禅 Zen or Chan, was developed as a new kanji (Chinese character) to translate Dhyana after Buddhism came into China, but brings in different elements into the character, such as the altar shape on the left, and the shapes on the right which have multiple meanings.
So it doesn’t exactly match Dhyana, the Sanskrit for meditation or awareness. You could view the kanji visuals as meaning: mind-heart in one place, tranquil; or, zen practice is an instant gateway to enlightenment. Depending on how much you look into it! This is a mysterious and graceful character to embrace, much like the Zen practice itself there is no single way to pin it down conceptually.
The first video is of two styles, the faster sosho and the older reisho, very varied!
In the Tensho style video – this style was originally carved before being adapted for the brush, so is a more linear style – I practiced this quite slowly and meditatively keeping a soft focus, and starting and ending with gassho 🙂
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.
The Odaimoku お題目 chant – repeating the title of the Lotus Sutra Namumyohourengekyou 南無妙法蓮華経 – is principally associated with the Nichiren-shu school but was originally part of a Tendai chant, the school in which Dogen Zenji grew up with.
Here I am walking in a quiet Glasgow park whilst chanting, at a fairly slow pace so I’m not too much out of breath! We have been chanting it in our Chanting Group recently online.
The Boundless Life Ten Line Kannon Sutra is chanted at various times such as by monks at Takuhatsu ritual begging while they walk in all weathers. It has a lot of energy and you can try it walking, or running slowly.
The essential message of Buddhism is that we are connected, not separate. And, particularly in these extraordinary times, our responsibility as practitioners is to seek to foster connection.
Accordingly, we have now set up online Zazen meditation sessions twice a week, an online Chanting Group and online Study Group, with more activities planned.
If you would like to know more about our activities, and participate in some or all of them, even if you’re a complete newbie to meditation, we’d really love to hear from you. Just email your name and mobile number to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be in touch.