Buddhists no more shave their heads as a general thing than Christians dress as monks and nuns and walk around burning incense. Some Buddhist monks belong to orders that traditionally shave their heads, but then so do some Christian monks. Hollywood has seized on this (head shaving) as a traditional thing for Buddhists to do (like bad cowboys wearing the black hats). In the real world most Buddhists (and bad cowboys) are hard to tell from anyone else. They dress like everyone else in their local culture, groom themselves in the same way, and behave like everyone else.

Head shaving in Buddhism is symbolic of letting go of material attachments and the self-obsessed ego, and in most authentic streams of tradition (i.e. "sect's") it is an act undertaken only when an individual is being ordained as a priest, monk/nun or minister.

The Japanese word for 'ordination' is "tokudo" and this means "going to the other side (of the river)". Tonsure (head shaving) confirms this commitment. In our Jodo Shinshu tradition the person ordained is then permitted to let their hair grow back into any style the wish but in some other traditions they are expected to keep the shaved head look and not let it get to more than two fingers width in length.

In the Jodo Shinshu tradition and even at tokudo ladies are not required to shave their whole head and instead just have the back of their necks shaved so that no hair touches the collar of their robes.

Symbolic Head Shaving at the Kikyoshiky Ceremony.
Kikyoshiki is not ordination (see attendant article "Tokudo") - but this does not mean it is not a very important step in the individual's journey on the Buddhist Way. Participation in the Kikyoshiki Ceremony simply confirms that the individual is ready to become 'a disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha' - and the individual should decide for themselves if or when they wish to make this commitment.

In the Jodo Shinshu tradition participant in the Kikyoshiki Ceremony undergo a symbolic head shave wherein, from behind, the head of the candidate is gently touched three times (left, right, centre) with a blunt blade. I repeat, gently touched.

Linked articles: | Kikyoshiki | Tokudo. When Shin Buddhists Do Shave their Heads |

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