White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 17: When Shaving their Hair

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, March 27th, 2008


...lets you know that you're alive

...and, you can make a choice to notice your life
...in the only place it's happening

...which is right NOW

...in this moment. 

As you're sitting there breathing in and out,
feeling the bodymind, little creaks and groans,
feeling the lungs expand,
you can almost feel the hair growing on your head,
on your arms,
cells falling off.
That's life. 

The verse... 

When shaving their hair,

"May all beings

Leave behind self-grasping forever
And enter into no birth and no death." 

As the Roshi has said,
gatha, songs or verses,
remind us first of all to practise.
You heard this last week,
in a quote.

Practise now if you notice any thought about not remembering,
or if you notice anything at all;
feel the breath,
sit up straight, 
open peripheral vision to the whole visual field. 

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 or 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. 

The reminder is to
feel the breath,
feel the body,
open to the visual field,
and allow whatever is noticed;
the breath,
colours, forms, sounds, tastes,
fabric on the body,
the knees on the zabuton,
whatever little clots of contraction
that have started as part of a pattern of self-identification, self-image,
to open completely. 

The verses of "The Practice of Purity" are reminders
of the possibility of practice in any situation
and they provide an opportunity to explore perspectives
and to expand our usual understanding of various aspects of our experiencing. 

When a person is ordained a monk in the Northern Mountain Order,
the head is shaved except for the shura,
a patch at the nape of the neck.
During Shukke Tokudo the person will kneel in front of the Roshi.
The Roshi holds the shura and asks three times, "Shall I cut the shura?"
three times the monk replies "yes."

The Roshi asks, "Shall I cut it?"
"Shall I cut it?"

And interestingly enough, the last "yes" has always been stronger than the first two. 

Now sometimes the Roshi has responded to the person being ordained and said,
"Are you shura?"
[students laugh]
In asking permission to cut the shura, three times,
the Abbot is asking, as the voice of the Lineage of Teachers,
"Are you making this choice freely?"
"Do you understand what you are doing?"
"Are you committed to follow through?"
The question is asked in front of the assembled Sangha of monks, and students. 

It's a bald and very public declaration of the intention of the person to practise and study without fail,
beyond convenience. 

When the shura is cut,
the cut hair is put in a bowl of water and is shown to every person in the Hatto.
Heads bend and look down to the little hairs floating on the water in the black bowl.
Everyone sees the commitment. 

Now we could say the scraping away of the hair is something like
the cutting through and wearing out of patterns of contraction.
The shaving is done with a razor
(we all know the sharper the blade the better). 

The cutting through and wearing away of the patterns of contractions
is done with the practice of zazen,
with bowing practice,
chanting practice,
oryoki practice,
samu practice,
and the diligent use of all the forms of practice.
The sharper, the more diligent one's efforts can be...
the better. 

The bald head,
gleaming in the lights of the Hatto,
the removal of the hair,
shows the recognition,
to a greater or lesser degree,
that there is no solid and permanent self,
and, most of all,
that bald head reminds the person who is sporting it,
and others, to practise. 

Now, in a way
we can say the monk is shaving away thousands of years of hair as a statement of self-image,
as a universal social identifier.
Hair has been, and still is,
a pan-cultural sign of
status, power, worth, beauty, and gender.
But that is not why we are doing it.
That's not why we are shaving our heads.
It's a good reminder to practise.
It's a good reminder, every day when shaving,
at least once,
of what the monk is doing. 

The hair will always grow back if the shaving is stopped.
And patterns can come back,
or can become more firmly entrenched,
if they're not practised. 

Hair has been cut, braided, grown to extreme lengths,
had patterns cut into it,
been waxed, coated in earth, grease, and dung.
It has been shaven off as punishment.
And this I believe is a really big bonus,
and may be behind a lot of shaven heads in the past;
the shaven head provides no place for lice to live.
[student laughter]
This is very useful.
And I'm sure makes for a more comfortable situation.

Now putting all romanticism aside,
in the early monasteries which sometimes housed over three thousand people,
it would be crazy of us to think that parasites would be of no small consideration. 

Today, globally,
the care of hair costs over nine billion dollars a year.
Four billion of that is for dye,
for hair colourants.
I know in the past I've surely paid out at least
one hundred thousand dollars on hair care products.
[student laughter] 

The export of human hair from China and India last year
generated somewhere around one hundred and fifty-four million dollars.
Now that's what is known.
But we do know that people are very clever about finding ways around official routes in the name of profit.
The money generated could be twice that. 

Human hair is used for wigs, extensions, and brushes.
It's used to make hairnets,
to hold hair in place.
It finds its way into the linings of jackets and is often woven into fabric.
Hair, a pan-cultural social signifier, is big business.
And hand in hand with that,
the exploitation of beings to supply demand is big business. 

A monk could be said to be shaving away social signifiers.
But they're really only shaving as part of receiving ordination
and living day-to-day, 24/7, as a monk.
The Shingi, the rules of deportment
say that hair can be grown to as long as 1/4 or even 1/3 of an inch.
Special circumstances requiring longer hair can be discussed with the Abbot.
The growth of moustaches and beards must be approved by the Abbot.
Men should be clean-shaven when entering the Hatto in the morning. 

The shaven head is very practical.
With the early hours and busy days
there would be many, many, bad hair days.
[student laughter]
A quick swipe of the razor and you're good to go. 

This is the verse that the monks chant before shaving. 

Now, as we are being shaved,

May we leave behind self-grasping forever
And enter into no birth and no death. 

This verse is "closer to the bone"
as the monk is expressing their intention to practise as completely as possible
so as to wear out the contractions of self-image completely. 

The verse is slightly different from the translation we chose in "The Practice of Purity"; 

When shaving their hair,

"May all beings

Leave behind self-grasping forever
And enter into no birth and no death." 

Here the intention and the wish
is that all beings be free from the suffering
of the contraction into a self that is other to everything else.
The verse is spoken on behalf of, and is extended to, all beings.

(It's not an invitation for everyone to shave their heads.) 

Thank you for listening.