Shaving of the head is an old practice in Buddhism. Hence, it is a common thing to see the Buddhist monks and nuns with a shaved head. Moreover, it is natural to wonder why Buddhist monks shave their heads. Of course, it is part of the monks’ code of conduct to shave their heads. But, the basic inquiry is why the monastic orders have the rule as part of their conduct. In other words, what is the relevance of the practice of shaving the head by Buddhist monks?

To be a Buddhist monk means to accept an ascetic lifestyle. Therefore, Buddhist monks shave their heads as a symbol of giving up worldly attachments. Besides, in India, long hairs show that one belongs to a high social class. And, these attachments are what takes people away from true happiness. Hence, it is needful to let go of the attachments in pursuit of enlightenment.

Therefore, the Buddhist monks will shave their heads once ordained to symbolize the life they chose to live. Moreover, the Buddha himself before he became enlightened had to cut his hair. He did this after running away from the palace where he was a prince. Consequently, he gave up his life of royalty to seek for enlightenment. And, by shaving his head, he denounced his social class.

We are going to focus mainly on the significance of shaving of the head by Buddhist monks. Thus, answering the question, “Why Do Buddhist Monks Shave Their Heads?”

Here are the reasons behind the shaving of the head by Buddhist monks:

As A Symbol Of Monkhood

After an individual takes a vow to become a monk, he will have his head shaved. This activity serves as a symbol of denouncing worldly attachments. That is to say, shaving the head shows a monk’s freedom from the awful grip of worldly desires.

The newly ordained monk will appear like the elder monks. And, start performing his monastic duties. Therefore, shaving of the head by a Buddhist monk gives him that identity of a true ordained monk. And, it suggests their freedom from desires which can cause suffering.

Most importantly, shaving of the head as a symbol also shows the lack of self-interest by the monks. That is to say, Buddhist monks pay extra attention to self. Instead, they focus more on the path of enlightenment. Moreover, attachment to self can take one away from enlightenment.

To Cut Down Attachment On Personal Appearance

When Buddhist monks shave their heads, they are limiting the attention given to their appearance. As a result, there would be no need for worrying about the next hairstyle. This means that their physical appearance does not matter anymore. Therefore, they can focus more on acts of kindness. And, of course, their quest for enlightenment.

Always thinking about how we look will bring about worry. Consequently, worry deprives us of happiness. And, this is far from the goal of Buddhism. Hence, the Buddhist monks to avoid this will shave their heads. Knowing that they do not have hairs to style, there is no need worrying about it. As a result, they simply focus on their monastic duties.

To Reduce Confusion

When people keep hairs, they always try to look after it. This is so to always look good. And, to keep up with the demands of our society. Having this thought keeps us in confusion. For instance, we always think about the hairstyle that is reigning. Or, maybe, how to look better, or different. Also, we worry about how to maintain our social class. All these leads to confusion. We spend so much time trying to decide how to appear physically. In the end, it is all vanity. And, it does not promote spiritual development.

Not only can trying to care for our hairs get us confused, but it can also cause confusion to other people. This happens when we try to impress people with our hairstyle. For example, others will try to look like you or another person. This occupies the person’s mind and time. But, this is not the right way to live.

As a result, to avoid this interfering with the monastic life, the Buddhist monks will shave their heads. At least without the hairs, the time that a monk will spend thinking about it will be eliminated. And, channeled to more important things.

To Emulate The Buddha

Buddhists believe that after the Buddha left his life of royalty behind, he shaved his head. And, his hair remained that length till he died. This showed his absolute defeat over earthly defilement. As a result, the Buddhist monks shave their heads in emulation of the Buddha. That is to say, since the Buddha himself did it and achieved nirvana, they can also do the same.

Therefore, Buddhist monks actually follow the steps of the Buddha. They see the Buddha as a role model. Hence, they shave their heads to live out the lifestyle of the Buddha.

The Jataka tales have it that the Buddha cut his hair with a sword. And, this was as he left to seek for enlightenment. As a result, his hair remained the length of two fingers-breadth. This is what the Buddhist monks try to imitate today.

It Serves As An Examination Of A Monk’s Dedication

A truly dedicated Buddhist monk should care less about his outward appearance. He should focus on being a better monk. As a result, the shaving of the head is a way to show humility and willingness to be a monk. Above all, it also shows his dedication to the monastic life.

In other words, being a monk is a does not come with the power to control things. Nor, rule over others. Instead, it requires a show of commitment and compassion towards others. Hence, a monk will shave his head since he is not striving to meet up with a social class.

Moreover, a monk having his head shaved always, shows dedication to the monastic ways.

Facts To Note On “Why Buddhist Monks Shave Their Heads”

We have seen the reasons behind the shaving of the head by Buddhist monks. There are also other important facts to keep in mind. These facts can be seen in the Khandhaka. And, Khandhaka is a section of the Vinaya-Pitaka. It contains the rules guiding the shaving of the head by the monastics. Most importantly, these rules have control over why and how the Buddhist monks shave their heads.


A Monk’s Hair Should Not Grow Beyond A Stated Length Or Period Of Time

This rule has it that a monk should shave his head once his hairs get to the length of two fingers-breadth. Or, at least, at the interval of two months. Anyone of the regulations that come first should be observed.

The Head Must Be Shaved With A Razor Blade

This is another rule contained in the Khandhaka. It says that a monk must cut his hairs with only a razor blade. That is to say, no other tool may be used. However, there may be an exception when the individual has a sore in the head. And, this has to go through adequate consideration.

Even today, the preferred head shaving tool is still a razor. Most Buddhist schools forbid electric razors. And, this is because they see electric razors to work more like scissors.

A Monk Must Let His Gray Hair Be Like That

When a Buddhist monk grows gray hair, he must not dye it or pluck it out. Hence, he should just leave it and continue with the routine shaving. Moreover, Buddhist monks do not check their appearance in mirrors. Therefore, except another tells them or during shaving, they are not likely to notice gray hairs.

No Combing Or Brushing Of Hair

A monastic in Buddhism may not have his hair combed or even brushed. Moreover, there would not be any need for combing the hair if it is short. This provides more reason for Buddhists monks to always shave their heads. That is to say, they do not need to worry about these hair care techniques. At most, a monk can only use his hands to smoothen the hair. Although, this applies only when necessary.

Any Hair Treatment Is Forbidden

Buddhist monks may not apply hair oil. And, of course, they may not use any type of oil on the hair with the aim of treating the hair. Doing so is against the monastic rules. As a result, a Buddhist monk will only have to cut his hair as stated in the Khandhaka of the Vinaya-Pitaka.

In Conclusion

The practice of shaving of the head by the Buddhist monks is an obligation they have to respect. However, the rule has a lot of significance which we discussed on this page. Again, we saw that monks do not only need to shave their heads. But, they also have to do it following a specific guide.

Note also that shaving of the head does not apply to the lay community. Instead, it is only a practice for the monastics.