White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 36: Putting on Lower Garments

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, November 29th, 2008

No matter which box you tick on a questionnaire when it says "Sex",
here we are,
all of us,
whether we ticked "m", "f", "h", or "undecided".

We're all sitting here and we are wearing the perfect practice garment,
the kunsu, the lower garment,
which wraps around, which is tied
and which provides the most comfort of anything you can put on to wear when you're practising. 


...when you're wearing this lower garment
or any lower garment,
leggings, tights, jeans, underpants, panties, boxers, skorts, skirts, jodhpurs, breeks, trousers, trews, kilts, bloomers, slacks...
No matter what lower garment you're putting on,
the moment you notice anything about that moment of experience,
you are given,
for no reason whatsoever,
the opportunity to practise the reality of that moment
of noticing the whole body in the whole moment. 

Today's verse from "The Practice of Purity": 

Putting on lower garments,
"May all beings

Bear fundamental goodness
And a sense of responsibility." 

Now, the fundamental goodness is something that is inherent in the vows, including the samu chant, for example:

May all beings be happy, may they be peaceful, may they be free.

So each and every one of us has expressed to ourselves and others this fundamental goodness and clarity.

A sense of responsibility?
Willingness to respond to any situation by making the best possible choice of what to say or what to do.

Now, of course, we'll keep it simple.
The first choice is of course to practise the whole bodymind in this moment.
Feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
opening the eye gaze,
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, thoughts.

Practising that moment of noticing reality
opens further the potential for expression
that will be the most useful to the most beings in alignment with
the understanding,
the desire,
the expression that brought you to practice. 

So "putting on lower garments", let's keep it simple. 

At some point in the history of humankind,
someone sat down and wove something.
They put one piece of material over another and eureka:
the fashion industry.

But for the longest time,
up until about the sixteenth century,
a piece of cloth wrapped around the body
and tied in many different ways was the garment.
That was what people wore to cover their nakedness,
to give them warmth.
The only exception may have been the Inuit
who were using animal skins and as far as we know,
never developed weaving
and they had leg coverings made of animal hide with a tunic over it,
also made of animal hide.

And it was in the sixteenth century that this idea,
this fact of covering each limb separately developed.
So we had leg coverings that were tied to a tunic
in most of the western world as the prevailing mode of dress for men. 

So now we have a division in the wearing of garments
that has become the purview of self-image,
that contraction into a sense of self with its story as to who we are
and what the world is
and what is going on in the world.
So these leggings tied to a tunic were a mode of dress.
The tunics became shorter,
so these individual leggings now needed something additional to cover the naughty bits.
So thus developed the codpiece. 

And now we have pants or trousers.
And why pants? Why the 's'? Why trousers?
Because there were two.
So when you hear someone in a store trying to sell you a "pant", or a "trouser",
you have an affectation of the fashion industry and it's just wrong. 

So we have these large pieces of cloth
that were still wrapped by a lot of the world around themselves
and tied in various ways.
And it's been the longest lasting garment as far as I can find out, ever.

Apparently the Vikings wore lower garments that were made up of 100 meters of fabric,
bearing in mind that a loom at that time may have been only 12 inches wide,
so they would have been strips.
So of course modes of clothing take on meaning,
the meaning of status.
I mean if you can only afford 12 meters,
and that other guy over there has 100,
well, who, who has more status?
Well, the guy with 100 meters of fabric in his pants!
[students laugh] 

Self-image will make anything,
will take anything to make statements of division,
which can lead to violence.
The kilt is still a source of argument.
The Irish claim it, the British claim it, and the Scots claim it, and they fought over it.
In fact, at one point, the English said the Scots could not wear the kilt
because it was a bonding factor,
and the wearing of the kilt was punishable by six months in prison,
and the second offense: seven years of transportation to some foul colony overseas. 

It is quite surprising how political garments are.
And it's quite fun. 

For women, the wearing of the trousers was something that just was not done until the 18th century
when women working in mines and fields
would wear a form of trouser borrowed from men with the skirt tucked up over it.
The trouser again became a political statement.

Bloomers, voluminous pants,
which some say were modeled on harem pants
became a symbol of women seeking liberation in the 19th century.

In the 19th century in the American west,
women wore trousers for riding,
and when airplanes came about,
for flying in airplanes, for riding bicycles, and for protesting.

In the 1930s, actresses made the wearing of trousers popular.
They were also popular for war work.
And in Britain, women, because of the rationing of fabric,
wore their husbands' trousers to work in factories, to work on the land.
And in the 1960s, trousers,
imagine that, only in the 1960's,
trousers for women were strutting down the runways of the fashion world. 

When you think about it,
what meaning or thought might pop into your head if...
say you saw a man wearing a skirt on the street,
what might come up?

We do tend to accept unquestioningly our opinions,
the opinions of self-image,
and use them to define self and other.

So just see it,
have some fun with it.
And recognize that in the kunsu,
this piece of fabric, wrapped around,
that you are wearing so that you can practise more comfortably,
is a garment that has been the prevailing lower garment in the world.
All lower garments evolved from large pieces of cloth wrapped and folded in various ways. 

Oh here's a little fact:
First World War,
the Royal Highland Regiment went into battle wearing kilts.
The Germans referred to them as "The Ladies from Hell".

So take nothing for granted.
Start to have fun when you're looking around.
When you're sitting on the zafu,
use every opportunity of noticing any facet of reality at all
to allow the whole bodymind to express itself fully in the whole moment.


When putting on lower garments
"May all beings

Bear fundamental goodness

And a sense of responsibility." 

Thank you for listening.