The running brick pattern of a mendicants robe

The other day, I was listening to a discussion about why Buddhist mendicants wear robes with the rags sown together using a “rice field pattern”. I can’t help but to notice al kinds of proliferation into metaphysical realms, speculation and what not about why this pattern is being used and declared by the teacher of deities and humans.

Knowing engineering, one knows that the running brick pattern (also known as the “rice field pattern”) is simply a very strong way to connect independent components together, without too much of a chance of rupturing the (engineered) composition.

The dikes of rice field paddies are laid out in this way for exactly the same reason. Doing this allows the dikes to be reasonable strong with reasonably small dikes. If the dikes would have been placed in a non-running (square or rectangular) fashion, they would be much weaker, as the water pressure does not have a natural counter-balance from a lateral dike.

It goes that far that the physical cellular setup of most earth-organisms also use this pattern. It provides a very strong connectivity between components yet a reasonably flexible composition.

To me, it stands to reason that in stead of proliferating about all kinds of metaphysical reasons, or that rice fields are beautiful because of how they appear, there is a much simpler and more natural explanation: it is strong, durable and well-engineered, as are rice field paddies, running bricks and cells of most organisms. And yes, as I am an engineer, I think this is beautiful.

Here my proliferation stops for this message - and attempting to go back to mental engineering :wink:


Compare this sewing instruction for robes. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Ah, you beat me to it!

Yes, I agree that the beauty of the pattern has to do with the strength (when kusis are created in the way I explain in the linked post, not the “fake” kusi lines) as well as accommodating scraps or pieces generated on a small loom as @Gillian suggested.

I think another value in the pattern is that it prohibits oddly shaped pieces from being used at the macro level. No big diagonal through the whole thing. So it enforces some level of uniformity, even if all the robes end up being cut differently.


Goodness, you must hang out with some very colourful people!

In thirty-six years of living in monasteries I don’t recall any occasion when I or a fellow brahmacarī has metaphysically proliferated on this particular topic, or done aught else but quote, paraphrase or allude to the Vinaya’s quite pedestrian origin story.

After staying at Rājagaha for as long as he liked, the Buddha set out wandering toward the southern hills. He saw the fields of Magadha laid out in rectangles defined by long and short boundaries and their intersections. He said to Venerable Ānanda, “Ānanda, have a look at these fields.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Are you able to make this kind of robe for the monks?”

“I am.”

After staying in the southern hills for as long as he liked, the Buddha returned to Rājagaha. Ānanda then made robes for a number of monks. He went to the Buddha and said, “Sir, please have a look at the robes I’ve made.”

Soon afterwards the Buddha gave a teaching and addressed the monks:

“Ānanda is clever. He understands the detailed meaning of what I’ve spoken in brief. He can make long strips, short strips, large panels, medium-sized panels, middle sections, intermediate sections, a neckpiece, a calf-piece, and outer sections. In this way the robe will be made of pieces, making it worthless, appropriate for monastics, and undesirable for one’s enemies.

“Your outer robe should be made of pieces and so should your upper robe and sarong.”


If they see some sort of useful meaning, good for them. But was that meant though?
May be they think it doesn’t even have to be intentional, in Jungian fashion.

Can you share about the metaphysical speculation?

Dear Venerables and Lay-supporters,

I attempt to make some kind of integrated all-in-one reply. I might end up editing the original message, as all the replies given provide quite a bit of insight, from mendicants (:pray: :pray: :pray:) and laity alike.

Thank you for sharing the link to the sewing instructions. It is indeed the pattern that I was refering too, so again thank you very much.

Unfortunately I found this currently even running down the Thai Forest Tradition, I have come across it quite a few times through many a tradition. It’s not really hanging out with specific colourful people, but I must agree, it is colourful.

The reason that I ended up putting it on SuttaCentral is that last time (just a few days ago) it was running through the Thai Forest Tradition by the means of YouTube - and alarm-bells went off. I don’t want to be fault-finding with others (including mendicants), therefore I attempt an alterior exploration to see how this idea arises at the first place and hopefully, together with others, find out what reality is.

Thank you very much for sharing this origin story. Indeed as I suspected, nothing in the sense of “liking a pattern”, but using the pattern as an example. Not even for the purpose of the pattern itself, but to make it undesirable.

It does not really relate even to a very specific patch-work pattern, do I understand that correctly?

Dear Snowbird

Sorry :grin:

That was indeed what I was refering too. I would at the time 2600 years ago be immediately understood by a large amount of people. Most people these days however live in cities and might not be able to easily relate to this. Although even in The Netherlands (where I live) there appear to be rice paddies: Scientists plant rice paddy field near Leiden in sustainable farming test | NL Times

Just as an after-thought: Perhaps making a video about how to sew a robe might help together with explanation from Sutta-Vinaya? Bit of a project though, so I don’t know if it is worth the effort.

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I have a lot of respect for the Thai forest tradition, but still, I don’t think ‘sutava Ariya savako’ ever entailed, even in part, trained in decoding encrypted teachings. Symbolic, mythic or otherwise. That is the old way. Anyway the old secrets are laid bare in the Suttas when the Jhanas are analyzed and so forth.