Someone contacted me recently to say that when they think of a Buddhist teacher, they think of someone like Pema Chodron (a nun in the Tibetan tradition, with a shaved head and the standard Tibetan monastic robes).
But she’s also seen Buddhist teachers with dyed hair and make up. This didn’t conform to her understanding of Buddhism – surely it’s about losing the ego, the vanity and the attachment to this kind of artificial beauty?
How does it all fit together?
(My completely unrelated Pema Chodron story)
Incidentally, I was driving through Cape Breton a couple of years ago. I was only there for a few hours and tried to see as much of it as I could. I pulled over in a car park (can’t remember why) and Pema Chodron was there! Weird or what???
I didn’t speak to her. One of her disciples decided that she was far too important for a mere passer by to say hi to and formed a kind of human shield. Sorry, she’s tired. And busy. And MY guru! Leave her alone!!!
Humans. You gotta love em.
Anyway, back to egos and suchlike.
Buddh-ist not Buddh-a
There’s a huge difference between a Buddhist and a Buddha.
For a start, a Buddha may not care whether their mascara is smudged. But for the rest of us, we’re like a football coach. We can tell you how to run fast, but maybe we can’t run so fast ourselves.
One of the tough things to get your head around as a Buddhist practitioner is the incredible gap between who you are and your ideals.
The ideal of the Buddha is about as ideal as it’s possible to get.
For now, we are as we are. Many people pretend to be way closer to the Buddha ideal than they really are. Some Buddhists act ‘as if’ in the hope that it’ll speed up the road to making it a reality.
Others do it in the hope that no one will notice they’re just a normal person. They may even deny it to themselves. This isn’t healthy and it doesn’t benefit anyone.
So from my perspective, I love that some Buddhists have skinheads and others dye their hair and wear make up. They’re both hopefully acknowledging who they are right now, and what moves and inspires them.
Some people get inspired by shaving their head. It’s a powerful ritual.
Others feel ugly and get depressed. That’s not what Buddhist practice is about. Best not to shave your head. Far better to get down Vidal Sassoon and let them turn you into the god(dess) you really are.
Attachment to what?
The key point with how we present ourselves to the world is that, from a Buddhist perspective, it’s not so important.
What’s important is whether or not we’re attached to it.
And it’s just as easy to get attached to a skinhead as it is to a Marilyn Monroe peroxide special.
In fact, for Buddhists I’d say the skinhead is more appealling. You get instant cred down the temple if you’ve ‘gone beyond’ the haircut.
At least among westerners. People from traditional Buddhist countries are often a bit perplexed by the westerners in the temple with the skinhead and the charity shop (thrift store) clothes.
Going beyond attachment is a much deeper, more subtle process. You can’t force it.
At the same time, you shouldn’t ignore it. It’s easy to put the whole renunciation thing to one side indefinitely.
The way to make progress with Buddhist practice is “neither hurrying nor tarrying” – as my old teacher used to say. (He was quoting the Buddha, more or less).