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The Robe And The Meaning

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  • The Robe And The Meaning

    OK. So I know people have already talked about the orange robe vs. other colors. Chicken believed the orange robe was a warriors robe and anyone could wear it, same as a Tae Kwon Do gee, and others believe it is strictly for buddhists and all the monk imposters in and around Shaolin as well as the foriegners around the world wearing them should, well,,,, not. Unless they're buddhist.

    But that's not my question.

    Actually I have two.

    First, what is the signifcance of the red outer cloth with gold square pattern held in place over the left shoulder by a ring and hook? I had always thought it was worn only by the Abbot of a temple. However, I have seen other monks Yanming and Deyang wearing them as well. Not to mention the movies, such as Master Killer, in which you see many of the top ranking monks wearing simmilar cloth(s) of different colors.
    ie: See attached pic. Suxi has one on as he was Abbot, right? But so does Deyang. And the other two older monks have on a different color, tan or brown, of the same type of cloth.
    What is the significance in the colors that allows Deyang to wear the same color and style as Suxi, but not the two other older monks. Is it that they are not Wuseng but Wenseng (scholar monks)?

    Second, what is the significance of the various colors of robes worn, in reference to Shaolin, not other buddhist orders?
    Of course orange seems to be the standard, but what about the yellow, grey and the brown? I would figure it has to do with rank of some sort, right? I've seen countless pictures where there is a large group of monks with a few of one or another color. For example many monks dressed in orange, all holding the same stance and then six monks dressed in grey also holding the same stance. There must be some significance. You see this too often for it to only be a photo op. thing. Also, at my school here in China everyone wears orange pants with a red school shirt, but the masters and top students, also helping to run the classes, wear brown pants and black shirts. I was told it has a little to do with rank and mostly to do with respect and class order. I asked about this same color system in and around the temple but couldn't understand my Shifu's answer. It seemed that there is some sort of ranking to it. For example, the beginer, a Chinese kid, doesn't show up his first day in a tan or white robe. That's not acceptable. So does anyone know the significance?

    Another small question goes out to any USAST members. Yanming does have a color ranking system for his classes, 1's and 2's, right? Or can the beginers purchase an orange robe and a blue robe but only wear the blue on a specified day? What's the significance of the two colors at USAST?

    I'm really damn curious about this one, the robe colors in reference to ranks. I've always heard that Shaolin has no belt ranking system, but I've never got a definite answer on the various colors of robes and they're significance. My shifu told me it IS tho seperate, which implies rank even if only on two levels, but I've also read there is no real significance to the color. In Chan Buddhisim you do not cling to one color or another.

    Can anyone help ,e clear up the confusion with these two questions????
    Attached Files
    "Winners turn to losers, losers are forgotten..." - A Tribe Called Quest

  • #2
    A few pictures of classes with the majority wearing one color robe and the minority wearing another.....

    In a pic my shifu has on his wall the four head monks all wear yellow with red outer cloth(s). They are surrounded by a medium size group wearing dark brown. Both of these groups are standing, no Shaolin pose, and wearing long robes. In front of the dark brown group is a smaller group wearing light tan (the same color as the upper ranking shifus pants at my school). In front of them are two monks wearing dark blue, and in front of them is a large group of younger monks wearing orange. All previous three groups are standing in various Shaolin poses, and wearing short robes.


    On a side note.... Did anyone notice that is sure looks like the monk in the first pic below is using a samurai sword (katana) to cut the apple? Has anyone who has been to Shaolin find it curious that the shops often sell samurai swords? I sure did... I also saw them for sale in Luoyang, Hangzhou and Beijing... Weird.
    Attached Files
    Last edited by baiwanxi; 06-19-2007, 11:38 AM.
    "Winners turn to losers, losers are forgotten..." - A Tribe Called Quest


    • #3
      as far as i know its like this:

      the cloth that is worn on the outside of the robes and over the left shoulder is called a kesa. its a symbol of having been precepted. they can be in brown, black, red, or other colors. but the red one is usually reserved for the abbot, high ranking monks, or elder monks in the temple.

      usually though, colors for robes and kesa are up to choice. monks usually have a number of sets in different colors. usually autumn colors such as brown, yellow, orange, red, etc.. the color represents the turning of the leaves in the autumn forest just before they fall- a symbol of buddhist detachment.

      actually, any ordained may wear the robes of any tradition too. and robes are often donated from the laity. so there's nothing really strict about it.

      you may hear that in shaolin blue or grey robes are for disciples while orange robes are reserved for monks. but i dont know about that because monks also have a set of work clothes. they are the ones that button up in the front. they are often in blue or grey, but also in other colors too. but it doesnt mean anything different, as in rank. if anything, thats a modern setup.

      robes of all colors, especially in shaolin, like the orange are mainly just worn as fashion nowadays. no real meaning. some schools may separate students in certain levels or disciplines by colors. but its all of their own creation.

      at the usast, as far as i know there is no real different meaning, like disciple or monk. level one wear blue. level two wear orange. thats the only difference as far as i know. and i think it hasnt always been like that. at some point sym just made that rule. and i think even the demo team all wear orange robes, its louder.

      but originally, the colors of the robes also have meanings. it has nothing to do with rank or anything but buddhist ideals.

      an interesting thing to look up on this topic is the buddhist flag. that may give you an idea.

      i hope that helps answer your question.


      -because for one, its always changing. its never the same at any one point. and two, shaolin isnt for understanding. shaolin is for understanding yourself. the trick to that though is that we are always changing, ourselves. we're never the same at any one point. try and figure that out now, why dont you?
      Last edited by LFJ; 06-19-2007, 01:58 PM.


      • #4
        i guess although lowercase typing is faster and more comfortable, it can cause some difficulties in reading correctly.

        oh well, as long as you still agree with me, master splinter. lol


        • #5
          An old thread, but, I just came across it, so Thanks. I remember doing something similar investigating the colors on the progessive chinese flags throughout the dynastys.

          For anyone interested, I found this link

          and this one


          The most prominent colour concept in Buddhism is that of the rainbow body, which is the highest level of meditative achievement wherein the body is transformed into pure light. The rainbow body is the highest achievement other than Nirvana, which is the essential end-goal for Buddhists. Since the “pure light” on the spectrum contains all colors, and is white, to possess a rainbow body means to possess all colors, and to do some means meditating on colors that embody specific teachings.
          The Representative Colors in Buddhism

          The principle colors involved in Buddhism are Blue, Black, White, Red, Green, and Yellow, and each — except for Black — are aligned to a specific Buddha.
          Associated with the Akshobhya Buddha and the healer ‘Blue Buddha,’ Blue represents tranquility, ascension, the infitine, purity, and healing. Over all, the colour represents wisdom, but light and dark blue have different meanings. The light blue that Buddhists meditate upon is said to be no better represented than by turquoise. It speaks of the limitless heights of ascension, but it is opaque as earth, holding the wisdom of the earth and sky within it. Simultaneously, it embodies the duality of living and dying. This colour change this stone undergoes — from light exposure or skin oil — is thus a reminder of human life. Wearing the stone is thought to give the wearer long life, and it is believed to absorb sin.
          The dark blue is represented by lapis lazuli. For some time, lapis lazuli surpassed the diamond in value. The stone is a representation of all things pure and rare. The finest of the stones are visually comparable to the night sky alive with stars, and can be polished to possess high reflective quality. Where turquoise promises a safe journey and long life, lapis lazuli is considered a stone of great healing power, used when internal bleeding or inflammation has occurred, and to quell nervous conditions.

          Black in Buddhism is not so different from Western Culture in that it refers to darkness and hate. Meditating upon hate, anger, and darkness may not seem like the path to peace, but the principle revolves around coming to an understanding. Learning, rather than revelling in the black of ignorance, is the path to clarity and truth. Black is often used as a reminder of conquest by not annihilation, but turning evil into good. Black is most commonly found in black paintings, more specifically black thangkas, which are representations of deities, usually. Gold outlines and vibrant colors against a black background seemed even more capable of portraying other-worldly manifestations than those typically on plain, white backgrounds. Seen to the left is a female Bodhisattva who rids of miseries and disasters.
          White is representative of the principles of purity, as in Western Culture, but it is also considered the colour of knowledge and longevity. It is consider a colour of extremes, associated with the cold of snow and the smelting of metal. White is associated with the Buddha Vairocana. According to Buddhist legend, Buddha’s mother, Maya, dreamt of a white elephant touching her right side before Buddha was born. Elephants, associate with rain clouds and fertility, are seen as good fortune, and following that the elephant was white meant purity and learnedness for the child. Because of this dream, seeing a white elephants spells remarkable fortune, which holds truth whether in reference to mysticism or not, as they are quite rare. The white elephant is thought to be Buddha descended from the heavens.
          The colour red symbolizes lifeforce, preservation, fire, and sacred things or places. Also riddled with duality, fire can represent warmth and comfort, but can also be a destructive force. Red is associated with the Buddha Amitabha. Throughout Tibetan culture, red is a marker of sacred areas, and a true mark of a Buddhist scared area are the simplistic, tall gates at the entrances. We also see this colour on the garments on the monks. It is believed to be a protective colour, like that of shamanistic wards.
          Green denotes youth, vigour, action (Karma), and harmony. Because it is the colour at the middle of the spectrum, it is also represents balance and is associated visually with the lush trees. Green is associated with the Buddha Amoghasiddhi.
          Yellow is the colour that possesses the highest symbolic quality because of the saffron colour of the monks’ robes. Previously a colour worn by criminals, it was chosen as a symbol of humility and separation from materialistic society. It symbolizes renunciation and desirelessness. Because it is also the colour of the earth, yellow denotes stability and grounded nature.

          Coming to understand the principles represented by these colors, applying that wisdom to life, and being free from desire is how the Rainbow Body, and possibly Nirvana, is achieved.
          The Buddhist Flag

          by Jungle_Boy
          Thanks to the suggestion from koavf, we’re adding in the Buddhist flag that we overlooked when we were putting this post together. The Buddhist flag, a symbol of faith and peace was first hoisted in 1885 in Sri Lanka. It was designed in 1880 by the Colombo Committee. The five colors of the flag represent the colors of the aura emanated from the body of Buddha when he attained enlightenment.

          Loving kindness, peace and universal compassion
          The Middle Path - avoiding extremes, emptiness
          The blessings of practice - achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity
          The purity of Dharma - leading to liberation, outside of time or space
          The Buddha’s teachings - wisdom
          [end quote]

          I can't really find anything on brown pre se at all, but,
          I studied alot of colour therapy and cultural symbolism as a teenager and in my twenties, mainly from wiccan practice, and the only obvious interperatation is reconnecting with the earth.
          I also have that yellow is for begging (, so maybe brown is somewhere between the yellow and ochre?
          maybe that's why the monks in the public access part of the shaolin temple wear brown and the ones training ( also at yan ming's temple) wear blue? and the nuns on chores on song shan wear grey.
          If anyone has any other information, I wouldn't hate that hearing that neither.

          It's probably not the most exciting topic, but I'm bumping it anyway. .

          Blooming tianshi lotus.


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