Samue: A Dynamic, Traditional Meditation Garment

Every element of the Japanese Zen tradition has been carefully honed over thousands of years to serve a distinct purpose; clothing is no exception. 

The most easily identifiable garb in Zen is the simple black monk’s robe, but other forms of clothing have historically played an important role as well. Robes traditionally served as the preferred outfit for meditation, but were often too cumbersome for more physical activities. 

The samue (作務衣) is the traditional work clothing of Japanese Zen monks. Samue literally means “clothing for samu,”  the monastic  work practice undertaken to sustain the monastic community. More than in many other traditions, physical labor is an essential part of Zen practice. As such, monks historically needed a form of clothing that was both comfortable and functional when tending to their duties, such as cooking, gardening, cleaning the halls, and gathering firewood.

The saying “A day without work is a day without food,” attributed to Chinese Zen master Baizhang Huaihai, is indicative of how deeply ingrained the tradition of samu is within the Zen tradition. 

The samue is a simple but dynamic outfit, consisting of a long-sleeve cotton jacket top with cotton trousers. It can be worn almost year round with the addition or removal of thin layers of clothing underneath. The thickness of the samue can also make it better suited for different times of the year. We offer both a lightweight and medium-weight samue for this reason.

Loose-fitting and unadorned, the samue allows for full range of motion and is perfect for physical work outside, exercise, and martial arts. The Lightweight samue is good for hot summers, but also warm when paired with other layers. The Medium-weight samue, as the name suggests, is made with a thicker cotton weave, making it warmer and more durable, but not ideal for hot weather.

The samue’s history is interwoven with Japanese Zen Buddhism, but today the garment has taken on a life of its own, both within Japan and abroad. In Japan, the samue is now the preferred garment to visit hot springs (onsen), traditional hotels (ryokan), and even as sleepwear. 

Originally designed for labor around the monastery, today the samue is just as at home in the meditation hall. The same characteristics that make it ideal for working outdoors cool, loose-fitting, and lightweight also make the samue great for sitting. In fact today, you’re more likely to see people sitting meditation in samue than in robes! 

Our samue pants are loose fitting enough for any cross-legged position, as well as sitting seiza (kneeling), and of course in a chair. Our simple design and subdued colors also mean that our samue will fit in well in almost every meditation environment. 

All of the samue from Still Sitting are designed and sewn in-house. They are handcrafted from cotton with different thickness options and in a variety of beautiful patterns and colors. Samue jackets are roomy enough to wear layers underneath. Unlike other samue jackets, ours feature two pockets: an outside zippered pocket and an inside breast pocket that is perfect for a cell phone or wallet.

Our samue trousers feature an elastic waistband and drawstring to ensure you get the right fit for your body and activity level. With two deep pockets and velcro straps around the ankles, these pants are ready to move with you, no matter the activity.

All of Still Sitting’s samue are 100% pre-shrunk cotton.  They can be machine washed and tumble dried.  For a truly authentic experience, check out our Kyoto samue line, which features a beautiful weave pattern and lightweight cotton imported from Japan.

Whether you’re working in the garden, meditating, relaxing  at home, or enjoying a beautiful summer day outside, you can find the samue for your lifestyle available in our online store. 

Thank you for reading and happy sitting!

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