Haibun: "Clothes Make the Man (and Woman)"

-- with thanks to Barbara Dilley and her validating work

about "art mothers and fathers" and "lineage streams,"

and gratitude to Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos...who knows and understands


Another Juan Chi poem helps ripen wine's renown

in bamboo forests full of crystalline wind.

You sit half-drunk, let down flowing sleeves

and sweep your dragon-rimmed ch'in clean.

Then it's a fresh tune for each cup of wine,

dusk's blaze sinking away unnoticed. Soon,

thoughts deep among rivers and mountains,

I hear this mind my former lives all share.

--- Meng Hao-jan (689-740 CE)

from The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan,

translated by David Hinton

"I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity

of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud."

--- C.G. Jung, address to the Society for Psychical Research in England

Among some of my earliest memories are haunting flashes of images that I am now convinced are from another life, precisely because, quite clearly, they are not from this one.

The elements are simple: A low table. A scroll hanging on the wall --- water-stained from rain but no less precious. A partially-open rice paper door. The sound of katydids, cicadas, flowing water, a nearby shishi-odoshi, thumping repeatedly --- tonk, tonk, tonk (shishi-odoshi: bamboo water fountain device used to scare deer away from gardens). Angled late afternoon autumn light shining in. Sunbeams on tatami floor. Even now, I can conjure the sweet, fresh fragrance of the woven grass mat and how that smells blended with the aroma of newly-brewed tea.


Years ago, in the mid-90s, I had a conversation about these particular "memory flashes" with an unlikely character --- the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a.k.a. Reb Zalman (1924-2014). Unlike many people, who tend to glaze over and nod politely-but-suspiciously with the mention of "past lives," or who outright brush aside such notions as rebirth and reincarnation, Reb Zalman did not. He nodded knowingly and immediately offered, "I too have lived before. I remember my life in India as well. It's why I feel such a bond with Sufism."

One of the main things I remember most from our discussion was something he said about clothing.

"If you really want to get in touch with these energies,

put on the clothing of the times. It activates memory

in the soul. When there is memory, there is information.

It really is an instance of 'the clothes make the man'."

Reb Zalman was a trailblazer of the Jewish Renewal Movement. He was an innovator of the eco-kashrut (ecologically-oriented Jewish diet), was openly committed to LGBTQ rights, spoke passionately about the concept of Gaia (co-evolving, self-regulating earth), showed dramatic support for feminism, and was part of a group of rabbis who went to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India.

It was on that trip to India when Reb Zalman had his own "memory strands" stirred and, according to him, comprehended "the difference between biological DNA and spiritual DNA" --- the former being directly linked to the biological ancestors of one's present life, the latter being a mysterious phenomenon connected to the soul of a person who may have memories activated from another existence.

His assertion was that people may be drawn to different spiritual traditions and/or cultures because it is a familiar resonance to them. "They carry something of it within them from another time," he said. He also mentioned non-ethnically Jewish people being drawn to Judaism, non-ethnically Japanese people being drawn to Shinto, African-American people being drawn to European paganism, and so forth.

It was in this conversation that Reb Zalman mentioned a concept: "draped embodiment." He described the visceral experience when he would put on certain scarves and religious garments and could immediately "feel the lineage flowing through him."

I am reminded of an old Japanese saying, "Even the brushing of sleeves between passersby reveals deep connections in past lives." *

I still don't fully know what I think of all of this, but I continue to find it fascinating after the 25 years that have passed since my conversation with the much-beloved Reb Zalman -- Rabbi, honorary-Sufi shaikh, global citizen.

mid-winter morning

draped in a quilted hanten ---

poems start to flow

*River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism,

Taitetsu Unno, p. 140, Doubleday

photo credit of Reb Zalman: The Yesod Foundation