Sewing practice in the Sanshin Zen Community

The Robe Chant (English translation used by Sanshin Zen Community)

Great robe of liberation
Virtuous field far beyond form and emptiness
Wearing the Tathagata's teachings
We vow to save all beings

In all schools of Buddhism, monks or priests wear a form of robe that descends from the one worn by Shakyamuni Buddha in India over 2000 years ago. In the Japanese Soto Zen school, there is great reverence for this tradition of wearing Buddha's robe or the okesa (kashaya in Sanskrit). The founder of Soto Zen in Japan, Dogen Zenji, dedicated two fascicles of his great work, the Shobogenzo, to the okesa: Kesakudoku ("Virtue of Wearing the Okesa") and Den-e ("Transmitted Robe").

Kodo Sawaki-roshi promoted faith in the Buddha's okesa within the context of Zen practice. After WWII, his students started robe sewing and study groups around Japan called fukudenkai, inspired by Dogen's writings on the okesa and sewing techniques developed by the Shingon scholar, Jiun Onko (1718-1804).

Following the sewing tradition called nyoho-e, which has been passed down through both Kodo Sawaki-roshi's and Eko Hashimoto-roshi's lineage, when practitioners at the Sanshin Zen Community either take vows to become a novice priest (in the ceremony called tokudo) or take lay precepts (jukai) they hand sew an okesa and/or rakusu, under the guidance of the sewing teacher, Yuko Okumura. The rakusu is a bib-like garment which represents an abbreviated form of the full size robe (okesa). The main piece of the rakusu is sewn using the same pattern and stitches as the okesa.

During priests' ordination ceremonies and lay precepts ceremonies at Sanshin-ji, students 'receive' the okesas and/or rakusus they have sewn from the preceptor, Shohaku Okumura-roshi. During these ceremonies, the students also receive Dharma names and lineage papers (kechimyaku) that show where they fit into the teacher-student lineage going all the way back to Shakyamuni Buddha.

"Buddha's 'farming' is a practice to become free from ego-attachment and [to] live in peacefulness. This is the meaning of working in [the] rice paddy. When we wear the okesa, we are also farming. This is the origin of the name of Okesa: fukuden-e or robe of [the] virtuous field. This body and mind are the field we work on. It is not just a field of fortune from which we can expect to receive blessings without practice. We have to cultivate our life." --From a lecture given by Okumura-roshi on the Okesa quoted in Buddha's Robe is Sewn: The Tradition of Sewing Practice in the Suzuki-roshi American Lineage. Compiled by Jean Selkirk.

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