Saffron Robes and Real People Like Me

I have often wondered why Buddhist monks and nuns wear saffron robes and what significance there is in their color. It has been said that the color signifies the state of a dying leaf, yellow, brown or golden, as a symbol of letting go. But recently I read that the main directive about robes in ancient Buddhist traditions was that robes were to be made of “pure cloth” which was cloth that had been rejected and deemed unusable by society.

Saffron RobesRobes were pieced together from cloth that had been discarded, soiled by damage in a fire, stained from use during childbirth or menstruation, or cloth that had been used as a shroud to wrap the dead before cremation. The robes were pieced together by fabric that was salvaged, and then died with the spices that were available, saffron and turmeric were common, yielding the rich color.

You can see the practical value in this, recycling what was thrown away, but perhaps the spiritual, human value is something for us to contemplate. Clothing themselves in what society had thrown away might have been more of a counter-cultural response to the values that seemed to be society’s undoing. I wonder about this.

We are inundated in a very tangible way by the values that seem to permeate the world. Wealth, power, force, strength, coming out on top. Marketing, showcasing, winning.

As a reasonably new participant in some of the social media circles that demand my attention as a writer, I am wearied by the sales pitches, the drives to success, the life-coaches who want to help me get more, be more, do more if only I download their book and follow their five quick steps to winning. I can no longer distinguish between their voices – they are all after a piece of the market, a piece of me.

When what I really want, in the end, is connection – with other human beings.

What I’m after is finding a way to reach the ordinary folks who want to reach other ordinary folks.

So what I love about the miracle of social media is the potential to find those people – people I’d never otherwise meet who have fabulously ordinary lives like me, who go to work and raise families, who drink coffee when they wake up and then let the dog out, who struggle to make ends meet, who hope for holidays and sunshine, who wonder about God.

I long to connect with people who think and dream and read like me, and who come from places I’ve never been. I am amazed at the power of social media to find such ordinary people. I am stunned at the potential of technology to connect with worlds unlike mine so that a glimpse into someone else’s life might enlighten or enliven my own. What I’m really after is finding real people and their real lives.

But the airwaves or tweet waves or media waves are crowded with folks wanting to sell something. They’re so crowded I can’t find what I came for.

Its got me thinking about that “pure cloth”, the cloth that’s been discarded by society, cloth steeped in the stories of child birth and coming of age and mourning the loss of those we love.  I wonder how I might piece together those pieces laden with stories that don’t seem to matter much, pieces that have been discarded.

I wonder how I can stitch together something wonderful in which to wrap my life?

 

9 thoughts on “Saffron Robes and Real People Like Me

  1. Cynthia

    weird password
    my fave colour is saffron and I painted my new bedroom in this colour inspired by the colour of the monks robes For me it is a happy and joyful colour bursting with life. I too am curious about the conflict I suffer about being enough , having enough, doing enough , and feeling not enough sometimes. but so grateful to be surrounded by wonderful women and men also. I am rich with wonderful experience and authenticity and by the vision of a drive to do good I see in others. I think perhaps this happens because I am not a person driven by the need to make a lot of money. speculation hmmmmm

  2. Michael St.John Gelber

    The monk’s robe goes back to the Buddha’s own time for it was He who introduced it to the early monks. The “triple robe” (tricivara) comprises an inner garment or waistcloth (antaravasaka), an upper robe (uttarsanga) and outer robe (sanghati). According to the Pali tradition, six kinds of cloth are allowed for making the upper and outer robes: plant fibres, cotton, silk, animal hair (e.g. wool, but not human), hemp, and a mixture of some or all of them. The Buddha recommended that the robe design should be cut in the pattern of the Magadha padi-fields. The color of the robes depends on the dye used. Until very recently, this would have been natural vegetable dye found in the jungle from roots or trees. The robe dye is allowed to be obtained from six kinds of substances: roots and tubers, plants, bark, leaves, flowers and fruits. They should be boiled in water for a long time to get the dun dye. Nowadays, chemical dyes are more used and sometimes give that more vivid orange color. The color white is used by Buddhist devotees to show their commitment to keeping the Precepts — usually the Eight Precepts — on Observance Days. White robes are also worn by the anagarika, or postulant before he becomes a monk. Saffron (deep maroon) and ochre (mustard orange/gold) are the most prevalent colors today. Though there is a tendency among forest monks to wear ochre and city monks to wear saffron, but this is not always the rule. ( Saffron refers to the colour rather than the spice used to produce such a colour).

    1. heather Post author

      Well that’s an interesting turn in the story! Thank you for your informative and thoughtful comments. Hmmm…it’s got me thinking..

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