Shakyo is a Japanese Buddhist word that means copying a sacred text as a meditation. The most common text used for this meditative practice is the Heart of Wisdom Sutra, or the Heart Sutra for short. The Heart Sutra is a succinct rendering of all the teachings of Buddhism, and is in fact a poetic expression of the fundamental nature of ultimate reality. It is not necessary to know the meaning of the characters because each ‘letter’ is like an abstract painting that represents an idea, so that when you complete all these little paintings, what you have created in total is a painting of the essence of reality. There are small rituals to be performed at the beginning and end of the meditation, which bring your awareness to the sacred nature of the calligraphy. It is a deeply satisfying meditation.
You don’t have to know anything about calligraphy and you don’t have to use a traditional ink brush (although it is very satisfying to do so) – you can use any writing tool, such as a pencil or pen or marker. You can trace over the letters just as they are on the page – don’t worry about doing this the ‘right’ way, just trace over in a way that is comfortable for you.
Procedure for Shakyo:
> Use a clear space that is devoid of clutter
> Light incense
> Take a moment to think about the purpose of this meditation: You can dedicate your meditation to someone who you want to offer prayers for; or for petitioning something that you wish to bring into your own life, a prayer for yourself
> Take several deep breaths and let out a sigh – feel your body relax
> Commence tracing the letters, starting at the top right side and working down the columns, proceeding from the right side until you finish
> As you trace the letters, concentrate on the feeling of your hand and the sensation of connection between your hand, the pen and the paper; bring your awareness to the thoughts that drift through your mind but try to let them go and return your focus to the act of writing
> You should aim to complete the whole sheet in one sitting, which will take about 30 – 45 minutes
> At the end, turn the paper over and write your prayer or dedication on the back, with the date and your name
> Take several deep breaths, let out a sigh, and feel your body relax. Spend a few moments quietly enjoying the sensation of your body and mind at rest
> You may keep your shakyo somewhere clean and protected, perhaps on your own altar, where it is a reminder of your intention that you have offered up as a dedication or prayer
> Alternatively, you can send the finished shakyo to Wabi’an, where it will be placed on the altar for one hundred days, then burned in a ritual offering which acts as a way of activating and intensifying the intention, dedication or prayer that you have written
> If you wish to dispose of the shakyo, you may burn it, or bury it, or place it in a flowing river. However, this is a sacred object so please do not throw it in the garbage!
You can make your own traceable copy of the Heart Sutra by printing the PDF below. However, if you’d like to know more about the meaning and how to form the characters in the traditionally correct manner, then there are shakyo (sacred calligraphy) classes being offered via Skype which you can find on the Wabi’an Facebook Events page.