Lord. He said: “Monks, robes that are not cut up
are not to be worn. Whoever should wear one, there is an offence of wrong-doing.” || 2 || 11 || (pts)

As for the pattern of our robes, the Buddha was walking near a paddy field one day, and he said to Ānanda, “Oh, this pattern is beautiful. All robes should look like this.” And so, that is the pattern of Theravāda monastic robes today. The pieces of cloth are sewn together so that they look just like a rectangular rice paddy field.

Then the Lord, having stayed in Rājagaha for as long as he found suitable, set out on
tour for Dakkhiṇāgiri.6 The Lord saw the field of Magadha,7 laid out in strips,1 laid out in lines,2 laid out in embankments,3 laid out in squares,4 and seeing this, he addressed the venerable Ānanda, saying:
“Now, do you Ānanda, see the field of Magadha laid out in strips . . . laid out in
squares?”
“Yes, Lord.”
“Are you able, Ānanda, to provide robes like this for the monks?”
“I am able, Lord.” (pts mv)

At an hour a day, it takes about five months to make robes.

According to Pv.XIV.1, these privileges apply both for the bhikkhu who has spread
the kaṭhina and for any bhikkhu who has approved the spreading of the kaṭhina. As
long as certain conditions are in place, these privileges extend until the end of the
cold season, five months after the end of the first Rains-residence. (BMC2)

we have a rule that upper robe should be four fingers from the bottom of the kneecap. And the lower robe should be eight fingers from the bottom of the kneecap.

1-2. I will wear the lower robe [upper robe] wrapped around (me): a training to be observed.
To wear the lower robe wrapped around means to wear the upper edge circling the waist, covering the navel, and the lower edge covering the kneecaps. This is called covering the “three circles.” The Commentary states that when one is standing, the lower edge should be not more than eight fingerbreadths below the knees, although if one’s calves are disfigured, it is all right to cover them more than that. (BMC 1, Sekhiya)

there’s a casualness about wearing the robes properly. The monks who have their arms exposed when out in the village , especially the right shoulder—these are monks that don’t follow the rules.

Sekhiya 3-4. I will go [sit] well-covered in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.(BMC 1)

One definitely should not wear monastic robes unless he or she is actually a monk.

reference coming later for *theyyasaṃvāsako

If you need something, you have to ask someone to give it to you—because you don’t touch money.

NP 18. Should any bhikkhu accept gold and silver, or have it accepted, or consent to its being deposited (near him), it is to be forfeited and confessed. (BMC 1).

Great interview venerable.
In one section you note that

And then there’s a double robe, which is a double-layered robe—worn largely in colder weather. It depends on where you live, but I live in the mountains where it’s quite chilly. So, I’ll take my third robe, and I’ll wrap it around me like shawl.

In very cold countries like the UK I have seen photos of Theravada monks wearing woolen hats and padded jackets over their robes - which they surely need considering that it might be snowing outside. But is an exception given in the vinaya for extreme weather like this?

1 Like

Personally, I don’t think they have tried to make things work with monks’ robes, or blankets. As I say… I wear rectangles. Even at our monastery, people wear blankets without ever trying their own double robes. One should work with the basics and see how that works and then add to it if necessary. After that, one should try the next level up and see how that works. A jacket which is more or less a heavy duty “shirt” would be four or five steps away from that, and one can expect a solution long before that.

What you see are mostly city monks or The Thai Forest Tradition. I have been fine without a jacket. I don’t think I have worn one in over 20 years. A woolen hat might be good, but as far as wearing tubular clothing, like shirts and pants… absolutely not necessary. I have been to cold climates before, including England when there was snow on the ground.

As for The Thai Forest Tradition, they now make it a standard to wear shirts even when it is warm. It is required to cover your right shoulder at all times. This is true for Amaravatti. For them, a shirt seems natural. I made my own covering from an old robe in the storeroom. It was still a rectangle but it looked very close to what they wore. That was important for both of us. I had also made sure this was okay before arriving there. This was important as well.

The problem is, shirts become a new standard, and you can surely see how Mahayana shirts and pants have evolved. It is happening in England actually. The monks rarely wear their upper robes except for getting food or chanting. Me too. The problem is that the inner cloth for them is a shirt, and below that is a simple T-Shirt totally meant for lay people.

For me that inner cloth is a shoulder cloth. It is a robe in some sense. It is nothing a lay person would wear. It is a rectangle. We need to be simple and different. We should not have the dress of regular people.

Work is difficult in robes,and maybe the answer is we should not work so much. There is a picture of me in that article working a construction line by shoveling rocks to pour concrete. It was not easy to wear robes, but that was all we had. There was no choice and there should not be a choice. However, our work is quite infrequent and totally voluntary. it is different in the Thai Forest Tradition. Work is very much a part of life because there is a very weak sit-down solitary meditation culture there. Work is the “meditation”.

We are very different monks and cultures. It is very rare for their monks to come over to our monastery and our monks to go to their monasteries. It is rare. We have different ideas, standards and texts we follow.

They are very successful in spreading the dhamma to the West, much more than Pa-Auk or Na-Uyana. In fact, although you might see places on the map, there is still nothing established in America. So they did what they did and they have many places in the West.

2 Likes

Does this shows that the Cold-weather platform doesn’t support the Classical Theravada application?

Some people can quickly judge the views and behavior of the monks of different regions, by looking at their robes.

I noticed one time a Western monk wearing a jacket and trousers, equipped with many tools, working in the garden, was almost seemed like Neil Armstrong on the moon.

It is best for monks to be in warmer climates.
If you were homeless, where would you try to live?

However, I was in England when there when there was snow.

“Now as I, monks, was going along the high-road between Rājagaha and Vesālī, I saw several monks coming along smothered up in robes, having put a mattress of robes on their heads and a mattress of robes on their backs and a mattress of robes on their hips; seeing them, it occurred to me: ‘These foolish men have turned too quickly to abundance of robes; suppose I were to set a limit, were to establish bounds as to robes for monks?’

“Then I, monks, on the cold winter nights between the ‘eights’, in a time of snowfall, sat down in the open air at night with (only) one robe; I was not cold. As the first watch of the night was ending I became cold. I put on a second robe; I was not cold. As the middle watch of the night was ending I became cold. I put on a third robe; I was not cold. As the last watch of the night was ending, as the sun was rising, in the flush of dawn, I became cold. I put on a fourth robe; I was not cold. Then, monks, it occurred to me: ‘Even those who in this dhamma and discipline are sons of respectable families, susceptible to cold, afraid of cold, even these are able to keep themselves going with three robes. Suppose I were to set a limit, were to establish bounds as to robes for monks and were to allow three robes? ‘I allow you, monks, three robes: a double outer cloak, a single upper robe, a single inner robe.” (PTS, Mv VIII pdf-page.439)

1 Like

In many ways you have to be a bit elastic with the vinaya, keeping in mind that they were set by the Buddha as he went along at a particular time and place. It is certainly better for monks to live in tropical climates as these are simply easier places to live when you’re living the homeless life. But the Buddha also said to spread the Dhamma for the benefit and happiness of the many, and simply ignoring a group of people simply because they live in a different climate than the Buddha did is not following the spirit of the teachings, even if you are following the word by following the vinaya strictly.

As long as the spirit is followed the word is less important. Most of the monks I know base thier midday meal limit on the clock (12pm) rather than the actual solar noon of thier particular longitude. There is a rule about keeping your main robe with you until you can see the lines of your palms with natural sunlight, and a rule against going on alms rounds before sunrise. But of course, this is completely impractical in places like alaska or northern canada where it can be night time for months at a time, so the monks there (from what i heard) just go by the clock rather than starve and die or just refuse to go to those places.

There is also a rule against hiding curry and meat under rice in your almsbowl. Although the mention of curry and rice is pretty specific in that rule (and specific to the culture), I imagine itd also be breaking the spirit of the rule if you hid meat under pasta in your almsbowl as well.

We are fine in Pyin Oo Lwin which gets down in the low teens (Celsius). You would be surprised at how well socks and double robe work to keep warm… but can add more layers. We have heaters in our kutis and so does the Thai tradition. The idea of a shirt… is just not necessary. But they do it for ease and doing rough labor.
I visited Chicago in October and Connecticut in Early November. It was below freezing. Like money… the monks just seem to never try to do without.

This goes against the decision taken in the First Council by 500 Arahants under the leadership of Venerable Mahakassapa.

Yes, it seems so. :heart:

This goes against the Suttas.

Yes it seems hard. But the 'robe-type" is not like that, if one tried hard.

This is misunderstanding. The rule is for “hiding with a desire of receiving more”.

If one uses incorrect information, then he draws conclusions incorrectly.

:heart:

Shameless Plug for Solar App: Buddhist Sun
Actually… if you really think about it… there were no clocks during the time of the Buddha.
This app tells you when Noon is and when Dawn is according to different algorithms.

There is no such pāḷi that explains this “lines on the palm”. It is Thai folklore.
Good luck not finding the lines during a clear full moon day as well.
You can read the book When is Dawn Time? by Greek Bhante Ñānadassana
If he says it is not in the pāḷi, rest assured, it is not in the pāḷi
However, ven Maggavihari disputes his claim about how late the time should be.
The commentary does mention the red color like fish eye.

2 Likes

“‘I will not cover my curries with rice because I want more,’ this is how you should train.”
“Na sūpaṁ vā byañjanaṁ vā odanena paṭicchādessāmi bhiyyokamyataṁ upādāyāti sikkhā karaṇīyā”ti.

https://suttacentral.net/pli-tv-bu-vb-sk36/en/brahmali?layout=linebyline&reference=none&notes=asterisk&highlight=false&script=latin

This could be a mistranslation of course, in which case i will concede your point. but that is how it was translated. specifically as curry.

1 Like

How so?

"Monks, there is the case where some worthless men study the Dhamma: dialogues, narratives of mixed prose and verse, explanations, verses, spontaneous exclamations, quotations, birth stories, amazing events, question & answer sessions [the earliest classifications of the Buddha’s teachings]. Having studied the Dhamma, they don’t ascertain the meaning (or: the purpose) of those Dhammas with their discernment. Not having ascertained the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment, they don’t come to an agreement through pondering. They study the Dhamma both for attacking others and for defending themselves in debate. They don’t reach the goal for which [people] study the Dhamma. Their wrong grasp of those Dhammas will lead to their long-term harm & suffering. Why is that? Because of the wrong-graspedness of the Dhammas.

There are also several cases of monks who followed the letter but not the spirit specifically in the vinaya and thats basically how we got all these sub rules.

No sex with women?
how about a child?

no women or children?
how about a monkey?

no humans or animals?
how about a yakka or preta? etc.

oh. how interesting. I will be sure to look up that actual rule then. :pray:

1 Like

What I meant was “Both are important”.

1 Like

Aŋguttara-Nikāya
II. Dukanipāta
II. Adhikaraṇa Vagga

Monks, these two things
conduce to the confusion and disappearance
of true Dhamma.
What two?
The wrong expression of the letter (of the text)
and wrong interpretation of the meaning of it.
For if the letter be wrongly expressed,
the interpretation of the meaning is also wrong.
These two things
conduce to the confusion and disappearance
of true Dhamma.
Monks, these two things
conduce to the establishment,
the non-confusion,
to the non-disappearance
of true Dhamma.
What two?
The right expression of the letter
and right interpretation of the meaning.
For if the letter be rightly expressed,
the interpretation of the meaning is also right.
These two things conduce to the establishment,
the non-confusion,
to the non-disappearance
of true Dhamma.

1 Like

Yes good point. come to think of it i dont know why i said the spirit is more important than the word. i was thinking more, follow the spirit, not just the word was what i was getting at initially.

3 Likes

There is some interesting information about robes from ven. Dhammanando on this thread .

https://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=36918#p556464

Some noted mistakes from the post above. I love how Thai Tradition often mixes tradition with vinaya. The Buddha warned against that.
However, Ven Dhammanado is a good monk and quite reliable (for his tradition and quoting pali as well). I can see where he gets these answers.

Mistakes:

In monasteries where the Vinaya is followed to the letter, the upper and outer robes will be of about the same size and differ only in that the outer robe is of double thickness, comprising two layers of cloth. In laxer monasteries (in fact in most monasteries), the two robes will be completely identical, both comprising a single layer of cloth.

Vinaya never says they need to be the same length or even color of that matter.
There is allowable size and allowable color. Anything else does not matter. Wat Khao of Thailand does not care even if you mix Thai robes with Myanmar robes… like upper and lower. I’ve seen it. However, it might fall into the category as “allowable but not good” Never the less, my double robe is quite old (as most monks preserve their double robe more than others over time). So the color is quite faded. The size is different too. When I wash my upper robe, I wear my double robe which is faded. I get looks and comments, but it is what I do and I don’t feel like getting a new robe. I usually try to do the whole thing during non-visible times.
One should be aware of “allowable but not good” but that does not mean it is vinaya.

Furthermore, One is allowed to leave the double robe behind if it is in a place that is safe with a latch. When I was in Kaua’i living in a camping park, I had to take all robes with me.

Thai Forest Tradition often requires one to wear the double robe folded on the shoulder during chanting or kammavaca.

If he wears three, the outer robe will be worn folded over his left shoulder.

He says this is Dhammayut tradition. It is also tradition for Ajahn Chah tradition as well. It seems that they like to distinguish between a novice monk and a bhikkhu with this third upper robe. Getting a third robe is the reward for full ordination… like an angel gets his wings. No other traditions from other countries follow this practice unless it is a transplant thai tradition (which is prevalent in many other Sri Lanka, Laos and maybe Cambodia).

This “tradition” probably comes from morning chanting. Morning chanting takes place before dawn and one is supposed to have his double robe with him during this window of time… actually all 3 robes. Therefore, I hypothesize that it became a “chanting” rule (both evening and morning) in Thai tradition more than a rule on having the robes during dawn. Remember, that most monks do not follow vinaya. Therefore the tradition has stronger power. I have heard that vinaya monks are now a small minority in Dhammayut these days.

The same could be said about wearing full robes (both shoulders covered) in Myanmar during alms. Having this style of dress means “you are collecting food (or money)”. The actual rule is to wear this fully covered style when you are in the village or outside the monastery… and not just “collecting food time.” Here, we can see that the tradition by most monks who do not follow the rules has changed the perception of what is correct… never the less, it is correct to wear full robes during alms. The monks normally go to the village/tea shops with shoulders exposed at all other times.

Most monks do not use umbrellas during “alms time” even when raining. People think this is a rule. It surely is not. One can use an umbrella for a variety of reasons, especially and specifically rain.

One time I had my bowl and full robes on well after Noon because I was in transition to go to the bus. The village was confused. :slight_smile:

A forest monk whose robes are dyed with jakfruit chips wouldn’t wear any of them when sleeping because semen leaves a permanent stain when it comes into contact with this kind of dye. Instead he would wear his rains bathing cloth which is dyed with red clay.

Clay is not allowed. It is specifically mentioned that it is not allowed. The great standards would allow chemical, but Pa-Auk does not allow chemical dyes because “they come from the ground” (like clay). However, all of their robes are chemical dyed and some monks have a natural layer on top that merely changes the tint and sheen. I dispute that store bought dyes are not allowable as a great standard, but I have refrained from re-dying my double robe while living at pa-auk. Great standards would include store bought dyes, like Rit dye.

This has some information

1 Like

Thanks for all this additional information Venerable!

1 Like