‘If you are cast adrift in the huge sea, bothered by troublesome dragons, fish and demons, bring awareness to the power of Kannon (Avalokitesvara Perceiver of the Sounds of the World), and the billows and waves can’t drown you ..’ 🌊👹🙏
We had our meditative Shakyō Sutra copying practice by Zoom, tracing or copying character by character, with a pen or calligraphy brush or pencil depending on what participants were able to use, from the magical and compassionate ‘Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra Bodhisattva of Compassion Universal Gateway Chapter 25’.
It is full of poetry, energy and breathtaking natural imagery. Even the title itself is incredible – in Japan it is more simply known as the Fumonbonge! 😊
Blair talked about the history of Shakyō and about the Lotus sutra and particularly this famous chapter of it. Then he gave a demo of how to use the traditional Shakyō materials, as well as sharing tips for making the practice enjoyable, comfortable and meditative. It was a very peaceful and friendly group of folk who took part, and a lovely sutra to copy.
At Shakyō Sutra copying practice (online on zoom) we traced or copied two short verses which are often read or chanted in zen and other schools – the Kaikyōge Opening the Sutras Verse and the Fuekō Turning of Merit.
They are deep and inspiring short verses, the Fuekō directly coming from the Lotus Sutra. Some of the people who joined the shakyō practice copied with a pen and others used a small brush. Blair gave a demo of the shakyo meditative process and how to use the traditional materials, such as the fude brush with the hair of life tip, as well as easier to find alternatives – like a pencil and copy paper!
With it being the middle of December, and having chosen two short poetic verses to trace, we naturally had time for a break for a sweet snack – for Blair a mince pie and dark choc with green tea 🍵😊 and after chanting the Kaikyōge and ringing the bell we restarted the practice.
It was nice that some folk tried the Japanese and also English versions of the verses. And added stamps if they had them!
The first two lines of the Kaikyōge can be translated:
‘Unsurpassed, deep, minute, wondrous Dharma, In a hundred thousand million years is rare to encounter..’
The group was a nice way to close this year’s shakyō, and write our wishes for health and wellbeing and other things close to our hearts. Thanks to all who joined the practice this year.
Please see some examples below of works by participants.
At our Shakyo group, co-hosted with Glasgow Zen Group, we enjoyed peacefully copying the Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra 延命十句観音経.
It felt right to trace it at this time, being a sutra that has been close to people’s hearts over the centuries and considered by many as one that helps wellbeing in times of sickness or difficulty. It is short – spread over just four full lines including the title – but a sutra of vitality, full of energy.
It was a nice group of people who joined the practice – Blair let folk know about his experience of shakyo in Japanese temples, as well as the history of it in China and Japan, and how to practice it. He demonstrated how to use the traditional materials as well as how to copy or trace with easy to find materials such as a brush pen, pen or even a simple pencil, and how to find a suitable posture and breathing so the practice can be meditative, embodied and comfortable.
We talked a bit about tracing, writing freehand, adding a wish, and writing in Japanese and English. And without too much detail Blair went through each line of the sutra and how the ten phrases can be understood and translated.
We were energised by our tea and snack and after the sound of the large bell and the rhythm of the chanting of this sutra, we had time to trace or copy at our own pace. Thanks to the participants for sending images of their sutra copies below, and thanks to folks for taking part 🙂
We gently traced and copied the famous and inspiring Mahayana Buddhist Heart Sutra, or to use the full title, the Great Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra.
After Blair and the group discussed about the Shakyo practice and some of the meanings and structure of the sutra, which can often seem very mysterious and baffling, and the fun history bit, he gave a short demo of how to practice, whether tracing or copying using a brush and solid ink, or simply a pen or pencil freehand.
Blair lit the incense, rang the bell and some of us read or chanted the Kaikyoge verse for opening the sutras. Then we practiced meditatively, taking time and talking here and there about how to copy certain kanji characters or strokes, or about some meanings.
Here are some pictures from some of the participants. It was a lovely group, many thanks to all who wholeheartedly took part 🙂
Also here is a delightful short haiku by Andy Kokuu inspired by ink and brush:
Our first online Shakyo 写経 practice event saw us come together from Scotland, and elsewhere such as the rest of the UK and Canada, forming a lovely group of sutra tracing and copying practitioners.
Beginning with an introduction about the history of shakyo and the development of it from Tang dynasty China to modern day Japan, with descriptions of experiences and process in Japanese Buddhist temples such as Zen and Hossou schools, and then we discussed the meditative as well as practical techniques, demos and tips to prepare us.
We also talked about the Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra 延命十句観音経 and its connections to other sutras, looked at particular kanji characters and phrases, and how the sutra has been popular and cherished over the centuries as one that aids wellbeing in times of sickness or difficulty.
After our tea, we lit the incense, rang the bell, chanted and began quietly tracing or copying, working from the short but meaningful and energetic sutra, assisted by worksheets with the kanji and meanings. Some people simply used pens with plain paper whilst others had brush pens or shakyo brush with suzuri inkwell and Japanese paper. It was great to see the the sutras of everyone, here are some examples.
It was a peaceful and meditative atmosphere and one where we could practice with care, feeling and attentiveness working on each stroke bringing each character and letter to life. We connected with our senses, felt grounded and connected with the sutra.
We wrote our wish in the traditional manner (in Japanese and English) in the allotted space as well as the date and our name, passing the merits beyond our group, and then we completed our practice with a short chant and some time to briefly chat together about our experience.
Thanks to all the participants for their wholehearted practice.
Towards the end of the year as the dry leaves rustled across the pavements, Blair practiced Shakyo Sutra tracing at temples in Tokyo, working mainly from Genjo’s version of the Hannya Shingyo – Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.
You can see the hanging scroll of Genjo / Xuanzang in the Soto Zen shakyo hall, he is beautifully pictured sitting and beginning work.
Macha tea and a snack are given to practitioners at certain temples, a lovely way to settle, connect with your senses, as well as give some much appreciated energy. There are different sutras and versions of each that can be traced or copied in the temples.
The last of our series of free events related to Japanese calligraphy and meditative practice was Shakyo copying – tracing a sutra. We started with a talk where Blair discussed the history of Shakyo (and of course including the famous story of Genjo / Xuanzang c 602 – 664 which was popularised in the Saiyuuki / Monkey Magic series, itself based on the fictionalised Chinese novel Journey to the West) and his experience of participating in Shakyo practice in Soto shu and Hosso shu temples in Japan taught by monks and calligraphy masters, connecting with wider zen practice.
We then had a look at the structure and some of the many meanings in the sutra, the shortened essence or heart of the massively longer epic Dai Hannya (as the monks call it) or Vast Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Then we approached this session like a period of meditation, working peacefully and being absorbed into the very process of tracing each character of the chosen Heart Sutra. This is a very tranquil activity best done slowly.
In many ways it is also very different from Shodo calligraphy (which we explored in the other groups in this series), such as we worked on many small characters in vertical rows with small kofude brushes, grinding our own ink (listening to the sound as we did so and noticing the speed of the grinding) and connecting to the sutra rather than working with large brushes and kanji in the much more dynamic process of Shodo.
This type of Shakyo group working with the these traditional materials and methods and looking deeply at the ideas in the sutra is new to Scotland and the UK, and we were delighted to host this and see the participants engage wholeheartedly, enjoy it and want to practice it further. Thanks again to the GB Sasakawa Foundation for their support for this project.
In the Garden room at KSD a small group of us began Shakyo – copying sutras – by chatting about the history and styles and looking at some examples of the characters such as mu – dream and ku – space. Then we slowly and quietly worked on the tracing itself.
We used transparent Japanese paper laid upon the example piece (by Blair) so we could see the Chinese characters coming through, and meditatively worked on one character at a time.
The group found the Shakyo method of working on a tracing to be quite different, for instance we used small brushes and ground our own ink with the hard ink blocks, which was a nice thing to do noticing the darkness of the ink and even the sound of the grinding, and we were tracing the old characters passed on to us over many centuries in the example sutra.