Saturday, February 27, 2010

no prophet ever wore the clothes of a priest

From Atheist Cartoons:


  1. Personally I respect the robes, since they're part of a tradition going back to the Buddha. The burgundy and gold colors were chosen because those were the least desirable dyes back then. And they were supposed to be sewn together from smaller pieces of cloth, i.e. discarded rags. If you look closely at monastic robes, you'll see that they're sewn together from smaller pieces.

    My Lama (who's a fully ordained monk) often comments that monastic robes no longer convey their original intent, particularly since they're usually made from new fabric that's been cut up first into smaller pieces. He muses that a modern version of robes should just be jeans and a t-shirt from the thrift shop. Indeed, unless he's teaching, he's usually wearing something quite basic like that.

    FWIW, I don't think the Dalai Lama has ever made any claim to having liberated himself from ego...

  2. In some schools of Buddhism, the robes represent rags taken from corpses, which is either cool or gross, depending on your POV.

    The argument that Buddha himself chose a uniform seems odd to me. What are the traditional sources for that?

    I agree completely with your lama, though I'd add that any work clothes would do.

    And regarding your FWIW, I could quibble and say that's the goal and the Dalai Lama's supposed to be the symbol of seeking that goal, but the person doing Atheist Cartoons is going for the easy joke rather than the researched one. For what it's worth, he doesn't seem to have favorites in religion, and I suspect he chose the Dalai Lama rather than the Pope for this one because he wanted to be more inclusive.

  3. You blog title is wrong Will.

    I think you will find that one of the greatest Hebrew prophets Isaiah was a Jewish priest.

  4. Robin, good catch. I should've gone with something like "no major religion's founder wore priestly clothing."

    Though Zoroaster might've. If I remember correctly, he was a priest before he began to preach monotheism.

  5. The sutras frequently mention the Buddha's robes, as well as his begging bowl. The robes represent renunciation - they're very evocative to a Buddhist practitioner because of that symbolism. The point of the robes is not to say what you are, but what you aspire to. Personally, I would be very sorry if Buddhist monks stopped wearing robes - it makes me happy to unexpectedly see someone on the street wearing them.

    Personally, I quite enjoyed an earlier Athiest Cartoons episode where a teacher is being asked to "teach the controversy." Quite funny, but it's too bad when the authors stray from their area of expertise which, I suspect, is dogmatic Christianity.

  6. Ted, were robes unique to priests then? Dang. Now I want to research priestly garb in India in Siddhartha's time.

  7. Oh, by the way, I really wouldn't refer to a monk's robes as "priestly," since that implies that monks routinely get up and preach. Most monks study and meditate, and never get up and preach, so the robes don't represent that at all. The only thing the robes signify is that the wearer has taken monastic vows of some sort (and the variety of vows that Buddhist monks take is quite broad - some take vows of celibacy, some don't, some renounce alcohol, some don't, etc).

  8. It looks like I answered your question. To put it more strongly, at a typical monastery the ratio of robe-wearing people who get up and officiate at ceremonies or teach students is probably anywhere from 100:1 to 1000:1. And of course at our retreat center most people who teach or do ceremonies do not wear robes (but we're a bit unusual).

  9. Isn't there a bit of an overlap between priests and monks? I thought there were lay monks and priestly ones in Catholicism, for example, but that's purely an impression.

    I googled "hindu buddhist robes", and one site offered this:

    "The saffron pigment is traditionally derived from the saffron plant (Autumn crocus) which is called Keshar from which the saffron colour derives one of its names - Keshari. This plant is grown in the sub-Himalayan regions and is very rare. This rarity could have been a reason for this particular colour to be highly valued and this along with its golden hue raised it to the status of being a holy colour. That the golden colour of the precious yellow metal had a special status apart from the high monetary value attached to it is evident from the term Suvarna that is used to describe it. Suvarna means the good colour (Su=good, varna=colour). This word was normally used to refer to gold rather than the other word Hiranya (derived possibly as an adjective of Harina which means a deer - an animal having a golden-brown sheen). Among other words used to describe the saffron colour are Bhagva and Naranga. The term Bhagva could have been derived from the word Bhagvan (meaning God) to identify this colour as the one associated with God. Incidentally in Sanskrit the term for good fortune is Bhagya which also is indicative of the auspicious significance attached to this colour."

    Another site says, "The saffron color, also auspicious to the Sikhs, the Buddhists and the Jains, seems to have obtained religious significance much before these religious came into being."