Some say ‘clothes maketh the man’. There is some truth in this, but only to some extent. The idea is that how well you dress can somehow lead to how well you succeed. It is a little like the concept of ‘fake it till you make it’ perhaps. Think of a new soldier dressed in a well-starched military uniform, that almost immediately makes him feel soldierly, even before truly soldiering. Of course, it is also true that ‘wo/men maketh the clothes’ that re-maketh them. It is a chicken or egg issue. How we dress in a sense is our immediate environment, which influences how we think and feel about ourselves, and we do decide how we dress, unless limited by circumstances.
Knowing the above, in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land, he ensures all beings there are empowered to have the most wonderful clothing aligned with spiritual progress. In fact, the even more immediate environment, that is our form, will resemble the Buddhas’ 32 great ‘human’ forms. (This is called the direct reward; 正报.) Imagine living there, looking like a Buddha, which reflects our Buddha-nature. How much more inspired we will be to swiftly actualise its full potential! Beyond that, all other physical attributes of his Pure Land are also skilful means to guide us with the Dharma, via sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. (This is called the circumstantial rewards; 依报.)
In ‘Spider-man: Homecoming’, Tony Stark (aka Ironman) gifts Peter Parker (aka Spider-man) a multi-million A.I. enabled Spider-man costume. Due to some mismanagement while donning it to fight crime, Stark confronts him, saying, ‘I’m gonna need your suit back.’ Parker retorts, ‘This is all I have. But I’m nothing without this suit.’ Stark insists, ‘If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.’ Indeed, even though the costume makes him Spider-man visibly, it is essentially his unseen righteous character, that power his special skills, that truly makes him the hero he aspires to be; not the costume itself. Likewise, it would be pointless if Amitabha Buddha grants us the 32 special physical characteristics of Buddhas, if we do not have the potential for Buddhahood at all.
Echoing his remark to Parker in an earlier Ironman movie, Stark once exclaimed, ‘You can take away my house, all my tricks and toys. One thing you can’t take away? I am Ironman.’ Elsewhere, Captain America quizzed him, ‘Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off. What are you?’ To that, Stark quipped, ‘Genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist.’ Not that the arrogance is admirable, but you get the idea – Stark is still rather remarkable without any superpowers. His Ironman persona simply helps to amplify his qualities for the welfare of others. The other way round, the armour is insignificant without him. A reverse example is the villain Vulture, who has a suit too, with wings, that amplifies ruthlessness instead of kindness.
More on suiting up… Once, Zen Master Ikkyu in his usual shabby robes sought alms at the main door of a wealthy home, but was told to collect scraps behind. The following day, he went to a feast sponsored by the same family, dressed in brocade robes of an abbot. When food was served, he took off the formal robes and placed them before it. Shocked, the host asked what he was doing, to which Ikkyu replied, that the food is for those robes; not him… and left… with a lesson for all to ponder. Yes again, clothes do not always make the wo/man. And we must not be so superficial as to mistake how one dresses externally to be exactly how one is internally. Even a poorly dressed person might be more aligned to his Buddha-nature than one elaborately dressed.
Trapped under a pile of rubble without his special suit, Parker recalled Stark’s statement that if he is nothing without the suit, he does not deserve it. Desperate, yet still able to transform panic to be focus, he summons his original (though super) strength, and manages to free himself. While the external can support and enhance our efforts, it is the innermost that matters most – our Buddha-nature, which is our greatest potential, our invincible spiritual strength. This Spider-man movie, in a way, is about Parker’s homecoming, returning home, to realise who he really wishes to be. May it remind us all, ‘Buddha-men’ and ‘Buddha-women’, to come home to our Buddha-nature!
Is ‘The Dressmaker’ The Character-Maker Too?