Buddhists Wear Clothes

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

There is a long running post titled “Buddhists Eat Meat” on this site. It has been read by hundreds and commented on by some. The comments are generally directed toward defending the commenter’s point of view and lots of talk is about compassion, specifically compassion for animals. The need to defend is not helpful; the talk about compassion is. In fact the comments present cogent defenses of a variety of views on the subject. There are also moments of critically judging the views, knowledge and decisions of others.

Two statements are made often, seemingly with the intent to shame an omnivorous Buddhist. One is that in this contemporary society it is easier to be a vegan or vegetarian because there are more choices and access to information. The other that animals suffer greatly on factory farms with the subtext being that one who is omnivorous is less compassionate. Neither is a ‘truth’ in all situations.

The intent of the lesson “Buddhists Eat Meat” was not so readers would question the choices of other Buddhists. It was offered so that readers would question their own practice, their own choices, and their own reactions to difficult subjects. There is a need to engage rigorous self-honesty rather than engage in judging the views and actions of others.

There are other aspects of human existence that require the same level of scrutiny given to dietary choices. Choosing what clothes to buy and wear for example. Others include what car to drive and how much to drive it, limiting carbon footprint, and what livelihood to engage in. Every choice made has cause and effect, wholesome and unwholesome. Every Buddhist practitioner must apply rigorous self-honesty in order to make pragmatic choices.

BUDDHISTS WEAR CLOTHES

How aware are you of the clothes you wear? From the underwear to the hat there are choices to be made. Ask yourself these questions.

Where were my clothes manufactured?

How were the raw materials sourced?

Who are the people and other sentient beings involved in the manufacturing, delivery and selling process?

What are the conditions those people live and work in?

What are they being paid?

What impact does the purchasing of your clothes have on the suffering of others?

How much energy, effort and awareness do you apply to your choice of clothes?

How compassionate is your choice?

My intent is not to single out omnivores or herbivores in the Buddhist community. The intent is to use the issue to offer that wholesome intentions and acts of compassion arise in different ways and that equanimity or balance should always be in favor of promoting compassion and human flourishing.

Every item we purchase and consume has its wholesome and unwholesome aspects. Many American companies out-source their manufacturing to places where wages can be well below subsistence level, where working conditions can be way below American standards, and child labor is legal. The items are sold by companies that engage in dubious personnel, pricing and social activities here in America. Not to focus on only the unwholesome, there are many American companies that strive to do what is right to the extent they are able. There are choices between low cost products manufactured under conditions of suffering and higher cost products that meet certain “standards” like a Made in the USA tag or are imported through organizations that promote fair trade.

A Buddhist practitioner has flaws and strengths like any other human being. The goal for a Buddhist is to have equanimity in practice; a balance that is always tipped more to the wholesome than the unwholesome. No matter the choice a practitioner must always honor life in some way.

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One thought on “Buddhists Wear Clothes

  1. This article is very helpful. In that spirit, I think that the following words of the Buddha, as he expressed in the Surangama Sutra, are very much on topic:

    “You of this great assembly ought to appreciate that those human beings who might become enlightened and attain Samadhi, because of eating meat, can only hope to attain the rank of a great Raksha and until the end of their enjoyment of it must sink into the never ending round of deaths and rebirths. They are not true disciples of the Buddha. If they kill sentient beings and eat the flesh, they will not be able to escape from this triple world. Therefore, next to teaching the people of the last kalpa to put away all sexual lust, you must teach them to put an end to all killing and brutal cruelty.”

    “If one is trying to practice dhyana and is still eating meat, he would be like a man closing his ears and shouting loudly and then asserting that he heard nothing. The more one conceals things, the apparent they become.”

    “How can a bhikshu, who hopes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings?”

    “Pure and earnest bhikshus, if they are true and sincere, will never wear clothing made of silk, nor wear boots made of leather because it involves the taking of life. Neither will they indulge in eating milk or cheese because thereby they are depriving they young animals of that which rightly belongs to them.”

    His teachings are quite clear, convincing and compelling. As you say – “Every choice made has cause and effect, wholesome and unwholesome. Every Buddhist practitioner must apply rigorous self-honesty in order to make pragmatic choices.” I find the words of the Buddha very helpful in making what is often a challenging and difficult choice.

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