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Essence of the Way in each Shodo stroke

Inspired by Master Dogen’s Chapter 93 of the Shobogenzo ‘Doushin’ 道心, at the recent Zen Brush monthly calligraphy group by Zoom we were encouraged by these two well known characters dou 道 (Way/ way things are/ road/path) and shin or kokoro 心 (heart/mind/spirit/ aspiration/essence) that often come up in Buddhist writings.

Brushing them in the kaisho as well as the sousho ‘grass writing’ styles of Shodo calligraphy, we also explored their meanings, as well as their combined meaning when written together which could be variously translated as the essence of the way; the aspiration for enlightenment; the spirit to walk the path of freedom.

Dogen’s waka poem (translated by Heine) conveys this mood beautifully:

Seeking the Way
Amid the deepest mountain paths
The retreat I find
None other than
My primordial home: satori!

Master Dogen
The sousho ‘grass writing’ style

In chapter 93 Doushin he writes:

‘We should see the aspiration for awakening as foremost.. we must not see our mind as foremost.. should not forget the unreliability of the world and precariousness of human life’

Translation by Nishijima/Cross

It was great to see the group enjoying the flow of the brush, particularly with the movement of the sousho calligraphy, and finding balance in their own way. 

Folk worked with different sized brushes, ink and papers but were all absorbed by the strokes, shapes and feeling of the kanji 🙂

The next Zen Brush group is on August 24th, for more details please visit the D+P Studio.

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Sitting together for zazen outdoors

Last weekend a few of us met early on Sunday morning at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow to sit together and have some time to chat about the practice and about posture. It was great to physically meet and enjoy summer zazen in the delightful fresh air next to the River Clyde.

We sat for two periods of 25 minutes, with kinhin walking meditation in between – we slowly walked, a small step at a time, around the silver birch trees which was lovely.

To stay up to date about our sittings or events, please see our What’s On page, or join our newsletter.

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Meditatively stitching the clothing of freedom

Having been born to meet the spread of this Dharma, if we cover our body with the kasaya only once, receiving it and retaining it for just a ksana or a muhurta, that experience will surely serve as a talisman to protect us in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi.

Dogen Zenji, Kesa Kudoku chapter of Shobogenzo (Nishijima/Cross translation)

Some of us recently began meeting monthly on Zoom to practice our zen sewing. Our small friendly group started on Sunday afternoon, with two sewing periods. These were interspersed with time in the middle for the Takkesage chant, a brief chat about Master Dogen’s Kesa Kudoku (Merit of the Kasaya/ Okesa) and a break for a cuppa.

The sewing periods are peaceful times of practice where we can carefully attend to whatever task we are working on, and still ask for help when we need it. Michael and Margaret were on hand to give detailed advice, with Margaret expertly guiding us in the warp and weft of the fabric 🙂

Most of us are just beginning our sewing projects, either a rakusu (5 row robe worn over the neck), or seven row okesa (worn over the shoulder) and also zagu sitting mat which is often used for prostrations. Some of us have sewn okesa before whilst others including myself have sewn a rakusu or two but are now preparing for the okesa. And some of us are at the exciting stage of getting ready to sew their first rakusu, with the plan to receive Jukaie precepts after completing their sewing.

Each stitch, each moment of sincere, committed action, one cause in many from which the completed okesa emerges. It can be said that the work of sewing the okesa is never finished. The stitches of the okesa are the actions of our Buddhist life, dedicated to all beings. At the end of that life, the okesa of a lifetime of actions are unfolded and spread out.

Michael Kendo Tait

We have been enjoying chatting online (using Slack) about fabrics and stitching and what equipment is best to use, but it was really nice to have some time together to help each other and discuss in more details about the practice. It is a friendly and easygoing group with practitioners from Glasgow and other places further afield – wherever you are you are welcome to join us 🙂

Please read more on the Okesa Sewing Group page.

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Practicing 禅 zen in different styles of Shodo calligraphy

A few of the calligraphy styles of 禅 Zen by Shogen, investigating the old meanings

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 🙂

View more work by Shogen and by participants at his calligraphy workshops, often there is a Zen or Chinese poetry theme.

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Shakyo – bringing the Sutra to life with each brush stroke and pen mark

Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra traced by Shogen
延命十句観音経 Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra traced by Shogen Blair

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.

Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra written by Shogen
Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra written by Shogen Blair

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.

Participant Alan’s set up with Japanese paper, worksheet, suzuri, solid ink and fude brush

Find out more about our Sutra tracing practice at Glasgow Zen Group.

See past Shakyo Sutra tracing events such as at KSD in Glasgow.

Zen group member Alan Buchan’s fast forward shakyo 🙂

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Sutra tracing in English and Chinese characters

Here are some pictures of the sutra tracing and copying practice (shakyo 写経) that we will be working from in our practice group. These are from the short sutra Boundless Life Ten Line Kannon Sutra.

Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra written by Shogen
Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra written by Shogen
Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra traced by Shogen
延命十句観音経 Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra traced by Shogen
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Walking and chanting the Lotus Sutra Odaimoku

Shogen walking whilst chanting the Odaimoku お題目 Namumyouhourengekyou 南無妙法蓮華経 in a tranquil area in Scotland with birdsong.

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.

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Walking and chanting the Boundless Life Ten Line Kannon Sutra

Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo 延命十句観音経 – Boundless Life Ten Line Kannon Sutra. Shogen practicing chanting whilst walking in a peaceful spot near Glasgow in Scotland.

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.

Visit our Chanting Group page

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Morning walking after zazen

Weather has been amazing for daily exercise. Watching the blossoms and flowers come and go and the trees transforming…

Posted by Glasgow Zen Group on Tuesday, 12 May 2020
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Thinking-Not-Thinking

Video teaching adapted from Kusen given on 4rth April 2020:
A monk asked master Yaoshan,
‘what are you thinking when your sitting in Zazen’?
The master replied ‘I’m thinking not thinking’
the monk, puzzled, replied, ‘how are you thinking not thinking?’
the master replied ‘hishiryō’.
This famous encouter pivots around the final reply of Yaoshan, ‘hishiryō’. However hishiryō does not easily translate into English, and consequenlty it is easily open to mininterpretation. In this video John discusses this Koan and how we can understand thinking, not thinking