White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 16: Shedding the Clothing of Householders

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 20th, 2008

this one...
right now... 

...is a moment in which you can practise. 

You can feel the clothing you are wearing moving and shifting
with the moving and shifting of the bodymind
caused by the breathing.

You're alive in this moment.

Practise this moment. 

The gatha or verse: 

Shedding the clothing of householders,
"May all beings

Cultivate roots of expansiveness

Free from the yoke of wrong action." 

When people are ordained,
they are literally and metaphorically
"shedding the clothing of householders". 

The clothing of householders,
the clothing worn before receiving vows
is replaced with monk's robes.
Robes are worn on all formal practice occasions.

These practice occasions include ceremonies,
formal sittings,
and interviews with students engaged in the process preliminary to acceptance as a student. 

Those monks who work,
and all of us have had to,
adapt their work attire so as to align with guidelines in the
"Saijo-Shingi, The Deportment of Radiance, the Monastic Precepts of the Northern Mountain Order".
Clothing aligned with the Shingi is a constant reminder of vows and a reminder to continuously practise. 

Each time the moment is practised
the tendency to follow contraction and contracted ways of acting is opened.
Experiencing in that moment is open and expansive.

That's how it is all the time.
It gets hidden when attention focuses in on certain favourite patterns.
This is true for anyone,
public, associate, general, or formal students, or monks.
This is true for any being.
This verse, as the others,
once again encourages anyone to open past contracted states
and cut the tendency to be limited or yoked by the contraction
caused by following usual patterns. 

The guidelines for monastic clothing are simple:
black, in good repair, the right size,
and without externally displayed markings
such as labels, branding, colourful patterns, and designs. 

There are many more details about how to make robes and other clothing,
what to wear and when,
there's history,
useful information on how to care for items,
when and how to wash, spot cleaning, and so on.
This type of detailed instruction for monks means
that there is no need for wasting energy and effort
in having to figure out, on their own, what to wear and how to take care of it. 

The information and methods we have of doing anything at all
when we first start to practise
is not complete and will expand as practice matures.

For example, a student offering samu is given explicit details about the task from a monastic.
The more clearly a monk can explain exactly what the task is,
the best way to do it,
the location of the required materials,
the more the student has a framework which frees them
from having to worry about how to do the task.
They can just do it
and practise whilst doing it. 

Now, if they have a better way,
the monk will be glad to hear it.
We're always looking for a better way to do things. 

The student can do the assignment,
in the assigned way,
and learn to notice more details of perception and cognition as they practise. 

those views of how we are and how the world is,
often bubbles up and enthralls us
even when we are doing simple tasks.
We get lost in thought and forget what we're doing.
Or we may seem to be watching ourselves doing some things.

All of a sudden,
we may notice ourselves acting out the part of a good and mindful student.
We may find ourselves bustling around in a parody of committed activity.
We get so busy being what we think is a good and mindful student
that we forget what we are doing and end up with
dust and woolly bits of stuff blowing in the hallway,
food bits left in the sink trap to rot,
cleaning cloths left on radiators
and on and on and on.

Now this isn't a problem.
As practice matures we become more traceless in our actions.
We start to understand moment-to-moment,
that taking care of what needs to be taken care of is not limited
to taking care of the zafu and zabuton in the Hatto or Zendo. 

In the matter of clothing,
and other patterns we carry with us,
we are asked to leave the usual social indicators of
the "worth",
the "status",
the "value",
the classification of individuals,
at the door of the monastery. 

In 1991, the Roshi quoted a poem I'd written on beginning the Straight Path. 

Backpacking the Straight Path
(instructions for the Zendo) 

Bare bones
Bare flesh

Leave the backpack of self-image:
Parent, child, male, female,
Straight, gay, old, young,

Black, white, older, younger,
At the door with your
Shoes and socks 

Pick it up on the way out
Too heavy? 

Unpack in Suchness
And the load

Our "Householders clothing",
familiar stuff, everyday things,
jeans, tight skirts, short skirts, shorts, pantyhose, suits,
are uncomfortable for sitting.
Although jeans and so forth may be worn for samu. 

Those of you who are already wearing the kunsu,
the folded cloth lower garment,
which is wrapped around the waist,
know, from experience, and right now,
that it frees the legs in a way that no pair of trousers or pants can.
The feet are covered by the kunsu when sitting.
This is really useful in this northern climate.
[student laughter]
The experience of the expansiveness of the space around the limbs changes your experience of sitting. 

On another note; clothing is a major social indicator in any culture.
We're all familiar with this.
The leaders are supposed to have the best, the most showy, the most expensive, clothing.
We learned to read each other instantly by what we see each other wearing.
People wear labels in huge letters like banners of worth.
When really they've been turned into billboards for the product.
And we don't even get paid for it.
And it seems the bigger the lettering, the more familiar the lettering, the more the item costs.
Go figure. 

We could go on and on
about fashion, clothing, resources, style, detail, merchandising
but that's all content.
All of this can be interesting and fun (to some)
but it isn't the point of the verse. 

I was talking with the Roshi today about gatha or verses and their point.
The Roshi said,
"the point of the various gathas that we chant such as the Gokan-no ge or meal chant,
is not the chant itself but doing the chant.
It is not a matter of telling yourself a Buddhist story about what you are doing.
The words are important as they are instructions to be practised,
but much more important is the practice of doing the chant,
to stop,
to establish mindfulness,
before doing the task or before moving on to the next."

Those who have taken monk's vows have recognized,
to a greater or lesser degree,
that they need not play out any kind of pattern
(nor should they wear them)
and all other students are learning to do or not do just that
through studying and practising mindfulness.

Committing to practise and using the many reminders to practise; 
forms, clothing, chants or gatha,
many interesting and funny things may be discovered,
for example:
millions of people expressing their individuality by wearing the same things.

That makes no sense...
except to merchants. 

You understand that the verse is not just referring to the physical clothing that we wear everyday. 

When pushed and pulled into action
by contraction
and the unquestioned assumptions we hold about reality,
we can do some really stupid and downright hurtful things.
Wrong action and the consequences of wrong action do capture and burden us.
We've all experienced that yoke of wrong action;
again, to a greater or lesser degree.
That something, that contraction, narrows and limits experiencing. 

Who needs that? 

Shedding the clothing of householders,
"May all beings

Cultivate roots of expansiveness
Free from the yoke of wrong action." 

Thank you for listening.