This is a question asked by Myozan and I ll do my best to answer.
Today, there is pretty much everything you can imagine from the most Japanese like kind of way of practice to the plain ordinary sitting without any prop, statue or robe. And all the variations in between. You may have a peep at all Gudo s Dharma heirs and see for yourself how different they are, how their style of practice varies. Just sitting without a robe is as valid as with a robe, sitting with a robe does nt give anybody the right to pontify and disqualify those that don t wear these Buddhist rags. And, those we don t wear the robe and don t understand it should refrain from making statements about the robe. And students, whoever they are, can be humble and refrain from criticizing or praising the robe, putting their trust in a teacher, they follow her or his example and teaching, would he or she wear the robe, so should they, if the teacher doesn t, they should do the same.
Now, the robe was first made and sewn in the old days when Shakyamuni first taught roaming the land. It has been given through generations as the robe of sitting, the bones and flesh of Buddha, the real thing, and sewing was the rule beore monk shops opened and the okesa in its modern form came about in Meiji era. All the great teachers of the past revered the robe, wore it and taught how to make it. Dogen was very good with the needle, I could see his needle work on a kesa exhibited in Kyoto two years ago, and Sawaki revived this tradition making the robe available to lay people, people receiving Jukai and not just to priests.
Zen was transmitted to me first by Deshimaru roshi and his close students, and then by Mike Chodo Cross Dharma heir of Gudo and also pretty good with a needle, sewing was for all my teachers a very important activity and wearing the robe a natural expression of just sitting.
A few years ago, Jundo knowing I was in Japan asked me to make sure that sewing could be taught, practiced and therefore I started to instruct people, we recorded videos and I wrote a short book about it. Jundo and I would like every person taking the Buddhist vows to sew their rakusu, a small form of the okesa, the big robe, as we both see that although the black and white robes are not necessary ( they are Chinese and Japanese additions), the robe should be kept and can perfectly wrap a sitter in shorts, pans, t- shirt or even naked...of course you may be part of this Sangha and not wear the robe, not do the precepts ceremony and that s perfectly OK. And if you come and start to question the robe, I would simply advise you to sit a good thirty years and sew before you do so. Because you simply dont know what you are talking about. People that start to sew for jukai are often reluctant to do so and very skeptikal about the whole process, a few weeks later they eyes open to a complete new reality.
Here we practice following Sawaki s teachings about the robe.
Zen is Zen. With or without the robe.
And because I am a distant student of Dogen and Sawaki, Zen is wearing the robe, shaving my head and being caught by the still state.
I hope this helps.