One of the Chinese monks named Venerable Sunanda recently had his birthday. For his birthday, he determined to offer 100 shoulder cloths to various monks and ended up making 123. What is a shoulder cloth? It is a small robe that monks often like to wear underneath their upper robe.
We have an abundance of robes in the storage room and with vassa coming up, we will get more and more. I think it was last year, I got a couple of robes for entering vassa and 8 or 9 robes at the end of vassa. So, this monk took many robes and cut them up and resewed them to the proper size for a shoulder cloth with included tie-strings to help keep them in place.
Is This Wasting?
Is this a waste to cut up new robes which have already been made? Well… yes and no. When I made my last shoulder cloth in 2017, I probably took an old robe of mine that I was ready to retire and cut that up. Then I replaced the retired cut up robe with a new robe. I did this because I was going to Hawai’i and I needed a new fresh robe which would last a long time. The shoulder cloth from 2017 is still worn by me now, but I hope to replace it with the one Venerable Sunanda made for me. It just needs a few custom adjustments and Ven Sunanda offered to do that for me as well. He assumed that I was a lot larger than I actually am (!).
When I was in Kaua’i, my robes were quite old and I explored making robes and getting the cloth that was necessary for the job. The cloth used for our Myanmar robes is very high quality and although the robes are about $50 or $60 USD per set, the cloth alone will cost more than $150 when purchased in Hawai’i. Even with shipping costs, it is still cheaper to ask a donor or monk to send from Myanmar. Plus there is nothing to make.
So is it a waste to cut up brand new robes? Well considering the cloth is valuable, it can be used as cloth to make other items. Furthermore, it is nice to have a robe-stitching-pattern on your inner robe when normally they are of a single piece. If you look at the monk sweeping on the left, you will see he is wearing a single piece of cloth with no patchwork pattern (like a rice paddy field). The Pa-Auk monk on the right made his own presumably from an old robe which shows the robe stitching pattern.1He originally said I could take a photo only below the head, but after the nice smile, I convinced him to let me post the whole photo. This single fresh piece of cloth is common for such a small robe cloths, especially in Thailand (with brown color robes).
Below is a close-up of the robe the Pa-Auk monk on the right made for himself. Like myself in 2017, he never bothered to put a finishing seam. I guess we are both part of the same fringe group. The cloth is high quality cloth that dress shirts are made from and can last a long time in this condition. If it does not last, one can always make another in the same way in a matter of minutes. I have a video that shows how to make string very quickly in my water filter post. This is very useful for making shoulder cloths as well. However, the tying strings made by Venerable Sunanda were sewed properly.
Over the course of 20+ years in the biz, I have used both single cloth and patched old robe cloth, and I prefer the style that shows remnants of robe patterns made from pre-existing robes. It also efficiently uses older robe cloth.
If all you have is robes and abundance of them, then you just need to use what you have. It is a little bit like MacGyver style to get the job done. If you go strawberry picking, you might make jam or freeze the extra even though it is not the best use case. In the end, cloth is cloth and the cloth got used. Furthermore, while it is a good practice to use old cloth for one’s own needs, like the monk did above, it is not good to do so when giving to others. When we give, we always want to give the best.
This link below shows the ancient story about what monks should do with discarded robes and how foot mats are actually made from robes.
“But what can you, honorable Ānanda, do with so many robes?”
“I will share them, your majesty, with those monks whose robes are worn thin.”
“But what will you do, good Ānanda, with those old robes that are worn thin?”
“We will make them into upper coverings, your majesty.”
“But what will you do, good Ānanda, with those upper coverings that are old?”
“We will make these into mattress coverings, your majesty.”
“But what will you do, good Ānanda, with those mattress coverings that are old?”
“We will make them into ground coverings, your majesty.”
“But what will you do, good Ānanda, with those ground coverings that are old?”
“We will make them into foot-wipers, your majesty.”
“But what will you do, good Ānanda, with those foot-wipers that are old?”
“We will make them into dusters, your majesty.”
“But what will you do, good Ānanda, with those dusters that are old?”
“Having torn them into shreds, your majesty, having kneaded them with mud, we will smear a plaster-flooring.”
The excellent part about this, is that Venerable Sunanda was able to make a donation with his own work. As monks we are usually unable to offer things by our own means. Even if we help someone out, we are working with our donors to do so. This donation on the other hand, was re-purposing something that was unwanted and making it useful. Sadhu for his efforts!
How Long Did It Take To Make?
By the time he finished 100 robes, he was able to make a new robe in 15 minutes. If it took one hour to make one robe, 100 robes would be 100 hours. If it takes 15 minutes, then it is 25 hours for 100 robes. However, he is most likely over-estimating his work and even though he can do one robe in 15 minutes, that was after he had already became efficient at making 100 robes. Plus, you don’t work at top speed the whole time. I’d put the total workload at 40-50 hours which is quite impressive when the purpose is just to give something away.
The Labor of Love
In the end, it is our work and labor that becomes the donations that we give. Some people sew robes, others do admin work. Some also teach meditation or give Dhamma talks. Which is the best gift of them all? The gift of Dhamma exceeds all other gifts. For me, I do some chores here and there. Here is a partial list that comes to mind.
- I have volunteered to deliver meals when COVID came to our monastery.
- I have helped project manage several Pali Reading Software programs,
- I started Sayadaw Kumarabhivamsa’s YouTube channel
- I project manage a 183,000 word Pali English dictionary project,
- I created a withmetta.net website
- I created a Buddhist Sun phone app for iOS and Android
- I helped create a Discourse discussion website dedicated to Classical Theravada (Vinaya, Suttas, Abhidhamma and Commentaries).
- I created a free book on Abhidhamma called Abhidhamma Lessons
- I created a free book on how I became a monk, called Going For Broke
- Lastly, I also write a few things on the Dhamma or Monk Life which you are reading now on https://AmericanMonk.org .
Not every item is listed, but these are some of the major and recent items. I give all of these items away for free as gifts. When we give donations in the West, it is often considered boastful to tell others what we have done. This is not so true in Buddhist Countries, like Myanmar. It can be very inspiring and we call that “sharing merit”. Take one of many terrible events that happens in America. Does this ruminate in people’s minds and also propagate other future terrible events? If a wholesome mind arises when you hear about someone doing wonderful and wholesome things, this too can ruminate in your mind and also propagate future wonderful events. This is part of sharing merit, but there is more to that. When I see things around me that inspires myself, I usually try to write about it and share these events with you. It is my hope that you will be inspired with the dhamma and do wholesome actions as a result.
When we appreciate something and share merit, we usually say, “Sādhu! Sādhu! Sādhu!”. This means “Well done! Well done! Well done!” Which response would you rather have for your birthday? “Sādhu! Sādhu! Sādhu!” or “Happy Birthday!” ? And that my friend is why giving is always best.