Why the Long Hair?

“Having jata is a sign to the world that you are someone who has been a student of Vedic knowledge, and the fact that you have long jata is supposed to be a social indicator that you’re willing to share it and that you’re willing to teach somebody and take them on as students.”

Thom Knoles

While most of us think of hair in terms of current fashion trends and style ourselves accordingly, (or not!), most long-lasting schools of thought still have customs related to hair based on traditions that have lasted millenia.

The Vedic worldview is no different, and in fact many of the traditions related to the hair can be traced back to Vedic origins.

In this episode, Thom explains that hair has a very subtle yet specific function, beyond just keeping the head or the body warm, that dictates a style of relating to the world, or even retreating from the world.

While it may not affect how you manage your own hair, it will give insights into the ways in which many masters, monks, sadhus and other teachers manage theirs.

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Episode Highlights


Hair as a Conduit



One Set of Tubes After Another



A Larger Information Base



Signaling the Phase of Life



Hair that Grows Unfettered



Three Kinds of Characters



What’s Cooking in the Outside World?



Please Tell Me All About Everything



Shakya Muni



Demonstrating Self Sufficiency



Stop Cutting Your Hair



The Best Time to Get a Haircut



Don’t Let Your Life Go in Orbit Around Here



Don’t Make a Big Issue of It


Jai Guru Deva


Why the Long Hair?

[00:45] Hair as a Conduit

Let’s spend a few minutes talking about hair. Hair is a very interesting subject. Humans, by the way, have evolved to such an extent that they have relatively little of it compared with our ancestors who evidently were rather hairy beings.

And so let’s get an understanding about what is the spiritual significance of long hair, short hair, shaved heads, etc. because people have a natural human curiosity about all of this, including in the population, the human population who are capable of growing beards, beards versus no beards, versus trimmed beards, and so on and so forth.

So, in the Veda we read that the process of cutting hair has an effect of causing one to lose complete control, lose complete control, not completely lose control, but to lose complete control over the five senses. The five senses operate through, in part, hair follicles and through hair itself. Hair is conceived of, in the Vedic worldview, as tubular. That means it is a conduit.

[02:06] One Set of Tubes After Another

The Vedic word for a tube is a shrota. S-H-R-O-T-A. Shrota. And the entire body is made up of tubes. Ask any good anatomist or physiologist and they’ll tell you that the process of moving from a zygote, zygote is the name given to the unicellular being that you were, that your body was when the sperm first met the egg successfully, and the two of them interacted, it created the first unicellular aspect of you, which then began to multiply, known as the zygote. From zygote to embryo, from embryo to fetus, from fetus to neonate, that means newly born, from neonate to infant, from infant to toddler, from toddler to child, from child to teenager, from teenager to adult.

This whole process is a process of building new tubes. Very interesting. When we look at a unicellular human condition, a zygote, what we see is cells rapidly multiplying and growing from within themselves. One set of tubes after another.

After all, when you think about the human body, if you think of it as a tube of skin, made of skin on the outside, and what you look at on the inside is an elaborate network of different kinds of tubes, tubes that carry electronic or chemical information, tubes that carry food, tubes that carry water, tubes that carry blood and all the information that is contained in blood. Tubes that carry oxygen from the alveoli of the lungs through to the digestive tract, through to the intestinal tract, through the circulatory system and so on.

[04:12] A Larger Information Base

What we have is a system of tubes. Some of those tubes are on the external part of the body that connect between the skin and the environment, and those tubes are known in this context as hair. And though we have a certain amount of hair, we may have lost the wooliness of our ancient, very, very ancient ancestors.

We still can look with a magnifying glass at your skin and you can see hairs everywhere, all over the body, and those hairs inter-mediate between the skin of the body and the outside world. So then, when hair grows and grows longer, there is an effect of having a larger information base in contact with the outside world.

Sometimes that’s valuable. Sometimes it’s considered not quite as valuable. In India, when we see yogis, I’m looking right now at a picture that depicts the bright stars of the galaxy of teachers who brought Vedic Meditation from Narayana which is a conception of the first teacher, through Brahma, Vasishta, Shakti, Parashara, Vyasa, Shukadeva, Gaudapadacharya, Govinda, Shankara, Hastamalaka, Padmapada, Trotaka, Vartikakara, and then many hundreds of other teachers down to the current day Guru Deva, my Master’s Master, and my Master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

When we think about all these people and depict them, we see as many with either trimmed hair or shaved heads and faces as we see having long hair and beards. What we don’t tend to see is stylish haircuts. Very interesting.

[06:11] Signaling the Phase of Life

So these masters were all sitting in their role at various stages of their lives as masters who had a particular agenda. How much hair does a Vedic master have? Well, according to the agenda of the master. There are pictures of my Master’s Master, Guru Deva, with very short hair indeed. It looks like he’s just grown out from a buzz cut, and a very short beard. But in most pictures of him in his role as Shankaracharya, King of the yogis, his hair has been allowed to grow down to about shoulder length or a bit beyond.

And his beard looks to me like it’s about at least three or four inches beyond his chin. My own beard is about one foot long and whatever faint little bits of hair I have left around my balding pate are growing and curling down to about my collar bone. None of it has been trimmed at all in the last 20 years.

And that’s because it is a signal of the phase of life that I’m in. When great masters like Buddha, for example, shaved their heads and shaved their head regularly, they didn’t grow their hair out at all. They shaved the hair beyond the tiniest stubble.

In the shaving methodology that is used in the East, but very particularly in India, the shaver, the barber, who is shaving the head or face of the recipient of the shave, is very careful to use their thumb and forefinger to stretch the skin as widely as possible— every good barber knows this technique— and to shave the hairs that are coming out of the follicles, out of the pore, so close to the skin, that when you release the skin from stretching it, the hair that is down inside that pore retreats into the pore. And there is literally no stubble whatsoever detectable.

[08:15] Hair that Grows Unfettered

What does this signify? The person who’s having their hair shaven in this way, mind you, on a daily basis, is in a program, a phase of their development, where their interactivity with the outside world intentionally is being minimized. To minimize the medium which provides interaction with the outside world, the medium itself, the hair, is all but removed.

And for a period of time, the ones who shaved their heads have completely shaved all the hair, including below the skin line, right down to that below the skin line hair. There’s not even a stubble. So if you were to have the great good fortune of being able to reach your hand out and touch the head of Buddha, or indeed at various stages of his life, Shankara or Gaudapadacharya— I’m looking at these pictures of these people now, completely shaven, no beard, no hair on their head at all— you wouldn’t feel stubble. You’d feel completely hairless skin.

Now at a certain other phase of their program, that is to say their relevance to the world, they’ve decided to go the other way, and they’ve decided to let their hair grow unfettered by any kind of cutting or shaving.

By the way, scissor cutting is never done in Indian yogis. Scissors are not used. We’ll get to that in a moment.

[10:21] Three Kinds of Characters

The hair that’s allowed to go unfettered grows without any interruption from the shaven state, which is the state of complete withdrawal from the world, into the state of greater interactivity with the world and the hair is allowed to grow out including, in the males, the facial hair which grows completely unfettered without shaving or anything, and so we see two kinds of characters maybe three.

Those who are in that phase of their program where they are in complete withdrawal from the outside world and are clean shaven, beyond clean shaven, right to the skin being without even the faintest stubble, and then those who are transitioning from being completely clean shaven who might be sporting some stubble or relatively short beard or short hair, in the males, short beard, then those whose hair has grown for several years and is beyond the shoulders with the beard itself may be very long.

But what you don’t see is styled hair. You don’t see styled hair. And this is in people who have dedicated their lives to being exponents of this knowledge. 

People who have dedicated their lives and their entire being to being exponents of this knowledge have a signaling method to the outside world, and that signaling method is either their hair is growing in the direction of growing so long that it stops, or they’re in the process of removing the hair and removing the medium that connects them to the outside world, and they’re in a state of complete withdrawal, where they are inward looking, completely inward looking, everything shaven, and available for outward expression, everything growing, growing at some level of growing. 

You have to have stages of growth from no hair at all to growing it long. When the hair is very long, there is greater access to the information base about what’s cooking in the outside world.

[11:58] What’s Cooking in the Outside World?

What’s cooking means what are all the evolutionary processes that are going on in the outside world to which you, the master, have to respond. If I wanted to signal to the world that I was not available for any of that, but I was going entirely within, and in complete retirement, then I would make arrangements for an expert barber to come and shave my head down to the last hair, and I would have my beard shaven in the same way, I’d be completely clean shaven, beyond clean shaven, no stubble whatsoever.

But because I’m in a phase where I’m expected and intended to be available for worthy inquiry, and for me to have access to all the information base in the world through my shrota, my hair shrota then I display that by having my hair as long as it will grow which in my ancient old age is not very far. I’m pulling on my hair that’s at the back of my head right now, and it looks like it’s about maybe six inches long, the last strands that are growing out of the balding pate, and the beard is about a foot or so, and then these expressions of hair in India are considered to be social signaling.

[13:36] Please Tell Me All About Everything

You see, in India, if somebody grows a long beard and has long hair, and they are approached by someone who has worthy inquiry, ” Please tell me all about everything, Master.” If they cannot do that, or do an adequate job of it, they’re considered to be a fraud. ” Why do you have long hair like that and a beard like that and yet you can’t tell me anything about anything?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I just, I’m a freewheeling dude here. I’m a hippie. I just like the fashion of long hair.” You’re considered to be an insignificant human being because you’ve signaled the world that you’re a master of knowledge by having all that hair and that long beard, and yet you don’t have the knowledge, then you’re caught up with fashion, and, thank you very much. Good luck with all that. If you have a completely shaven head, absolutely clean shaven and you wear certain kinds of clothing, it’s a signaling to the outside world of your social availability to at least be approached, whether or not you speak in great long tomes of knowledge or whether you speak in a very abbreviated fashion.

[14:51] Shakya Muni

Gaudapadacharya spoke in a very abbreviated fashion. He had a shaven head and a shaved face and it was from him that the Shakya Muni, also known as Buddha. Buddha was not a name used for the man we know as Buddha, the historic Buddha, was never called Buddha in his entire lifetime. He was known as the Shakya Muni.

Shakya is the family name from which he came. Muni means sage. The sage of the Shakya family and he was renowned in the known world of the Indian subcontinent at that time because he was known to be, the Shakya Muni, was known to be the crown prince of North India who had abdicated the throne and gone on a spiritual quest.

So when he showed up at the ashram of Gaudapadacharya seeking knowledge, this is some 2,600 years ago, maybe 2,700 years ago. Gaudapadacharya was met by this young, who still had a full head of hair, Shakya, member of the Shakya clan, the royal family of North India was known as the Shakyas; they’re still there today. And he could see this was the Shakya, who wasn’t yet a Muni. the prince, his highness, who had abdicated the throne, was on a search.

[16:14] Demonstrating Self Sufficiency

Gaudapadacharya addressed him in very, very short terms. Evidently, their meeting lasted no more than about eight minutes, during which time, Gaudapadacharya informed Shakya, Siddhartha Gautama Shakya, that’s his proper name, his family name, Siddhartha first name, Gautama middle name, Shakya surname, last name, informed him that he was, in fact, the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and that it was not his destiny to come from a guru parampara, not his destiny to come from a tradition of gurus. That his whole purpose was to demonstrate self sufficiency in the cognition of knowledge, and that he’d better get on with it. And that was the end of the conversation, he handed him a flower.

Shakyamuni, later known as Buddha, was so deeply impressed by Gaudapadacharya that not only did he carry out the instruction given to him by Gaudapadacharya and become enlightened on his own terms but he began shaving his head and face in the same way that Gaudapadacharya did to indicate that he was largely in a withdrawal state.

He didn’t really instruct his followers to do so, many of them did so, not all of them, many of them shaved their heads and faces because they wanted to be like the master. So hair has this reputation of being a means whereby interaction with the outside world is desired to be complete. Complete interaction with everything going on in the outside world, lots of hair.

[17:58] “Stop Cutting Your Hair.”

And as much as your body will allow you at any given age, withdrawal into the monastic inner state with relatively little outer expression, less hair. And then no hair at all means virtually unavailable for anything but the most concise of words, concise words. So hair, hair, very interesting.

I’m in that phase of my career where my program given to me by my tradition is to have that fullest possible interaction with the outside world. And I was instructed by the Shankaracharya in about 2000 that Shankaracharya, King of the yogis, the Master of the masters of our tradition, the preeminent, and universally agreed upon, undisputed Master of all the masters, Shankaracharya addressed me one day and instructed me to stop cutting my hair.

Now, in India, the masters of the tradition, I mentioned scissors, if they did want to trim their hair because it’s tubular, they wouldn’t use scissors to cut it because hair has an end to it that seals off the flow of energy that comes from inside the body, and it’s deemed that if you use scissors and cut the hair that you leave the tube open at the end and energy flows out and so those masters use a different technique.

If for any reason they have to have a greater practical nature because you know long long beards and long long hair get caught on things, so then you know what they do is they singe it they take a little taper— a taper is a tiny little skinny candle that’s used for lighting other candles— and in the privacy of their own room, they take the hair and spin it around, twist it, and then they see all the split ends that are sticking out from that twist, and they singe off the split ends. And then that seals it. It seals the hair on the end rather than cutting it and leaving it open for energy to flow out.

So if you ever come across an Indian Yogi who smells a bit like burnt hair, probably they’ve been singeing that morning or the day before. It takes a while for that smell to go away.

[20:30] The Best Time to Get a Haircut

Now as regards householders who are simply, their lives are dedicated to home and hearth, children, and possessions, wealth and wealth creation, civilization building and so on, then you are considered to be free to style your hair, if you have any, as you wish.

Grow it long, cut it short. But if you do cut your hair, you might notice the effect of it for a little while, and there is, according to the Vedic tradition, an ideal time for cutting hair to minimize the impact of the loss of control of the senses.

And that is the day after the full moon. The full moon has two nights. It has the night of the waxing fullness, which is, it’s on its way to becoming full. And then it has the next night, which is the night of the waning fullness, where it’s already reached its maximum fullness sometime overnight or even during the day, and it’s on its way, it’s waning.

In the two or three days following the full moon is considered to be the very best time for getting a haircut, if you’re into that kind of thing, styling your hair or cutting your hair, to minimize the impact. Now, my teacher, Maharishi, taught me all of this, but he also said don’t make a big issue about it to the meditators.

[22:00] Don’t Let Your Life Go in Orbit Around Hair

It doesn’t matter that much. You’ll cut your hair, style it the way you want to style it, live your life in whatever way you do. The most important thing is to establish yourself in Being, get rid of all of your stresses, and enjoy Cosmic Consciousness. Don’t let your life go in orbit around hair.

In the case of somebody who is an inducted member, as am I, an inducted member of the tradition, then, I follow the instructions given by my gurus, my teacher, my master, and our tradition, and I am made happily choiceless about what I do with my hair, including the direction that my hair long chin hairs spiral. They spiral clockwise from my perspective, looking down. There’s a clockwise spiral and this is an indicator and a social indicator for those who are in the know, that although I am Rishi of some standing in my tradition, I’m a householder Rishi.

If my chin hairs were to spiral in the opposite direction, counterclockwise, Commonwealth people say anti clockwise, from the perspective of looking down from my eyes toward my chin, that would be an indicator to those who are in the know, that I am not a householder, but I’m a monastic person. Since I’m decidedly not anything like monastic, I have ten children, and I’m married, and I own a house, and I drive cars, and I eat at restaurants and things. I’m a regular householder person, Rishi, then my chin hairs are spinning in the clockwise direction.

They actually do so completely naturally on their own, though I have to say that occasionally I find myself fingering my beard and twirling it a little bit, and it tends to kind of twirl in that direction naturally anyway. 

[23:51] Don’t Make a Big Issue of It

So that’s about all you need to hear about hair. Don’t make a big issue of it.

Relax and enjoy whatever there is to enjoy about it. If you like it, have it. If you want to trim it, trim it. 

Some people ask me about jata. Jata, J-A-T-A, is the word for dreadlocks. Hair that is completely unkempt. And, jata is usually the sign in when it’s being done for spiritual reasons, not just fashion, but when, for spiritual reasons, someone is growing jata, long unkempt dreadlocks that clump together, this is really a definite social indicator of being a reclusive person. Someone whose hair is in jata and so if you have jata, if you have dreadlocks and you go to India and people approach you wanting to know Vedic knowledge but you’re not willing to give them Vedic knowledge or you don’t know any, don’t be surprised if they look disappointed.

Because having jata is supposed to be a sign to the world that you are someone who has been a student of Vedic knowledge, and the fact that you have long jata is supposed to be a social indicator that you’re willing to share it and that you’re willing to teach somebody and take them on as students.

The difference between the East and the West. But don’t make a big issue of it please. What do we make an issue of? We close our eyes twice a day, we practice Vedic Meditation. We get rid of our accumulated stress, and we develop Cosmic Consciousness, in which state our universal Self will be telling us on a minute-by-minute basis what to do with our hair. All right.

Jai Guru Deva. 

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