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    Shakyo Practice Circle Introduction

    Hello Everyone,

    We will now begin a monthly Shakyo practice group. What is "Shakyo"?

    The practice of Shakyo (写経, which literally means "Copying Sutras") is a simple yet focused, relaxing yet powerful meditative practice that anyone can do, offered at many temples in Japan. Millions of people in Japan have practiced Shakyo, either just occasionally when visiting a famous temple as a tourist, or regularly and more seriously as part of a particular temple's Shakyo club.

    Shakyo typically starts with a bow in Gassho, before one picks up one's ink brush or pen and begins to slowly trace the original text of a chosen Buddhist Sutra. We will trace the Heart Sutra as our first Sutra for tracing, but hope to practice with many other Sutras and Chants too.

    Although Japanese and Chinese calligraphy are a true art form, and one can spend a lifetime to master traditional brush skill, one does not need to be a master calligrapher at all in order to practice and enjoy Shakyo. Nor does one need to be able to read Chinese or Japanese. In fact, it is often undertaken by children in Japan, by elderly persons with shaking hands, or by those simply wishing to enjoy the practice without their writing being judged or criticized in any way. The final writing is not graded or appraised, and may simply be kept, placed on an altar as an offering to Buddha, hung up on the wall, burned or buried in the ground or the like (it should not carelessly be thrown in the trash, and should be treated respectfully because, after all, it is a Sutra!)

    If one wants, one can study a bit about what the particular Kanji (Chinese Characters) that one is tracing mean, as well as the proper order and direction of writing strokes, looking at examples of nicely written Kanji. However, none of that is necessary in order to benefit from the practice of Shakyo, which does have some similarity to "paint by numbers" painting ... except with Buddhist Sutras in Chinese and Japanese. We will provide some information and resources on what the Kanji mean, the meaning of the Sutra being written, some basic rules of Japanese writing, and the like, but studying the same is purely up to each person. In fact, tracing the shape of the Kanji silently, without the slightest idea what the lines mean, simply tracing for tracing's sake, can be a wonderful Zen practice too.

    To participate you will need some simple items. First, you will need to download a copy of the Sutra in the format needed for Sutra copying, and it will rest under the tracing paper as shown in this photo (you can use lined or unlined tracing paper, and unlined paper is fine):


    Here is a PDF provided by Jundo of the Heart Sutra ("Hannya Shingyo, 般若心経, in Japanese). I have printed it out to fill an entire page, and for most of us it should be easy to see with good lighting. If anyone is having trouble seeing, It is alright to edit it to fit two pages or to blow it up to extra large size using a copy machine. As well, one can also use the trick of writing on a glass table with a small lamp placed underneath to shine through the pages:


    You will also need some tracing paper, which can be found at most art and craft stores, and also most department stores in the art section. I got mine on Amazon very reasonably. Just be sure to get the appropriate size, a little bigger than the sutra copy is good. The only other requirement is that it is something you can see through easily when placed over the model on a table. The paper should also have sufficient body so that it is easy to write on with ink:


    For the brush and ink, you can surely use the traditional brush and ink if you like, which are available quite inexpensively online at many places (no need for an expensive writing brush or rare ink, and a decent beginner's brush and bottled ink need only cost a few dollars each, plus shipping). Brushes and ink are also available at many "Chinatowns" or Asian groceries in many countries. No need for a fancy ink well either, and you can find something at home. Later, of course, if you decide to stay with the practice, you can research and acquire some higher quality brushes and such.


    One can also buy a kind of writing brush like the following, with the ink pre-loaded, although the ink does eventually run out, and then the whole pen must be thrown away (although some are refillable with a cartridge system):


    However, what we recommend to beginners as it is perfectly good and simple, is to use a thin Sharpie or the like. Maybe later, you can "graduate" to an actual Chinese writing brush.

    As I said, this is meant to be a light hearted practice, simply to experience the art of Shakyo, and the quieting of the mind and peaceful feeling which it brings about. We will not be worried about perfection or artistic beauty, but we will be respectful of the Sutra, employing much the same attitude of care and focus as when we sew our Rakusus for Jukai. The point will be to simply lose ourselves in the practice, to flow along with the flow of the brush strokes and, if we wish, to learn a little about the Sutra, strokes and kanji as we go along, together. Traditionally, it is also a means to gather some good Karma, and is a very innocent and meritorious practice of dedication. As well, traditionally, one can dedicate and gift such Karma earned to other people, family, friends or strangers, for their healing, well-being, enlightenment and other good effects. For example, the Lotus Sutra famously quotes the Buddha's words, and likewise for any Sutra:


    "If there is anyone who preserves, recites, explains, or copies even a single verse of this Sutra,
    who respects this Sutra as if it were a Buddha ...
    who simply honors it with their palms pressed together, know, O Bhaiṣajyarāja, Great Bodhisattva,
    that this person has already paid homage to tens of myriads of hundreds of millions of Buddhas of the past!
    Such people have completed their great vow in the presence of all the Buddhas
    and yet they have been born as humans out of their compassion for sentient beings"


    Let me know any questions you have, and when those of you who wish to participate have your materials ready. I will post a date for our first meeting, which will be recorded if anyone needs to join after. However, the meeting will consist of nothing more than friends, silently, tracing their Kanji together, so the practice is perfectly fine to do on your own, alone at home, any time.

    Gassho, Geika

    Sat, lah
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-11-2021 at 03:11 PM.
    求道芸化 Kyudo Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

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