To Wear Jewelry or Not?

This is an irrelevant question to most, but for Buddhist laypersons, it has some importance. Is it correct for Buddhist laypersons to wear embellishments like jewelry, including jewelry that features Buddhist symbols?

This is something that has always nagged at me. But let’s first clarify that I’m not an ordained monk: as a monk, I would not wear jewelry, or makeup, or any clothing but my robes.

My use of jewelry and makeup has dwindled a lot since becoming a Buddhist. My ears were pierced when I was 16 years old, but I rarely wear earrings now. I wear my engagement ring and wedding band all the time. Most days, that’s all the jewelry I bother with. My fingernails and short and plain, but my toenails are always manicured and polished. I have no tattoos.

But over the years, I’ve collected a few pendants (images of Avalokiteshvara and the Buddha), and I wear them when I feel like it. But it never feels completely right to do so. 

Last year, I met a Buddhist laywoman and teacher who wears an insane amount of jewelry, makeup, and other embellishments every day. Her nails are long and manicured - usually painted blue - her hair is long and dramatically styled, and she is not shy with makeup. Her clothing is colorful and bold. By any standard, she embellishes her body to the extreme.

When I met her, it struck me that the time that she invested in adorning her body so abundantly would be much better spent meditating and doing good deeds. A part of me stuck with that conviction. The other part of me condemned the first part for being judgmental and mean. And in the end, I couldn’t decide which part was speaking truth.

Now, I feel that both parts had something important to say. There are Buddhists who wear rags because they know the body is nothing, and nothing to be bothered with; there are other Buddhists who wear rags (and jewelry with Buddhist emblems) because they are prideful and want to give others the impression that they are holy. There are Buddhists who adorn themselves as this woman does because they are clinging to worldly embellishment and not giving themselves over to their practice; there are other Buddhists who may just be expressing their colorful, vivid natures through embellishment.

There’s a wide spectrum of opinions on this. I try to follow the example of ordained monks as much as possible, even though I am not ordained and have no intention at this time of being ordained. But it does seem to me that the less time we spend coveting our bodies and our bodies’ appearance, the better off we are as Buddhists – the more mental and physical energy we can give to our practice, the more we can help the poor and suffering, and the clearer our path to enlightenment.

With that being said, I do wear my simple jewelry from time to time.

Live Pono

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