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.