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.