A Fulfilling Emptiness: Buddhist Robes, Awareness and Self-Expression

“By the end of the day [monks] consider the robe as just a piece of fabric that could be dismantled by a single match stick. What is important is what happens to the mind of the one wearing the clothing. The robe is only an outward expression.”

Investigating the true nature of yourself requires a willingness to stare deeply at an often unflattering exterior and interior reflection. A moment of stillness and quiet often helps to erode the detritus of a day, such as social media notifications and work e-mails, removing strings of connections unconsciously propelling our limbs like a marionette. Within this silence avenues toward self improvement begin to illuminate their walkways. A consistent retreat, on my own behalf, into this praxis of exterior silence and inner conversation has lead to many questions, one such question being:

Instead of accentuating the personality traits of the wearer, can clothing pare down or altogether remove the identity of a person?

When searching for a possible example, what came to mind was Buddhism. Within the eyes of say, a monk, every thought and thing is transient. The present moment is the only true reality. Preciously holding on to the past or obsessively attempting to grasp the future of anything, let alone clothing or jewelry, would be a great hindrance in their progression along their spiritual path. How then, do the robes of monks serve as a reinforcement of said beliefs?

Mother and daughter team, Elisa and Lily, are the creators of Stylelikeu, a movement claiming to “empower people to accept and express their true selves”. One the video interviews focused on uniforms, in particular the robes of a group of monk’s within a buddhist monastery. What followed with several brilliant insights into the ways fashion can both remove and accentuate your personality. An insight from Alison Lesley informs the viewer that:

“According to the Buddhist monks, the Buddhist clothing creates a visible way of uniformity and intention to the world. While it covers you from neck to the ankle, it strips down all the personal attributes and aspects that one would easily use to define you or identify who you are. It makes it clear that what you wear does not announce who you are before you can even speak.”

By covering alluring or undesirable curves, muscular biceps or an unsightly scar, the robe serves as a way of erasing other’s preconceived notions. In this way, the robe, or any such clothing, can serve as a protective shield or a curtain of privacy. 

The robes also functions, according to monk Suisei, as way to improve the posture and gait of an individual as well:

“One thing that having the sleeves does, is it forces you to be very aware of how you move, you can’t be sloppy. You’ll either fall or you’ll trip all over yourself. So, simply by having to wear the robe in a particular way creates a particular type of awareness, presence, hopefully, grace.” 

Further highlighting the benefits of the robes, fellow monk Mujaku considers the benefits of emptying yourself of preconceived notions. Without so many voices swirling in your head, you can appreciate more thing people and thing around you, and how, “being completely kind of empty, with none of that, is a way to express because in that way you can express what is in front of you. You’re not filled with anything.”

To pull these myriad threads into a cohesive yarn, these monk’s highlight the benefits of emptiness. Greater insight into others is achieved by the removing yourself so you don’t get in the way of appreciating the beauty around you. As a result your choice of fashion is guided by an inner voice rather than the endless litany of ad campaigns. This clarity ultimately leads towards not only a better outfit but a more truthful expression of yourself, intensifying the luminosity of beauty inherit in each and every one of us.