20 November 2011

Verse of the Kesa

As we were shutting things down after Temple Night Friday evening, my teacher and I were reflecting on just how good it is that there are opportunities throughout the year to wear the kesa (in many lineages, ordaineds wear the kesa most every day for sittings; in ours, it's reserved for formal occasions and ceremonies).  For starters, it keeps one from forgetting completely the kesa protocols.  Beyond that, though, it tutors the wearer in humility and patience by squelching the impulse to just get up and get on with things by introducing details of care and reverence to attend to.  Seeing the kesa wearer attend to these things cannot but remind any and all onlookers of the nature and aim of our practice: just this.

I remember well my first schooling in what it means to wear the kesa (as opposed to how to wear the kesa).  Before my ordination ceremony began I was waiting out of sight in the center office.  As the time for the start of the ceremony drew near, my teacher came into the office and without a word took off the rakusu he had been wearing, took his kesa out, went off to the side of the room, quietly knelt down on the floor towards the wall, carefully put the kesa on his head, placed his hands palm-to-palm, and silently recited the Verse of the Kesa.  I teared up.  "That's my teacher...," I thought to myself, "And that's how one puts on the Buddha's Robe...." 

Putting on the kesa throws Hakuin's "this very body, the body of Buddha" into a whole new light.  Now everyone has every right to look at me and come to their own conclusions as to what it means to be a son of Shakyamuni.  Even back in the day people looked at the early sangha members and thought, "So this is how Gotama's followers act!"  Sometimes they said it with approbation; sometimes they said it in contempt.  The burden lies on me to make the Dharma a lived, embodied reality in the 21st century.  Outside me, no Buddha.  It gets right down to that.

So I say again:

Wondrous is the robe of liberation (in all ten directions, all three worlds)
A treasure beyond form and emptiness (unspeakable boon given as rags)
Wearing it I will unfold Buddha's teaching (whether I intend to or not!)
For the benefit of all sentient beings (may I be but their admirable friend)

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