One evening, I received a video of some naked Jain saints walking through a crowd. There were quite a few of them and all the devotees were showering praises upon them as the saints walked confidently forward. On first sight it was strange to see naked bodies in such a way, since we are not used to it in our society. Of course, the embarrassment was more my problem, not theirs.
By the next morning, as I had contemplated more and more about their nakedness, the gauge of my respect for them ascended. It was said these saints wore the sky around them and I began to understand more of what that meant. They were totally in tune with themselves, with nature, and with their own nature. Nudity today is often used to titillate or to shock, but these holy men were using it in a very different way: as a demonstration of humility and surrender to God.
As I looked at these saints, they had no silk ties, polished shoes, Rolex watches or woven suits. They were naked, completely naked. No one could tell one of them apart from another. There was no jostling for position or attention. And they didn’t seem slightest bit concerned about how people judged them: they were comfortable in their own skins, they knew who they were and what they stood for, and they were visibly content.
I began to imagine what it must have been like the first time they walked naked through the streets, since it takes courage to do so. I felt it signified the overcoming of the ego and thus the shedding of shame and embarrassment. Instead, they wore self-respect as their ‘cloak of honour’.
It made me think of the story of Adam and Eve who were innocent and naked in the Garden of Eden, but once they tasted the apple of body consciousness, they were ridden with shame and hence had to hide their nakedness.
These saints, however, were claiming back their honour. They were making the statement that the inner qualities of the human being are infinitely more important than the decoration.
We have conditioned our life to such an extent that public nudity is condemned a sin. But honestly, how did we come into the world? Was it with robes of silk, cotton or polyester? We all came naked and will have to leave naked one day. We adorn ourselves with clothes for many reasons; to feel more confident or attractive, because of fear, because we can no longer control our desires, or trust our own vision.
We use our clothes to give a message to the world. We dress to impress, or to give an impression that we couldn’t care less. Either way, we are unconsciously protecting ourselves from others seeing the naked ‘us’. When we are not happy in our own skins’ we need something to hide behind. We would not like to bare our soul to the world.
Asceticism has always been considered a pathway to God. As we give up our worldly objects and pleasures for higher pursuits, there is a sense of accomplishment and bliss like no other. It is up to us to choose whether we want to be bound by the chains of, conventional thinking, or to set a new fashion of our own.
Western respectability does not encourage nudity in public even if it be for religious reasons. But it does leave us with some food for thought. Could we be as naked as the saints? Could we renounce our ego and our social identity to the point that we could stand up for our own beliefs, whatever they may be, and not be concerned about whether we received respect or not? Could we bare all in the interests of the naked truth?
It may not be advisable to walk around naked in public, but we could aim to strip away some of that ego and get back to the truth of who we really are.
It’s Time… shed the veil of body consciousness and become completely naked.
© ‘It’s Time…’ by Aruna Ladva, BK Publications London, UK