Shantideva Did Not Wear a Hoodie!

Fashionable people are very much controlled by what everybody else is wearing, so much so that they don’t really have choices. Clothing designers create what people should be interested in for next year. This work out very well because most people want to look the same as others. They have decreed that we must wear a hoodie or never cover our heads even in cold weather. There is not much room for our own creativity, black, red or blue hoodie – your choice.

We have a quite independent thinking buddhist group gathered here this evening. Still, if you look at each other, aside from the ordained here, you are pretty much dressed alike …T-shirt, T-shirt, T-shirt, sweatshirt, sweatshirt, T-shirt…tie? Well, you're the odd person here (laughter). Perhaps you walked in here with your suit jacket on and took it off thinking “people would criticize me. I need to look more like everyone else”.

I believe all of you are just as controlled by your environment and choices as people in the '30s or the '20s or even people in the 1500’s were who wore white powdered wigs. They were people just like you! The upper class, educated and professional people of that time wearing little, tiny, tight knee pants and little tight jackets. Even the men wore a little bit of rouge and a white powdered wig. The ladies were quite complicated in dress and underwear that laced them in like a turkey about to go in the oven. The hair was carried by what must have been a pretty strong neck! However, they were people of their time just like you are a person of your time!

It gives me a funny feeling, and I'm not sure that I can explain it, but I make strong effort to see people as being just people whether they are from the present or the past. We see portraits painted of people of the past who were the famous movers and shapers of fashion, design of their time. What people thought were important and what was not to be thought of at all was molded by these important people!

It is easy to see the costumes and even understand the history and social values of those old days and overlook seeing them as products of their time and culture. In addition we tend to think of those people from the past as old fashioned, and somehow old fashioned has become less worthy.

A certain lady would flip a cigarette into her mouth at a party, and the next day, many want to emulate and smoke cigarettes so a special feeling of being someone who knew what was “hot and what was not” could arise. As soon as enough people smoked, then other would smoke without deciding whether that was a good idea or not. “Everybody smokes!”

They were exactly the same as the movers and shakers of present society. Somehow, we disrespect the past because we have already use a particular invention such as the telephone. The great excitement, the awe and newness surrounding the introduction and how to use the telephone that those of the past must have experienced would be an embarrassment to us today because it is so ordinary part of our world.

I feel that we are extremely influenced by these cues and clues of how and what we should like and be attracted to that are all around us. It is easy to become part of the wave of what is new coming and dislike what you already think is nice because now it is part of what is passé- a wrongness only because the fad has passed.

In my just before life I decided that I wanted a swan (I think plaster) on the lawn. It would make the lawn look nice and I could look out my window and see it. Ok? Was that so very wrong? My American attendants told me that I could not have it because it was too old fashioned. Ha ha I find a plastic swan in my new life here and put it on the yard. Looks so nice!

Anyway, that not the main point. While writing this I thought about Shantideva who lived around 800 AD. We think of him as a very contemporary writer because his words about arising and development of bodhicitta and bodhisattva behaviors resonate strongly with the modern world. It is as if he is speaking to modern problems.

However, it is possible that the enthusiasm and power of Shantideva came from the whole man, his life and inner and outer experiences channeled into thought and direction that is still alive today in what still exists after so long, his writing. The ball that he rolls toward us and into the future began with an extraordinary ordinary person who lived an exciting life. What would it have been like to meet Shantideva himself? Yes, a product of his time. If we knew every detail of his life would we continue to be inspired by him or would we think he had one or two good ideas and the rest was old fashioned? Could we see him as the product of his life in conjunction with wisdom alive? I would have liked to meet him. I would try not to be infected with ego of contemporary mind. Perhaps in reading some of the old masters of Buddhism we can try harder.


  1. I can remember a time not too long ago when what I looked like mattered a great deal more. Even thinking about this now brings a feeling of energetic restriction and a darkening feeling - perhaps the shadow of myself looking at myself. These days, it is wonderful to be content in just sweats - but happiest in robes :)


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