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Why do Buddhist monks shave their heads?

Monks

The practice of cutting your hair or shaving your head for religious purposes is also known as tonsure. Tonsure has been around since the medieval Catholic times but was then abandoned in 1972 by the papal order. In modern times, tonsure refers to cutting or shaving hair by monks or religious devotees. Ridding of your hair serves as a symbol of renunciation of worldly ego and fashion.

In Buddhism, shaving your head (and face) is part of Pabbajja. Pabbajja is when a person leaves their home and “goes forth” to live the life of a Buddhist renunciate among ordained monks. It is a paramount step to becoming a monk. A Buddhist monk’s tonsure is practiced routinely in order to keep their head cleanly shaven.

Historical Background

The sacred text called Vinaya-pitaka was made by the Buddha. In the section titled Khandhaka, there are some rules listed for his ordained followers. Some of the guidelines for monastics that the Khandhaka lists are:

  • One must use a razor to remove hair
  • One does not cut hair with scissors (unless medically necessary)
  • No plucking or dyeing gray hair
  • No grooming of hair (brushing, etc.)

Modern Times

The guidelines set in the Khandhaka are used to discourage vanity. Most Buddhist monks and nuns follow these rules today. There is variation between schools, but the monastic ordination of Buddhism always includes a head shave.

Why Worry About Hair?

Going bald makes life a lot easier. Not only do you have to worry about grooming — you can throw away societal expectations! Without hair, you spend less money on shampoos, hair products, and haircuts. In addition, no more harsh chemicals or medical shampoos that damage your scalp. The monks had it right, go bald for a happier and healthier head!