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Buddhist monks and nuns wear robes (cãvara or kàsàya) rather than conventional lay clothes. The attire consists of three parts – a smaller rectangular robe wrapped around the waist, a belt used to secure it and a larger rectangular robe draped around the whole body, over the left shoulder and under the right arm.

A double-layered robe is used in cold weather. The popular term ‘saffron robe’ is a misnomer – saffron has never been used to dye robes due to its expense. The correct colour is yellow, orange or tawny brown, the same as the kanikàra flower, Pterospermum acerifolium (Ja.II,25). To the ancient Indians this colour suggested detachment or letting go because leaves go yellowish-brown before dropping off the tree. A set of robes is one of the eight basic requisites of monks and nuns. To many Buddhists, as to the Buddha himself, the yellow robes were more than mere clothing, they were also a symbol of the highest ethical and spiritual ideals. The Buddha says, ‘Whoever is free from impurities, filled with virtues, self-controlled and truthful, he is indeed worthy of the yellow robe’ (Dhp.10).

The Buddha once said, ‘If one were to seize the hem of my robe and walk step by step behind me, he would nonetheless be far from me if he was greedy, filled with anger and desire, careless, corrupt, unrestrained, noisy and distracted. Even if one were to live a hundred miles away from me but be free from desire and longing, have a kind heart and a pure mind and be mindful, composed, serene and focused, he would nonetheless be near to me and I would be near to him. And why? Because he would see the Dhamma and seeing the Dhamma he would see me (It.91).

See also