Bald by Belief
Heads of Humility: Renunciation and Head Shaving
Buddhist monks shave their heads as a symbol of their renunciation and unattachment to the world.
For many people, hair loss is a difficult experience to endure, especially because the loss is involuntary and forced upon the person. But there are people who willingly choose to shed their hair, and for a variety of reasons. For example, actors may believe that a shaved head will better capture the character they are portraying. Other people do it because they simply believe that bald works better for them.
And some, such as Buddhist monks, do it for religious and spiritual reasons.
Head shaving is part of the ordination process for most Buddhist monks, although it should be pointed out that not EVERY Buddhist monk has his head shaved. There also is great variation in how “shaved” one keeps one’s head. For example, some orders require shaving only at the ordination and leave it up to the individual to decide whether he will maintain the shaved state. Others recommend that the head be shaved regularly, although the definition of “regularly” may differ from one temple to another.
But why shave the head for ordination or beyond? According to their deep convictions, shaving one’s head is consistent with the concept of renunciation. Buddhist monks strive to have no attachment to the world. At the ordination, we adopt a simple kasaya or kesa (robe) and we shave our heads to demonstrate that renunciation.
Desire causes suffering and we all desire a full head of hair
The Buddhist idea of renunciation is based on their universal belief that desire causes suffering. This belief stresses that learning to live a bare bones lifestyle in which one truly does not desire more than what one has lessens suffering and allows one to concentrate on a deeper and more fulfilling life.
The idea of head shaving originates in one of the Buddhist texts (called “Sutras”), which talks about 16 ways in which hair (on both the face and the top of the head) can interfere with keeping clean.
Korean Buddhist monks and nuns, who shave their heads every 15 days, do not do “self shavings.” Instead, they shave each other’s heads, which symbolizes their wish to help and support each other.
It is an interesting sight to see. The whole class shaved at basically the same time, before the ceremony, and it was interesting to see so many shaved heads at once. One could get a very celebratory, not necessarily because heads were shaved, but because it was all part of the ordination process, of becoming a Buddhist monk, which is a special experience.
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“Renunciation”: The advantags and disadvantages
And while we may find some practical advantages to a shaved head – e.g., it’s more economical in terms of money spent on shampoo – there are some disadvantages. We need hair as protection from the sun and the cold, but it also can take time to remember that once that layer of hair is gone, we’ll lose a natural sensor that will tell us to stop before we bump our head on something.”
Sometimes a shaved head can act as a symbol of religious solidarity, even for a person involved in a religion for which head shaving is not prevalent. For example, in 2007, Father Robert Reyes, a Filipino Catholic priest serving in Hong Kong, shaved his head to support Buddhist monks who encountered violence while protesting a repressive regime in Burma.
He was quoted as saying; “Today, I will have my head shaved for the first time,” Father Reyes said in a statement. “I let go of my hair and ask the rest of the world to let go of their indifference as well. Hair represents both attachment and defilement. The Burmese Generals … are madly attached to power which has not only defiled them but is now leading them to murder those who stand for what they are not … the Buddhists monks.”
Those who choose to shave their heads for religious reasons do so with the realization that having no hair can be a positive experience. For them, it is part of a path that leads to inner peace and greater personal acceptance.
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Bald by Belief