Buddha images are appealing
as they express harmony of body and mind –
oneness which we can emulate.
It is a Buddhist custom for monastics to shave their heads fully, as maintaining one’s hair as one’s crowning glory is considered an act of worldly vanity, attached to out of pride, that saps energy, time and focus. Well, how many of us are willing to leave home without checking that our hair is in place? A Chinese expression for head hair is ‘三千烦恼丝: three thousand strands of afflictions’ (or ‘frustrations’ – though it’s really many more). Even a single strand out of place can be discomfiting! This too applies for those with deliberate ‘out-of-bed’ looks! Ironically, some non-monastics shave their heads as a fashion statement these days. Even having nothing on the head can be one’s crowning glory! That’s how subtle vanity can be. Arguably, it takes more effort to keep one’s head always clean shaven. Looks like there is no easy way out for any hairstyle – unless one is naturally and happily bald without a wig!
It was Prince Siddhartha, with his long lovely royal locks as the Buddha-to-be, who founded the tradition of cutting one’s hair (with his sword in his case) to express renunciation of attachments (such as worldly gain, fame, praise and pleasure). It is said that his remaining hair coiled into little locks, that never grew again – symbolic of how he never became attached to the worldly again? Us ordinary beings have to keep trimming though – out of necessity and vanity. In vain too – because the hair keeps growing! While keeping our hair in check, may we also keep our ‘growing’ attachments in check, and trim them when we should. And then there is the dyeing and styling of hair, which adds more complex layers of vanity? Perhaps so, perhaps not, as there is a subtle line between wanting to look politely presentable for others, and being attached to looking good to draw attention to oneself.
While hair can easily mask half or more of one’s face, one’s face can be ‘completely’ masked – by heavy make-up (and even elaborate plastic surgery)! There is the recent reverse trend of using ‘nude make-up’, which is to put on make-up lightly for an innocent and ‘barely-there’ look. Ironic indeed… because one who tries to look innocent is already not so innocent! What do we want others to be attracted to with our carefully made-up looks? Our illusory conjured appearances, or our actual personalities? If we base our relationships on surface superficialities, will they be genuine and sustainable? Meanwhile, monastics are at the other end of the spectrum – they unmask their heads and faces entirely, forgoing hair, make-up and ornaments. The only thing they mask with their loose robes is their figure – to prevent accidental seduction! Simplicity is their traditional yet timeless style.
If the most beautiful element of the Buddha’s face
is his radiant smile of compassion and understanding,
we too can beautify ourselves with these virtues.
Attachment (To Our Crowning Glory)
More Expressive of What?