28 August 2010

Nothing Special

"I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes." Thoreau, Walden

So I got some new clothes this summer. The sangha outfitted me with two robes, a shukin, a rakusu, a kesa and a zagu. I should like to think that, in this case, the clothes confirmed the newness of the wearer, though that is something for others to judge. Except for excessive wear and tear -- but, really, how worn can anything but the everyday robe possibly get? -- I can't imagine having any reason to replace or add to anything in that stack.

Which brings me to the temptation I suppose many feel to go a-shopping at "Boutique Zen": brocade rakusus and kesas of various designs and colors, coordinating malas for the wrist, flowing Japanese silk britches for ceremonial occasions, tabi, samues that will never, ever, be used to actually work in...

Oh, yeah, the samue.

While in the Japan Center in San Francisco earlier this month I passed a shop that had a small rack of samues in the front of the store. I took a look. There was one that was touch-it-and-your-fingers-are-blue-for-a-day indigo (cool!). Nice construction. Button waist. Zippered fly. Pockets in the pants. Roomy top (I'm not skinny). Appropriate sleeve length. Decent price (compared to what is usually asked for something like this). The shopkeeper, finding out I was ordained, offered to cut me a discount. He practiced at Page St. and sat with the Dharma Punx. Nice guy.

I bought it.

I understand that the samue is a point of some contention in my lineage. Bodhin Roshi sees it as yet another Japanese accretion that is best left in Japan, but his ordained dharma heirs all wear one. Here in the heartland, it really is pretty funny seeing a middle-aged, middle-class white guy on the street in a samue. On the other hand, when worn with a rakusu it seems to have become a clearly recognizable mark of Buddhist belonging that bestows a bit of "dharma cred" on the wearer.

I'm conflicted. Something tells me I should have one, and something tells me that it's silly to have one. I anticipate an occasion or a setting where I would be expected to wear one, and I have the sense that I would not even begin to feel at home on such an occasion or in such a setting.

It hangs in the closet. If it hangs there for the next two years without me putting it on, I'll pass it on to someone who values it more than I do, for by then the conflict will have settled of its own accord.

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