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Lions Roar : November 2017
Lessons of Transformation Hairstyles may not seem that important, but when LARRY YANG’s head was shaved during ordination, he learned surprising lessons that broke his heart open. LIKE SO MANY of the 1960s genera- tion, I grew my hair long as a teenager— despite the verbal and nonverbal objec- tions of my assimilated-by-necessity, but still traditionally Chinese parents. In fact, until I was fifty years old, I had hair that I could pull into a long ponytail, flip with annoyance, and use to add a dramatic gesture to a point I was making. After I had been meditating and practic- ing the Buddha’s teachings for more than a decade, I decided to get ordained as a Bud- dhist monastic in Thailand. I had reached a point in my spiritual practice where I was ready to face the unknown and undergo a ritual ceremony that was as foreign to me as anything that I had ever experienced. Shaving one’s head is a key element of Buddhist monastic practice. In Thailand the practice extends to shaving the eye- brows as well. I understand it as an invi- tation to let go of all the ways we express ourselves through our appearance in the world. How we look, dress, and adorn ourselves are, for the most part, some expression of vanity, attachment to individual self-image. When one shaves one’s head and eyebrows and dons the same saffron robes that all other monks wear, one loses the outward signs of one’s individual identity. One has no embel- lishment, no creative statement to iden- tify who one is apart from a monk. This had an impact on how I held my internal experience of identity as well. My head was shaved at nine o’clock in the morning in front of the meditation hall at Wat Chom Tong, a village temple a little HOT OFF THE PRESS less than forty miles south of Chiang Mai. My teachers at the temple took the first snips of my long hair, but I wanted my then-partner (and now-husband) Stephen to cut my ponytail off. The scissors must have bruised his thumbs: it took a while for the shears to sever the thick bundle of hair. Then one of the senior monks from the monastery lathered my head with sham- poo, took out an old-fashioned Gillette safety razor from my father’s time—the kind that one has to unscrew from the bot- tom of the handle in order to place a dou- ble-edged blade on top—and proceeded to strip clean the right side of my scalp. I felt a chill that I had never experienced before as the blade passed back and forth, smoothly removing the black of all my hair. As the razor revealed skin that hadn’t “As the razorblade uncovered more and more of my naked scalp, it also brought about a profound healing.” PHOTO(L)COURTESYOFTHEAUTHOR;(R)BYSTEPHENPICKARD LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2017 71