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0 votes
by (120 points)

In a recent Dhamma study the topic of robes was involved. After some reading I have noted that many of the related guidelines for the construction, style, and the repair of such robes (plus the importance of each) were outlined for the young Bhikkhu and how any candidate for ordination must have a set of robes before they can be admitted to the community as a Bhikkhu and should become content with any old robe cloth (within the guidelines) and hold no attachment nor disdain for such robe cloth.

I was working to consider application of the Buddha's intent to lay life and immediate answers seem to be the obvious such as lack of attachment to branding, appearance, etc of our clothing while maintaining their integrity through repair and washing.

One aspect that I am seeking clarification on is the allowance for the lay to wear simple robes. I have yet to find specific passages relating to the wearing of robes by the lay but have seen a number of discussions and statements claiming that they should not.

The first argument I have seen is that they could be misinterpreted as ordained which is understandable when in the public eye, similar to the idea of impersonating a police officer, but this does not cover life in seclusion or in private or regions where robes would have no significance to the public. Aside from this, other arguments discussed seem to be coming from a place of attachment to the uniform. There also appear to be some schools which do in fact provide robes to the lay as part of their program, seemingly as a means of a reminder of your dedication to the practice while wearing them.

To summarize is there any further instruction from the Buddha or practical reasoning relating to the wearing of simple robes in lay life, in seclusion, or in private life as a means to simplify clothing under the premise of lack of attachment to what is worn?

Edit: 

Upon reflection, as there seems to be no direct instruction, from a practical perspective the guidelines seem to be as follows.

If the lay person is Buddhist:

  • Impersonation of a monk is immoral and unethical so should be avoided.
  • Wearing full robes in the style of monk in communities where monks are commonplace it could be confusing and would be impersonating the appearance of a monk.
  • It would be essentially impossible for a entry level practitioner to purchase or create robes without attachment to the appearance of a monk or the "idea" of the outfit.
  • Robes in general are of no mind, only those that are intended to present oneself as a monk.
  • If monk style robes or robe parts are presented by an instructor and used following their guidelines then it should be of no mind.

If the lay person is not Buddhist:

  • If they live in a community where monks are commonplace and have societal meaning then wearing their clothing could be disruptive and confusing.
  • Wearing robes in general (non monk style) should be of no mind.
  • In communities where monks are uncommon there should be no impact to them wearing monk robes or portions of them but it would be highly unlikely for someone to do so (outside of specific circumstances such as halloween impersonations).

by (120 points)
The simplest clothing will in fact be the ones that you already own and the practice of removing attachment from them, yes.

As a challenge to your response that a monk's robes are a part of their identity, is that not a form of attachment?

If saffron patchwork robes became trendy and a majority of lay people wore them a monk would still be a monk. There are areas of the world where Buddhism is so sparse that the average person may not even identify a monks robe as tying them to the practice yet a monk would still be a monk.

Also Is there any reference to the number of precepts followed relating to the adornment of robes, some kind of innate tradition, or an opinion you hold in general as to the level of dedication that should be required to be ready to “wear the uniform”?

Impersonating a monk would be immoral and intentionally allowing for confusion would likely relate to that in some way. The main harm I can personally ascertain is that obtaining ones own “Monk Robes” while still spiritually immature and dressing as a Monk could make one feel further along the path than they are or create unnecessary attachment.

Conversely in seclusion specifically is it possible that wearing some form of non standard outfit such as plain clothes plus the Uttarāsaṅga (upper robe) could serve as a consistent reminder to maintain the practice and stick to your vows? I believe this could by why some schools present them to students early on. As you have stated in regions where they are uncommon an item such as a sarong could suffice for this purpose as well.

It seems like the main reason that a lay person would not is simply because it is unnecessary. That is to say they do not need to so why should they but that does not mean they should not as long as they are not publicly impersonating a monk or causing confusion for others and doing so out of a place of wanting and attachment.
by (6.9k points)
If the police and the army uniforms become trendy and many citizens start wearing them, that could lead to a functional issue in  the society. In the same way, it can create confusion if people start wearing the saffron robe.  Even if you live in a secluded area, I would say that wanting to wear the saffron robe without getting ordained or keeping to any higher precepts is probably your attachment to  the appearance of wearing a robe. If you really want a constant reminder to stick to your vows, it's better to take the precepts daily and incorporate Satipatthana meditation to your daily routine.
by (120 points)
I think we both agree that for an inexperienced meditator it is nearly impossible to obtain monk specific robes without some form of attachment as they would need to be purchased or created with some manner of intention. It becomes a different story if presented by an instructor as there is no sense of wanting involved at that point.

As a follow up to your comment about police or army uniforms, in many parts of North America years ago it was actually trendy to wear military uniforms and many people wore them with no intention of joining the army. There was no issue as there are no laws restricting them from doing so and members of the army here have little authority outside of times of emergency or war.

Similarly many non Buddhists here wear Buddhist symbols (among other spiritual and religious symbols) as fashion pieces. Buddhism is extremely rare here and so anything related to it would not be recognizable by the average person and they may be entirely ignorant of any significance or meaning.
by (6.9k points)
Whether you are an experienced meditator or not, why go buy robes in the first place for personal use or expect someone to donate them to you  when you already have clothes to wear and when there are better ways of reminding yourself of the vows or being mindful as a layman?

I doubt anyone who is knowledgeable in Buddhism(Theravada) would present a robe to a layman for personal use.

From where I come from, it's illegal to wear police and military uniforms. I think that is a useful law to prevent impersonation and confusion.
by (6.9k points)
Impersonating a monk for Halloween would still be disrespectful
by (120 points)
It does not say it is not disrespectful it says that is a circumstance where it could happen.
by (6.9k points)
I know. It was commented as information since the question is more about knowing if it is ok for a layman to wear robes. Not necessarily about listing the instances something could happen regardless of if it is right or wrong.  if you are interested in circumstances where a layman might wear a robe, I can state many more even in a Buddhist society.
by (120 points)
That could be an interesting, feel free to if you have the time but do not feel obligated.

Thank you for your effort in commenting so far. It is appreciated.
by (6.9k points)
You're welcome! But listing various human behavior falls outside the scope of this question.

1 Answer

+2 votes
by (6.9k points)

There was a famous Sri Lankan Buddhist revivalist called Anagarika Dharmapala. He wore a robe. But he kept to the eight precepts and he was not a house holder. Lay people are usually recommended to wear white clothes when attending religious places. My personal opinion is that if you are at least not an eight precept keeper, wearing a robe would be inappropriate. 

Also, if the goal is simplicity and having as few clothes as possible, why not do it with just a plain trouser and shirt or a sarong? What is the need to use something that is commonly considered as part of a monk's identity? Why even put yourself in a position to be mistaken as a monk if simplicity is all that you are interested in?

by (120 points)
The simplest clothing will in fact be the ones that you already own and the practice of removing attachment from them, yes.

As a challenge to your response that a monk's robes are a part of their identity, is that not a form of attachment?

If saffron patchwork robes became trendy and a majority of lay people wore them a monk would still be a monk. There are areas of the world where Buddhism is so sparse that the average person may not even identify a monks robe as tying them to the practice yet a monk would still be a monk.

Also Is there any reference to the number of precepts followed relating to the adornment of robes, some kind of innate tradition, or an opinion you hold in general as to the level of dedication that should be required to be ready to “wear the uniform”?

Impersonating a monk would be immoral and intentionally allowing for confusion would likely relate to that in some way. The main harm I can personally ascertain is that obtaining ones own “Monk Robes” while still spiritually immature and dressing as a Monk could make one feel further along the path than they are or create unnecessary attachment.

Conversely in seclusion specifically is it possible that wearing some form of non standard outfit such as plain clothes plus the Uttarāsaṅga (upper robe) could serve as a consistent reminder to maintain the practice and stick to your vows? I believe this could by why some schools present them to students early on. As you have stated in regions where they are uncommon an item such as a sarong could suffice for this purpose as well.

It seems like the main reason that a lay person would not is simply because it is unnecessary. That is to say they do not need to so why should they but that does not mean they should not as long as they are not publicly impersonating a monk or causing confusion for others and doing so out of a place of wanting and attachment.
by (6.9k points)
If the police and the army uniforms become trendy and many citizens start wearing them, that could lead to a functional issue in  the society. In the same way, it can create confusion if people start wearing the saffron robe.  Even if you live in a secluded area, I would say that wanting to wear the saffron robe without getting ordained or keeping to any higher precepts is probably your attachment to  the appearance of wearing a robe. If you really want a constant reminder to stick to your vows, it's better to take the precepts daily and incorporate Satipatthana meditation to your daily routine.
by (120 points)
I think we both agree that for an inexperienced meditator it is nearly impossible to obtain monk specific robes without some form of attachment as they would need to be purchased or created with some manner of intention. It becomes a different story if presented by an instructor as there is no sense of wanting involved at that point.

As a follow up to your comment about police or army uniforms, in many parts of North America years ago it was actually trendy to wear military uniforms and many people wore them with no intention of joining the army. There was no issue as there are no laws restricting them from doing so and members of the army here have little authority outside of times of emergency or war.

Similarly many non Buddhists here wear Buddhist symbols (among other spiritual and religious symbols) as fashion pieces. Buddhism is extremely rare here and so anything related to it would not be recognizable by the average person and they may be entirely ignorant of any significance or meaning.
by (6.9k points)
Whether you are an experienced meditator or not, why go buy robes in the first place for personal use or expect someone to donate them to you  when you already have clothes to wear and when there are better ways of reminding yourself of the vows or being mindful as a layman?

I doubt anyone who is knowledgeable in Buddhism(Theravada) would present a robe to a layman for personal use.

From where I come from, it's illegal to wear police and military uniforms. I think that is a useful law to prevent impersonation and confusion.
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