Friday, October 26, 2012

Button Up

I think Buddhists should look to Quakers for a lesson in simplicity.

I was, and I guess I still am a Convinced Quaker. I joined a meeting many years ago in College, and in many ways I still identify with the religion, and I have never been 'excommunicated' to my knowledge. When I was learning some Quaker history, I heard an interesting story about buttons, and simple dress in general.

Like Buddhists, Quakers understood the value of simplicity. They encouraged members to dress simply. Quakers would avoid bright, showy color. Their clothes lost fancy things like decoration and pockets. Even buttons had to go, as they were then a bit rare and seen as differentiating signs of wealth and station. Eventually, however, this simplicity became a de facto uniform. Quaker's stood out because of all their black and simplicity. And perhaps a few started standing *above* because of all that simplicity.

Eventually some observant Quakers noticed what was happening and suggested a different approach. Just dress "normally". I'm not sure what precepts may exist in the Quaker liturgy on this point now, but it seems off the rack from Goodwill is probably a fair test of current "normal" dress.

I think Buddhists could learn from this. I understand the value of simplicity in all things. It helps avoid exciting the mind to spin off in a myriad of thoughts that are not here and not now. Lack of simplicity can excite envy, jealously, self loathing, etc.... But when simplicity becomes a uniform, these same problems arise.

I recall reading the rules for visiting one retreat center that said one should not shave their head unless they had a certain type of ordination. This is a very clear sign that that retreat center was using level of simplicity as a judgement structure (picking an choosing) rather than using simplicity as a means of avoiding judgements.

Buddhists should look carefully not only at their rules of dress and who can have a rakusu, and what color can it be, and who is allowed to shave their head, or have longer hair, but also at the hallway whispers and weighty concerned committee meetings about this or that member's inappropriate dress. It may reveal a sickness of simplicity in their house.

Appearance is empty. Let it be empty.

As the great bard said in The Tragedy of The King Dali Lama, "When simplicity becomes the show, then simplicity has got to go"

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