Anyone taking part in a scheduled sitting will notice any number of people sitting in brown robes. These are lay robes (as distinct from the blue or black one a priest wears). We wear them for several reasons. Fist, they are comfortable. Second, they help the mind settle into the practice (think of gearing up for sports or dressing for work). Finally, they introduce a degree of commonality and plainness to the atmosphere of the zendo. While no one is required to wear one (except during sesshin), many will find that they wear the robe for any or all of the above reasons.
A lay robe does not mark any degree of distinction (they are not a sign of rank), and anyone may wear one. We have men's and women's loaner robes in the men's and women's changing rooms. If you find that you are interested in wearing one while sitting here, ask someone to help you get into one the first time (there is some business with the string ties that is not intuitively obvious).
If you find that you have come to make regular practice at the Center an integral part of your life, you might want to have your own, custom-made one. They are available through the source the Vermont Zen Center uses for theirs (vermontzen.org/ticorobes.html) at a reasonable price. They are well-crafted and will last a lifetime of practice.
The rakusu is an abbreviated form of the kesa (kasaya), the outer robe worn by the Buddha and his disciples. One wears it as a reminder to oneself of one's own commitment to practice; it is not worn as a display to anyone else.
In keeping with the tradition, one sews one's own rakusu. Kits, including material and instructions, are available at the Center. Once sewn, the person gives the rakusu to the teacher, who then inscribes it with one's Dharma name. Then, in a very short ceremony, generally in conjunction with Temple Night/Jukai, the teacher presents it to the student.
Kits are available for anyone who has been a member for at least a year and who has taken (or is about to take) the precepts. Speak with the teacher or Head of Zendo if you have questions.