Thursday, April 19, 2018

Robe-rug-walls

When new robes are received the old robes are used as coverlets, the old coverlets as mattress covers, the old mattress covers as rugs, the old rugs as dusters, and the old tattered dusters are kneaded with clay and used to repair cracked floors and walls.

These lines of Ananda to a King Udena celebrating the frugality and thrift of the early sangha are quoted in several works on Buddhism and ecology. Possibly from Vinaya II 291, we found them quoted in a chapter by Vijay Kumar Thakur in Ecology and Religion: Ecological Concepts in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, ed. Rajdeva Narayan and Janardan Kumar (New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications, 2003), 60. Love the name of the publisher!

But it seems to me they might be about something more. Your relationship with a thing - a robe, in this instance - doesn't end when it ceases to function as that thing. What is now a rug was once a robe, just as what is now a robe will one day be part of a wall. You might not even know it in the particular case. It's kind of wonderful.

Now it doesn't make sense to say it is a robe throughout this whole sequence of functions and relationships, does it? Likewise, against the background of rebirth, it doesn't really make sense to understand any relationship solely in terms of the present form and function of the parties involved. Famously one should regard everyone one meets as once having been one's mother.

Deep & deep indeed, a challenge to the commodification of all relationships in "throwaway" consumer capitalist society...

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