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Thread: Care Of Dharma Books/Texts

  1. #1

    Care Of Dharma Books/Texts

    I recently received a rebate on my council tax bill since the council had inadvertently been charging me too much. So, before the money got swallowed up by the great pit of emptiness that is my bank account (actually, it's not that bad!) I ordered a copy of the Tanahashi translation of Shobogenzo. The book itself is lovely although as one minor criticism I wish that the Japanese fascicle titles had been included below the English ones as was done in Moon in a Dewdrop. The corresponding titles can be found in the book but this would have made things easier.

    Drawing inspiration from other Buddhist traditions I usually remove the paper dust jacket from hardback volumes that are particularly important to me and replace that with a hand-sewn cover that ties with a corresponding ribbon. As well as protecting the book this is also an act of offering from me to the text. Several such volumes I place on the shrine to represent the dharma jewel.

    Anyway, my new Shobogenzo received this treatment with a cover made from Japanese cotton/linen fabric but I am questioning the appropriateness of doing this in Zen. Does it veer over into attachment to words or is it an appropriate act of devotion for Dogen's text?

    I have previously been taught to handle dharma texts with care and not to place them on the ground or cover them with secular volumes, place coffee mugs on them etc. Are there similar instructions in Zen?

    Clearly, the most important thing to do with a dharma text is to read it and put it into practice and I am consuming this one in small bites but any other instruction on the care of dharma texts would be gratefully received.


  2. #2
    Andy - I don't know how it goes with Zen - but I find it very touching (and actually inspiring) that you make hand sewn covers. Are the hand covers plain - or embroidered in any way? It just feels a lovely thing to do.



  3. #3
    Hi Andy,

    I would say ... wrap them carefully in fine cloth, cherish them and do not let them touch the floor ... hold them with two hands as if holding a precious child ... (when reciting while chanting, we may typically hold them in the following way, with two fingers inside and three fingers close together outside) ...

    ... then tear out the pages and use them to line a birdcage.

    When the bird has done its business, place pages with bird droppings on the Altar.

    I guess one might think that this is a kind of "love/hate" relationship with these books ... but actually I would call it more a certain Love which transcends both that which we love and that which we hate, inside and outside. Such is truly what the Sutra holds.

    I hope that helps. I also am moved that you make hand sewn covers. It shows your respect, which is something I respect in you. Much like taking care and nurturing the bird, something also requiring great love.

    It is something like how a Zen fellow might bow down to a Buddha Statue as a symbol of the Way, care for it and polish it ... then toss it in the fire on a cold night.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-10-2013 at 01:10 PM.

  4. #4
    Master Tanka of the Tang dynasty
    stopped at a Buddhist temple
    for the weather was too cold.
    This shrine had wooden Buddha statues.
    When he could not handle
    the severe weather any more
    he pulled one of the Buddha statues out
    and made a fire in order to warm himself.
    The shrine keeper became very angry
    when he saw all this.
    He demanded, "How dare you burn up my wooden Buddha?"
    Tanka started searching for something
    in the ashes with his stick.
    When asked what he was doing? He replied,
    "I am gathering the holy sariras (holy remnants left when a Buddha or great Teacher's body is cremated)
    in the burnt ashes?"
    The shrine keeper asked in bewilderment,
    "How could you get sariras by burning a wooden Buddha?"
    "If there are no sariras to be found in it,
    may I have the remaining two Buddhas for my fire?"
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-11-2013 at 03:58 AM.

  5. #5
    Hi Andy,

    Just to echo what has already been said, I also think wrapping texts in hand made covers shows respect. A lovely idea.


  6. #6
    Hi Andy,

    I too find your care of such books humbling. But you did say
    I have previously been taught to handle dharma texts with care and not to place them on the ground or cover them with secular volumes, place coffee mugs on them etc. Are there similar instructions in Zen?
    Well what about this Zen story:

    The Zen master Mu-nan had only one successor. His name was Shoju. After Shoju had completed his study of Zen. Munan called him into his room. 'I am getting old,' he said, 'and as far as I know Shoju, you are the only one who will carry out this teaching. Here is a book. It has been passed down from master to master for seven generations. I also have added many points according to my understanding. The book is very valuable and I am giving it to you to represent your successor ship.'
    'If the book is such an important thing, you had better keep it,' Shoju replied.’ I received your Zen without writing and am satisfied with it as it is.' ‘I know that,' said Mu-nan. 'Even so, this work has been carried from master to master for seven generations, so you may keep it as a symbol of having received the teaching. Here.' The two happened to be talking before a brazier. The instant Shoju felt the book in his hands he thrust it into the flaming coals. He had no lust for possessions.
    Mu-nan who never had been angry before yelled: 'What are you doing!'
    Shoju shouted back: 'What are you saying!'

  7. #7
    I get your meaning, Jundo (and thank you for the Shoju story too David), or at least think I do. Books are just paper and ink and can be used to line a bird cage or heat a room as well as impart knowledge. As symbols they are useless and then again not. Part of my motivation for covering the texts comes out of respect, another part is attachment to the fact that a dharma text should look sacred. Whether it does or not makes no difference to the words inside or my ability to use those words.

    I guess there is some similarity with the sutra of the raft. Once the words have done their job, there is no point in keeping them around and it would be far more meaningful to use the paper for something else. When it comes down to it symbols are no match for practice and actually living Dogen's words.

    Thank you for keeping me honest, Jundo.


  8. #8
    Willow, I can't embroider myself but some fabrics have designs on them, others are plain. It depends on what fabric feels right for each text.

    Even with this practice I am still getting nervous about sewing a rakasu! How are your sewing skills?


  9. #9
    I am going to play off an old Koan and say this:

    If you were to tell me that the books -are not- Sacred, I would instruct you to wrap them in beautiful wrappings, handle them with honor, place them on the Altar.

    If you were to tell me that the books -are- Sacred, I would tell you to line a birdcage with them.

    Zen guys sometimes speak out of both sides of the no-sided mouth. A Zen version of a Win-Win situation!

    I do want to underline, Andy, that I do think your care and sincerity is to be greatly honored too. Wonderful that you would do such work.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-11-2013 at 03:58 AM.

  10. #10
    Thank you, Jundo. That is helpful. I would also say that this kind of sewing doesn't feel like work at all.


  11. #11
    Thank you Andy,
    a good reminder for a disrespectful guy like me, up to the point of removing the paper jacket I do the same like you. But truly, I mean it, you show me that we should treat things with respect, thank you & Gassho

  12. #12
    Hi Andy,

    I love what you do with your books! It's simply impressive!
    While I have the ebook version of this one (yes, yes, shame on me, but ebooks have advantages for me) my advice is:
    Do what you feel in your heart is right.

    As with most things in life.
    Then you can't go wrong.


    no thing needs to be added

  13. #13
    Hi Andy - I love sewing and use it as a form of meditative art work. I like to sew for happy events and have sewn through very sad events (like when my dad spent many months in hospital before his death). I haven't sewn a rakasu yet but hope to in the autumn. I think I will be nervous about sewing that aswell.

    Jundo - what you wrote about lining the birdcage - I thought that was tender and poignant too - a teaching that went straight to my heart.

    Thank you for this thread Andy,


    Last edited by Jinyo; 06-10-2013 at 07:05 PM.

  14. #14
    If you have the Kindle version, you could cover that like my friend Sarah does.




  15. #15
    Karasu, this is a very nice gesture on your part. I think it's a beautiful way of showing respect to the Dharma and all those that labored to produce the book. Just listening to your gesture makes me reflect on how many beings were involved, how much of space and time is contained in each page? By showing the book respect, you show respect for all of these things. It's really amazing when we stop to think of how vast a simple gesture can be.
    Last edited by arnold; 06-10-2013 at 11:23 PM.

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