Early monks' robes

Hi all,

The monks’ Pacittiya rule 92 says that monks can’t make a robe that is larger than 6×9 sugata-spans. If one takes this sugata-span to be 25 centimeter (which seems reasonable), this amounts to 1.5×2.25 meter. The robes of most monks are quite a bit bigger than this nowadays.

In The Buddhist Monastic Code, Thanissaro wrote: “There was a movement in Thailand during the mid-19th century to return to the original size and style as shown in the earliest Indian Buddha images, but the idea never caught on.”

What are these earliest Buddha images and how do they wear the robes? Aside from the Vinaya, is there any other information about how the early monks wore their robes?

Thanks for your help,

Sunyo

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It would be interesting to see the proposed new robe styles. If I recall correctly, in the Vinayamukha there are a series of images of different robes styles, perhaps it is in there.

I haven’t researched on whether it’s possible to infer robe sizes from Buddha images. Remember, they’re all many centuries after the Buddha, so could be a hint only.

As for the sugata measure, this is sheer speculation. No-one knows what it really was, but 25cm is certainly too small. There are several problems with the 25cm size, but one of the most severe is the size of the nuns’ bathing cloth. If I recall correctly, the 25cm estimate was made by Ven Thanissaro on the basis of the monks’ rules only (it’s been many years since I looked at this!) However in bhikkhuni pacittiya 22 an allowance is made for a bathing cloth. This is 2×4 sugatavidatthis, which on this estimate is 50cm × 100cm.

As it happens, I have a towel of exactly this size. It doesn’t even reach around my waist. It’d probably have to be double the size to function as a bathing cloth. Remember, such standard sizes, as is made clear in the Vinaya, are not meant to cater for an average sized person, but are an absolute maximum that must cater for even the largest and fattest monks and nuns.

It’s certainly likely that robe sizes were somewhat smaller than they are today, but we should beware of false precision.

One of my friends, Monk Jason, wears robes that are of “reformed” size, basically just as big as they need to be. He’s happy with that!

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Interesting topic. If we take the Gandhara Buddha images as a reference I would say that what we have nowadays in Theravada seems as fashionable as back then! :sunglasses:

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Thanks for the detailed reply, Bhante.

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4 years later, and I can confirm… :smiley: I actually looked it up straight away, but was reminded by another thread. It’s found in Vinayamukha Vol 2, which also has a description of the sewing process, and some arguments on the size of the robes. It argues the larger robes were introduced for convenience sake, as it’s a bit harder to wear a smaller robe on both shoulders.

Example of pictures:

robes

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Although the most dramatic increases in average height among human beings occurred during the height (pardon the pun) of the Industrial Revolution, in general, better nutrition is correlated with increased size of humans, and thus robes designed for the average height of someone two thousand years ago likely would be considered small by today’s standards.

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So Venerable, why is your robe so small??? (not criticizing, just curious!) :thinking:

Yeah, I’ve decided to cut my robe down to the smaller size. It’s about half the size now. It covers about as much of the body, so why should it be any bigger? :wink:

Also we have a rule that any robe should not be bigger than 6x9 “sugata spans”. There is no mention of seperate under and upper robes, just any robe. The fact that there are very specific required measurements for sitting cloths and rains bathing cloths in the Vinaya, but no separate measurements for the lower and upper robes, makes me think they were originally about the same size. Ven. Thanissaro argues something similar in Buddhist Monastic Code, if I recall correctly.

Thanissaro also argues the size of a “sugata span” is about 25 cm (based on notes by Ajahn Brahm, I believe), and I’ve come to the conclusion that this must be about right. It results for example in a proper size sitting cloth and a proper size hut. If you would argue that the sugata span is large enough to suits the common Theravadan robe, then the sitting cloths could be something like 2x2 meters, and the huts 6x6 meters (rough estimates). Obviously that’s overly large.

Then there is the old Buddha statues, the secondhand stories of “old traditions” that I referenced before in this thread (e.g. in Vinayamukha), and just the practicality and frugality of a smaller robe… all combined I think this just makes sense.

It’s actually quite comfortable. I wear my robe much more than many other monks Ive met. For example, I’m wearing it right now behind a PC and have worn it for 12 hours straight. Many monks seem to just wear their robes for ceremonies or lunch, mainly because they are heavy and large. No judgement on my part, but to me it makes sense for a robe to be more practical than that.

It is a bit more clumsy when wearing it double shouldered, because you can’t fold it so there’s an extra gap for your arm. You end up like this

robes2

instead of this

robes3

The Vinayamukha argues this makes sense when considering the sekhiya rule to not lift up the robe too high. You can see how the monk with the short robe lifts up his robe a bit, while the big robe guy wouldn’t have that problem. So why would there be a rule for this if it wasn’t a problem?

But in short, I believe I wear my robe the way the Buddha wore his, and that makes me very inspired and happy. :smiley:

It’s never been a problem, even when staying at various traditions. In fact, if you don’t know it, most people, monks included, don’t even notice!

By the way, my robe also seems to wear much more slowly. To make the roll you commonly see in Theravadin robes, you have to pull on the cloth quite a bit, which makes it tear.

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Oh that reminds me, a friend of mine made his sanghati the same size as his lower robe so he’d have a lower robe on laundry days without doing Vinaya gymnastics over extra robe cloth :basket:

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I’m guessing you are mostly around Thai tradition monks. In Sri Lanka, monks wear their robes all the time, except if they are in their kutis. And they would never be seen by a lay person only in a lower robe even with an anksa.

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Years ago, when I was in a Thai forest tradition monastery, a monk mentioned that some of the measurements used to make the robes were based on the mythical physical proportions of the Buddha. I think he was referring to the “sugata span.” Was the sugata span based on the supposed length of the Buddha’s hand according to his physical proportions as described by the 32 Marks? This monk said that using more reasonable measurements, the robes ended up closer to the Tibetan style (which have a much longer lower robe, but much shorter upper robe). Looking at the picture in this thread of the “smaller” style of robe, it doesn’t resemble Tibetan style robes much.

Honestly, I’ve always found it strange that in such a hot and humid climate, like India’s, people would have worn such large and heavy robes.

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True: during the summer and in southern parts.
But in the North- northeast of India it does get very cold during the winter months (Nov-Jan) and people bundle up during the day. Nights are very chilly.
In Sri Lanka- the hill country can get very cold, especially at night

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This is true. Was speaking only from my limited experience. I like the way Sri Lankan monks do it.

Maybe the Tibetan style is different, that is, the way they wear it. The size could still be similar. I don’t know much about the Tibetan robes, though.

The Vinayamukkha also shows a few other ways to wear a small robe, not just the two pictures above. Wearing it with the “excess flap” at the front makes it very similar to this Venerable:

In proposing novel measurements, which have no prior basis in the Buddhist textual tradition that I could identify, what the Vinayamukha is doing is critiquing a misreading or strawman of the Samantapasadika commentary on the kutikara rule which would place the sugatavidatthi at about 60cm. Or at least, this is what I understand of the Vinayamukha approach.

The cmy itself only states that the carpenter’s hattha, which is 1.5 ordinary hattha at about 60cm, should be used for the sugatavidatthi in respect of huts. This is FAIRLY NORMAL for old-school Indian and Sri Lankan building measurements, although it’s also possible that the ordinary hattha was meant. The cmy is silent on robe measurements. although a broad reading of Indian sources as a whole might suggest that the hattha, at about 40cm, should be used for these.

I feel really bad that the commentary has been treated this way, it’s just a misreading on the part of the Vinayamukha, no sane person would ever use the carpenter’s hattha to measure cloth or as a robe measurement. That’s not what the cmy is trying to say.

May I refer everyone to this thread?

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Thanks!

This is based on the commentary, though.

Can’t remember what the Vinayamukkha says exactly, but if you go by the earlier texts I can’t remember anything about building versus robe measurements. They are called just the same, as far as I know.

And if building measurements were indeed smaller than robe measurements, you still end up with a huge sitting cloth. If you take the sugatavidatthi span to be 60cm, you’d get a sitting cloth of 2.4 meters wide (about 8 feet)…

I think 1 meter is enough for a sitting cloth, which means a span of 25cm. That also gives you a decent size hut (3 meter by 1.75), and decent size robe (2.25m x 1.5m).

(Nice to see some discussion years after I made the topic!)

Dear Bhante,
:pray: :pray: :pray:Thank you for your engagement, but I think you may have missed my point slightly in respect of using the 40cm ordinary hattha for the cloth measurements.

There are some other sources in addition to the commentary, too, including the canonical material of other schools, Jain sources, the Chinese travelogues (Yijing is always my favourite), the Chinese commentarial tradition including Daoxuan and Lingzhi, our material culture (our lived tradition), other sources about traditional garment measurements in South Asia, archaeological sites and art. I can’t pin the hattha thing more precisely than India in the 2-3rd century CE on the basis of statues from Gandhara, but I think that 2nd-3rd cent CE in India is still much better than the 19th cent Vinayamukha in Thailand…and similarities to Jainism might be a pretty good indicator of a shared origin. Also. No-one has ever produced any collaborating evidence except for the text of the vinaya itself that the vidatthi has ever been used as the primary measure of robe-cloth in India. It’s suspect.

Sometimes the cmy is better than the Canon. Just look at the Chabbhisodhana Sutta. The canon only gives five purifications, the cmy does much better and gives six, on the basis of Indian sources. “Indian sources” is the key point here.

I also think it’s important to “think legally.” These are maximum sizes. Cutting down your robe is a big deal, nobody wants to do that. It’s not wrong to wear a normal size robe, it’s only wrong to wear an oversize one. If you use a 25cm vidatthi, everybody who wears normal stuff should be incurring a pacittiya, which is not the point of the vinaya, which was presumably meant for normal, reasonable people.

Studying errors in language production is kind of my hobby. It’s been my hobby for a long time (about twenty years). There is no way you can get from vidatthi to hattha, I know that…except for…the listener, the no.1 source of all error. For a listener, mishearing hattha as vidatthi is a tiny, tiny slip, especially given that “datthi” means “hattha”. So I wouldn’t worry too much about what it sounds like. I would worry about what it MEANS.

If the 25cm measurement for the vidatthi is based on anything, it must be the Siamese inch, as the Indian vidatthi is smaller than that, at approx 20cm. It’s not even Indian.

I would suggest using the 40cm hattha as the sugatavidatthi in relation to robes, which is smaller than the carpenter’s hattha as the sugatavidatthi for buildings.

This is the mistake in the Vinayamukha that I was talking about. The cmy isn’t actually asking you to do that except in relation to huts. And definitely not for sitting cloths. The 40cm ordinary hattha should be used for sitting cloths.

So…I have to demolish an otherwise good hut and incur a sanghadisesa just because it’s 2m wide??? For real?

From memory, mine’s about 1.8m tall and it fits on my body, it’s not hurting anyone, cutting it down would be a waste of the donor’s money and time (and my time and sanity).

Sometimes texts…require us to have some assumed cultural knowledge. You aren’t necessarily going to find the carpenter’s hattha in the text of the vinaya itself, but wider reading, say of Arthasastra, would highlight the fact that trade-based measurements were normal for pre-colonial India (and still are). I can’t say for certain that the ordinary hattha wasn’t meant for both, however, which is probably why the commentarial tradition has made the point of disambiguating.

I would say that the best place to start with the measurements is really just by putting away the Vinayamukha. At any rate, it is simply not possible that 25cm was ever meant, as this is too large for an Indian vidatthi. It’s good that people are thinking about these things, anyway.

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Hi dear venerable! :pray: :pray: :pray:

No, it’s not a pacittiya. I don’t think so nor does anybody I know.

25 cm just seems like a reasonable size to me. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it was about that in the Buddha’s time. But there certainly is enough uncertainty about it that I don’t see going by a larger size as a pacittiya.

It was not based on texts or tradition but on reasonable sizes for the hut, sitting cloth, bed legs, and robes. Maybe also some other things. See The Buddhist Monastic Code: Appendices

:slightly_smiling_face: I misunderstood that before.

No, I don’t think it has to be destroyed. Plus there are lots of other conditions for the offence, not just the size. It also needs to be a hut that’s essentially yours and that you’ve begged for. It can be any size if it belongs to a monastery or somebody else. I actually think this rule (Sanghadisesa 6) doesn’t have much practical applications anymore.

I don’t see a larger robe as a pacittiya.

But to me it’s nice to go with the smaller size robe. Cutting it down was not a waste of time, because I feel more comfortable with it.

Yes, you don’t get these discussions much. So thank you! I will read your posts again later, because I don’t think I fully understood everything yet.

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I just googled: 25cm is the Thai kheup measurement, so I would say that the kheup is the basis, from a very literal reading of the meaning of “vidatthi” that could only possibly make sense in a Thai context.

Sorry for reviving an old thread…Bhante @Sunyo when you had first raised this (25cm vidatthi as giving proper sitting cloth dimensions), I didn’t actually know what to make of it.

Someone locally was giving away bulk second-hand wool felt pads, so sitting cloth size was on my brain, and the answer suddenly came to me from the Dharmaguptaka vinaya. I also found some pics of sitting cloths that have been made up with the sugata-vidatthi as one hattha.

The max size for a sitting cloth is 2 x 1.5 hattha. Of that, at least a 1 x 1 hattha (1 x 1 sugatavidatthi)[…or a circumference of 1 hattha?] piece of old felt should be incorporated if felt. The borders are a vidatthi (20cm).

Here is a diagram of this from a Chinese source of a sitting cloth made to what appears to be maximum size, showing the old piece attached to the centre (but it could equally be incorporated into the felt).

I feel happier that the sugatavidatthi is 40cm now I can explain this in full, as the Pali or at least the Pali translation is not particularly clear, as it seems to imply that the old felt has to come from the border of the old mat, which doesn’t make much sense to me.

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