‘Whenever I see a monk or nun in robes, I feel encouraged. It reminds me that there’s another way of living. It makes me believe for a brief second that there is a possibility of freedom from my own obsessiveness and clinging. This encouragement comes just by looking at the clothes – it doesn’t have to do with the merit of the person wearing them.’ (Bow First, Ask Questions Later)
This past week I have dug out my full formal robes a couple of times for the shuso ceremonies at City Center and Green Gulch. Wearing them does not make me more meritorious, but it does change the way I feel, and when I walk through the city wearing them, I am aware of the effect they have, since there is not the cultural context that Gesshin is writing about from her experiences in Japan. That said, I do also remember a few years ago from my Zen Center days, when a group of us, having attended Paul’s weekly koan class, went out for breakfast to celebrate some occasion. Nobody in the neighbourhood seemed to bat an eyelid to see half a dozen people walking down to Hayes St in flowing robes; I guess they are used to it round there. On Saturday, walking back from City Center after Barbara’s ceremony, it was Santa Con, in any case, so there were many people in more eye-catching robes wandering around town.