Is it only a single set consisting of the double, upper, and lower robes? How is washing/drying done when having a single set of robes?
You simply wash one and wear the other two Of course in places like India, unless it is monsoon-season, things dry very quickly too.
when I have to wash my uttarasangha(the main outer robe), I do so in the afternoon where I don’t have to show up to any official functions and I just wear my t-shirt and under robe.
when I have to wash my under robe, the antaravasaka(ie the pants) I usually borrow another one(we have a supply), as I’m not quite sure how I’d feel going naked under just the outer robe lol. If I lived by myself in the woods it probably wouldn’t be a major issue.
I dry stuff out on the line, usually takes most of the afternoon.
You don’t have a spare under-robe? That’s hard core.
The Vinaya is a little flexible on this. There are a bunch of specific allowances for other kinds of robe, such a bathing cloths and so on, some of which have restrictions on them. But there’s also an allowance for so-called “minor requisites” which can basically include any kind of cloth.
The Vinaya has a procedure for making an adhiṭṭhāna or “determination” of what your robes are. The point of this procedure is, I believe, so that you’re clear exactly what does and does not belong to you, so you can’t break the rule against stealing. Living in a monastery, it’s easy to just pick up a piece of cloth from somewhere, and over time you can easily forget what is really yours. So you make a clear decision in your mind about what is yours. However this is often interpreted as a way of, not “determining” that the cloth is yours, but “determining” what the cloth is. So you can “determine” anything to be anything.
Now, depending on the tradition, most monastics just ignore these rules and have as many robes as they like. Others keep the letter of the rules, but “determine” everything to be minor requisites. They may not even have a “determined” set of three robes, but a whole closet full of robes that are all “determined” as minor requisites. This is, I believe, the normal procedure in Burma. The Ajahn Chah tradition is unusual in that they actually have three robes, which are determined as three robes. (Even the other forest tradition monks in Thailand usually have more than one set of three robes.) Then they typically have one or two spare under-robes, used for working and the like, as well as one or two bathing cloths, etc. That’s what I do. Then there are a small number of monastics—evidently including our friend Jayasara—who really do have only the three robes.
Note that even in the suttas, the wearing of three robes only was a recognized ascetic practice, so was evidently not usual. The Vinaya also has a number of passages that show that it was considered normal to have more than just the three.
Is it generally acceptable for individual bhikkhus to keep stricter vinaya than the norm in that specific community? Or would I have to find a community that upholds the vinaya to that standard if I wish to live as close as possible to how the Buddha outlined?
Well, in principle there’s no problem, and any community will have a degree of variation. In practice, you’ll find that some communities allow or encourage this, while others expect everyone to do the same thing, and attempts to be stricter will be frowned on; sometimes it’s seen as being driven by ego, or lack of patience (which can be true!)