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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Reasons Why Buddhist Monks Wear Robes and ShaveTheir Heads

I received a comment asking what the symbolism is of the robes that Buddhist monks wear and I put together a response from some research. I decided to make a post out of it for others who might be interested in the query. If anyone else has something to add, feel free to post it in the comments.

For the most part the robes of the monks depended on the dye that was available in the region. And then tradition just kept those different colors. And it also helps distinguish which sect/tradition/school of Buddhism the monastic follows.

The simplicity of wearing a basic robe partly symbolizes the vow they have taken to live a simple life. It is like their "uniform" in a way. A symbol of their non-status that they are no longer partake in the material aspects of society.

The material and dyes for their robes are usually donated by the laity.

The robe also symbolizes the monks connection to the Buddha and his willingness to follow in his footsteps.

Within some Tibetan Buddhist schools, If their sleeveless tunic is trimmed with yellow brocade or they are wearing yellow silk and satin as normal attire, they are probably eminent monks or considered living Buddhas. This link will help describe how the robes have changed over time.

Some, however, consider robes to be elitist and encourage pride as one "advances" within ones sect.

As for monks shaving their heads, it often symbolizes the renunciation of worldly things. It helps monks over-come vanity to embrace the simple life of a monk.

I hope this little research has helped a bit.

P.S.~Just wanted to let everyone know that the blog has just passed over 100,000 hits. The number doesn't mean as much to me, whereas, the readers that number represents is what is notable and humbling for this imperfect manifestation called James. Thank-you to everyone for your support, readership and comments.

I bow to the Buddha within you all. _/I\_

~Peace to all beings~

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Greenwoman said...

How wonderful James....Congratulations on seeing so many souls touching yours through this little blog.

A really good post. I enjoyed learning this. As always, I enjoy your writing. *smiles*

Gary said...

Nice response to the question regarding the symbolism of Buddhist monks' robes, James. Some good points regarding the shaving off of hair and the different colours of the robes.

If I might add to your excellent post, I'd like to add that the origins of the robes lie in 5th Century BC India, where the wearing of orange robes was already an established practice for renunciants. The Buddhist Order was set up in this era, so the accepted dress conventions were continued.

From a practical perspective, the robes may seem somewhat cumbersome or limiting to the modern mind, but from the traditional point of view, they were seen as simple and basic. They also prevent Buddhist monks from too much running around, jumping, and the playing of sports, all of which are traditionally seen as unfitting activities for a renunciant.

In Theravada Buddhism, there are three robes, including a kind of 'skirt' which acts as underwear. The Buddha laid down specific guidelines as to how long monks' robes should be, and how they should be worn. These stipulations act as reasons to develop mindfulness, the monk needing to be aware of his robes, along with other things, throughout the day.

Yes, the shaving of the head (as well as being another established practice for renunciants in ancient India) is a sign of a monk's letting go of vanity. In Thailand (and Laos and Cambodia under Thai influence), monks and nuns also shave off their eyebrows. This is said to be because in the past, when Thailand and Burma were at war, Burmese spies dressed as monks to infiltrate Thai society, so the Thai authorities had their monks shave off their eyebrows!

All these conventions are there to encourage the lessoning of vanity and ego, plus to act as a symbol for the Buddhist community at large. To many Buddhists(including this one!), they are powerful reminders of the commitment many monks and nuns make to the spiritual life. This commitment to Nirvana, along with the sharing of the Buddha's teachings with all who show an interest, are represented by the saffron robe, even if many individual monks don't live the true life of a monk as promoted by the Lord Buddha. The robes themselves remain archetypal symbols to millions of Buddhists around the world.

With metta,
Gary at Forest Wisdom.

alison said...

congrats! *tumbs up*, i still lurk here via google reader, but seldom drop comments now :) still enjoy reading your posts james! great post all the time. thank you!

Qalmlea said...

Awesome post. It's always fascinating to see where traditions came from. It's more interesting to look at the reasons and ways in which they continue. Thank you.

Andrew Quinney said...

Excellent post. I just recently found this blog, and have since found it extremely educational.

Keep it up, and congratulations.

david said...

Thanks for answering this, I was always curious ... and congrats on your success with this blog, you've got a nice voice and good energy.

They call him James Ure said...


Thanks!! I appreciate you adding some extra info. to this post. It was very enlightening. Thank-you for your comment. _/I\_


You are very kind, thank-you. It's always good to hear from you. I hope you are well. You are such a nice person. I bow to the Buddha within you. _/I\_


Thanks, I agree. I love studying the various religions and their histories.


I'm glad that you found us over here!! I am glad to be of service to all and am always pleased when someone reads something here that helps them. Hope to hear from you again soon. :) (bowing)


I'm glad you found the post helpful and thank-you for your beautiful words. I have meet so many wonderful people while blogging here and I await meeting more people like yourself!! May you be happy and peaceful in all moments.

They call him James Ure said...


Thank-you sweetie for being apart of this blog. Your voice is such a great addition. :) Blessings to you always.

Carla said...

Hey, congrats on over 100,000 hits! I'd like to put a counter on my own blog. Can you tell me how to do it? Thanks in advance--and thanks for the info about robes!

Anukriti said...

Great, your post offered helpful information. I agree with galmlea, it is always nice to learn about traditions. Also congrats on getting that awesome number of hits on your blog. Keep blogging

They call him James Ure said...


Thanks. As for getting the counter, I use They pretty much walk you through setting it up.

Then when you've set it up the way you like, they give you the code to place in your blog and tell you where in the blog to insert it. Let me know if you have any other questions.



Thank-you on the blog success and I'm glad that this post was helpful. I learned some new information in researching for this post as well.

All the best.

No Blood for Hubris said...

A dear friend of mine, a fully-ordained nun, once said: "It's so great. Now I never have to do my hair, or worry about what to wear."

They call him James Ure said...


That's exactly how I feel now that I shave my head. :)

Helen said...

Re color of robes - though it may be hard for westerners to associate the color orange with spirituality, it has long had this association in the East. Orange is the official color of the Hindu religion and appears on the flag of India. Orange is associated with passion, being the color of the Second Chakra; hence the popularity of marigold garlands in marriage ceremonies.

trotechnikus said...

Jay said...

Thank you so much for this blog entry! I've been meaning to research this for some time, and on a whim I decided that today was the day.

You just gained a new reader!

They call him James Ure said...


Welcome to our little community here brother!!

I'm glad that I could offer some information that is helpful to you.

I'm happy to have you as a reader. Hope to hear from you again.

I bow to the Buddha within you. :)

Monk Shiva said...

There is Deeper Meaning to The Colors than Just this Simple Explanation. Though You were getting more on track with stating that it represented a progression within the Spirit. As we Know Chakras Vibrate Different Colors. Yellow is Vibrated by the Solar Plexus, Orange by the Sacral and Red/Saffron by the Root Chakra. As Monks look inward for the connection to Source and the realization of Enlightenment this is Found through the Root Chakra. Thus Tibetan Monks Are Mostly Seen Wearing Saffron. The Colors represent more beyond this. I was converted from a Shaman to an Orange Monk Recently by the Great Spirit. The Color Orange While reflecting mastery of the second chakra, yin & yang represents Dedication and Discipline, Service and Joy. Dedication and Discipline being it's strongest qualities.

If you would like more information please feel free to contact with me. :)

Monk Shiva

resonence said...

A practical purpose to shaving the head obviously would be to avoid head lice, which living in close quarters in a monestery could be a problem.

SpaceMonk said...

Perfect article.
Thanking you.


adams jhon said...

This is really good information for me about robes and why they wear. Now I understand.

Felicity F said...

I understood robes originated as an expedience to aid concentrating on dharma practice, without the distraction of providing or maintaining an elaborate wardrobe. Avoiding sentimentality and attachment, robes from the deceased were washed in the local river thus acquired the local sediments' colouring. Thus were the different regions, where dharma spread, distinguished. Harmonising and practical, eh ...

nomzam said...

Thanks for the very nice information about them. Now I know why they do wear robes mostly.

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