Simile of the White Cloth

The simile of being enveloped by a White Cloth in the 4th rūpa jhāna is intriguing. It brings to mind another instance of the use of a white cloth in the now rarely seen, but very beautiful, Pansukūl ceremony, a form of blessing ritual to heal or extend the life of, usually, an elderly recipient. The recipient lies down and is covered entirely by a fine white cloth, and remains in a twilight, transitional realm while monks chant sections of the Matika, normally chanted for the dead. When the chanting ends, the senior monk “plucks” away the white cloth, and the recipient is symbolically reborn.

Originally, at the time of the Buddha (and a practice only rarely followed today by some monks), pamsukūla referred to collecting rags discarded in a graveyard, usually from the shroud covering a dead body. Such rags may be taken freely by a monk, cleaned and dyed, and sewn into monks’ robes. In fact, pamsukūla robes were originally, at the very beginnings of establishing a Buddhist Sangha, one of the four “marks” or supports that defined being a Bhikkhu. Thus, the Vinaya states, “pamsukūlacivaram nissāya pabbajjā – “this Going Forth has as its support rag robes” (The Entrance to the Vinaya, Vol. III, p. 306 “Anusāsana”. Bangkok: Mahamakut Press

The simile of the White Cloth suggests that the 4th rūpa jhāna is a kind of transitional state, neither of this world, nor yet quite entirely cut off from it. In the same way, taking ordination and wearing monks’ robes is a major life transition for a new monk, involving not only a new name, but regarded as a “change of lineage”, presaging the hoped for eventual change of lineage into the Path of Enlightenment.


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