The saffron monks robes are not the clothing of monastics. Although it is clothing, the robe is a symbol, a daily constant reminder of the commitment, the vows that the monk or nun has made, a tool to remind them of the life they’ve committed to, a life of simplicity and service. It’s a symbol of their non-status, a reminder they no longer partake in most parts of our consumer society and dedicate the majority of their lives to service and the inner life.
In so many ways, the robes are a visual reminder to the rest of us… a signpost stating that this person is somehow safe, committed to spiritual growth, a dedicated pilgrim on the path. To the monk, nun or priest, the robe is a call to nobility and marks the monks connection to the teachings and their willingness to follow as best they are able.
So what about the rest of us? What about me?
I think about the things that remind me to be kind, generous, more noble. I don’t plan on wearing robes anytime soon, but I like the concept of constant visual reminders and am sincerely committed to a daily practice that ups my ability to live with increased compassion and add more love to the world.
I see people wearing crosses and I wonder if that helps them, reminds them of their divinity. In Luke 14:27 it says “and whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple”. I asked a Pastor friend and she says that for many the cross is an icon and considered a symbol of victory. “The cross was the means by which the greatest act of love and grace was accomplished”.
In every religion, symbols and signs are used… often becoming objects of worship themselves, which doesn’t please some people as they believe “worship is meant for God alone”.
I see and have a few tattoos. For me, they are symbolic calls to action, reminders to keep my intentions forefront. I have religious and historic wisdom art throughout my house.. From where I sit writing this I see 3 Buddha statues and a sign from Martin Luther King, all not things I worship but rather, visual reminders to up my game and be a little more aware.
I’ve got accountability partners, check-in groups, sponsors.. You name it, I’ll use it. I really want the light to shine through and I am rigorous in my pursuit.
In business, we do the same things.. We have goals and plans and measurements and then we place things around us that remind us of those goals, that inspire us to do the work and make things happen. I have a wall in my office covered in numbers and graphs, elements I measure to inspect the guts of my business and keep what matters most at the center of my focus.
My father is a deeply good man, a scientist and an atheist. He would never understand a monks robe or wearing a cross and he’d probably die before he got a tattoo. He finds all matters of religion, faith and spirituality objectionable.. to put it mildly.
I used to feel bad about him but now I realize even he’s no different. He wears his Fathers red garnet ring on his hand; he has for as long as I can remember. I asked him why and he talks about his dad’s integrity, work ethic, and intense family values. That ring reminds him to be that same kind of man and as a result, he is.
At Christmas I sat with my Dad and our family and listened to him and his siblings debate religion and their varying understandings of their family history. From the outside they look and sound so different, so opposing. However, as I sat quietly and observed them, I realized they were so beautiful, such a perfect reflection of humanity itself… each wearing their own version of a Robe, My Aunt’s cross, my Uncle’s Rolex, my Dad’s Dad’s red garnet ring.
In so many ways we all have our robes, just like the monks.
My family reminded me that all that matters is that we stand for and represent something that matters to us, that calls us to be better… and I realized my only job is to keep practicing non-judgment and noticing the extraordinary similarities in all our diversity.
Today I begin again.
Three Steps, One Bow.