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The Treasure of the precepts of the Buddha Nature
Is impressed in the depth of our spirit.
The fog and the dew, the rain and the mist
Are the Kesa, who our body
Yoka Daishi, Shodoka, sentence 39


The Kesa (Kasava in Sanscrit) is the robe worn by all Buddhist monks. Actually, with the bowl, the Kesa is their emblem. According to the legend, the Buddha, while walking with Ananda, noticed the pattern of a rice field as a collection of bands. The Buddha let his loyal disciple immediately understand with just a gesture, to make a robe capable to distinguish the disciples of the Buddha, by reproducing the pattern of the rice field. The Kesa was born. In order to prepare it, the monks collected of cloth fragments which were discarded or well-worn, menstrual cloths, shrouds. The monks washed such clothes, dyeing and sewing them to give life to the "most precious of the robes". If Zazen is the activity embracing all of the contradictions of existence to transform them in enlightenment, the Kesa transforms something which is dirty and rejected into an extraordinary robe symbol of the original purity.

During the centuries, depending on the region the Kesa has changed shape and the way in which it has been worn. For example, in the countries of the South-Est of Asia the Kesa is worn directly on the skin, whereas in colder countries, such as Tibet or China, it is worn over other clothing. Every monk possesses three Kesa: the one with five, the one with seven and the one with nine vertical bands. In Zen this tradition has been slightly modified, and the Kesa with five bands (gojo-e) has been transformed in a small "traveling" robe or Rakusu, which is worn around the neck. The color of the robe of the novices is black, whereas the color of the robe of the masters who have received the Transmission of the Dharma is ochre.

According to the Zen Tradition the Nyoho (lit. just as it has to be) Kesa, to which the Zen Center in Piazza Dante refers, every monk has to sew his/her robe following precise rules. Sewing is thus considered a further form of meditation, during which one has to keep a right posture, a right mental attitude, and recite at each point the mantra: "Namu Kie Butsu".

 

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