okesa, sewing and tradition

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  • Taigu
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
    • Aug 2008
    • 2710

    okesa, sewing and tradition

    For the studentsabout to undertake the task of sewing a kesa, I would like to make a few things clear. I would like you to really understand the significance of the object and the responsibility it entails…The kesa is the robe of sitting, the original clothing made of a patchwork of discarded fabrics and rags that the historical Buddha agreed to wear and used as a living and tangible symbol of transmission. Beyond its practical aspect, keeping the body warm, protecting the body-mind from various potential threats, sun, bugs and …eyes, I also has a universal significance, seen as the flesh, blood and bones of of Tathagatha, it represents all things at work in this endless wonder which is the universe, huge rice field, our home is made of countless sentient beings, each of them being a stitch, interacting with each other, viewing the different part and elements into oneness. The kesa is diversity in unity, unity being diverse. The kesa is the body of the non-dual. If you look at the night sky, you are looking at the kesa. If you are seeing things and people, huge crowds in cities and buildings, you are watching the kesa. The kesa can be seen in a single petal, or snow flake, it is the air that bathes you, the water flowing in and out of you, the gestures of the beloved ones, the traffic jam, the rubbish outside the door, the smiles, and words, and colours. Not a single thing is left out of the kesa. Don’t think this is a piece of cloth, this is a robe. It is much much beyond. Beyond in Zen doesn’t mean mystical and mysterious. It does nt mean somewhere else.Beyond means here and now beneath your feet and in the very ineffable. It means beyond words, habits, patterns of doing and thinking. Not the beyond that you dreams invite, your imagination tries to fathom, the beyond to which you belong, at each breath and step, it is perfect as it is.
    The practice of sewing is to experience and celebrate difference in life: we are all separated, distinct and each of us, every single speck of dust is at its true place in the whole reality. Each part of the kesa, each panel, stripe, stitch is in relationship with the whole. In sewing, we don’t just get it intellectually; we directly put it into practice. For instance, we have to always be mindful of the whole when we work on a part, if we don’t, we run the risk of getting off track or making a big mistake… The gaze in sewing the kesa should be relaxed, all encompassing, inviting all things. When you sew the kesa, don’t get too tense, eyes fixing the needle, don’t be too serious, pompous or holy, invite the bird song you can hear, the moving foliage of the trees but also the loud radio or the television racket next door or the busy traffic, invite all things without discrimination. Invite the child playing and interrupting your sewing, the phone call, the mistakes you make, the finger bruised or bleeding, invite the upset person you are, and sew them all into the fabric, each stitch, each step, each moment is unique, universal and total. Don’t forget to invite the laughters and cries of your life, as it is. When my last marriage broke up, I was sewing a big kesa for my teacher, and I did sew it with so many tears and giggles. Just life sewing life. That is holiness for me. Our life is made of patches; bits and pieces of experience, trips, meetings, failures, success…Sew them in. Give your life to a single activity. This is also the secret of zazen. Give your whole life for nothing but the joy of being where you are. Sewing is done giving up the idea of completion and/or being increasingly aware of how we would like to rush things and get there asap. Sewing is very good for intellectually gifted stubborn people like me, hopeless guys blessed with 20, 30 or 50 years of great stupidity, the critical, depressed or arrogant kind are a very good material for sewing. When we are very young to this path we want to roar like a lion, we think gentle and kind people are a waste of time, we want to post or shout our understanding. With time and a few kesa behind you, you may have given up the belief that prajna can do it alone. Sewing is jumping into a world ablaze. Sewing is Boddhisatva work, giving yourself to a simple fabric and allow Buddha to manifest. It is to practice with needle and thread a very simple yet great alchemy. The plain and mere fabric becomes the robe of the true form. Sewing this strange bib or this patchwork is merely seen as a loss of time. In Zen, we are not trying to gain anymore, we learn how to give time to being, give being to time, become being-time. What do you think you are doing when you sit? What do you do for letting the original face to manifest itself? Are you still sitting to get it? Then, sew! Because in sewing, you just take yourself apart and sew yourself together. Falling apart. Bowing. Getting together as one, gassho, zazen.In zen we practice like trees, all seasons are displayed. Dead leaves and blossoms.

    In the tradition, we should bow at each stitch. We don’t do that anymore. But it puts you in the picture…everybody that takes Jukai or priest ordination should sew not just because it is too easy to buy the kesa or ask somebody to make it, it is because the journey is the goal, the very experience of sewing has more value than anything. If Zen priests don’t understand the meaning of the robe with their marrow, it is just because they haven’t given it a chance, they have simply refused to sew. At any stage, one can act with arrogance and ignorance. At any stage, one can let go of resistance. And forget about the sewing machine, the whole point is to face the resistance and bumps on the road as well as joys and simple being contented with a needle and a piece of thread. You have too ways, the quick fix which promises insight in a few hours or a lifetime of aimless travel, cloudlike, simple, so simple and yet so difficult.

    This is the Nyoho e school, the school of the robe of as it is ness.

    It is also the silent song of your formless sitting.



    PS: I strongly recommand reading the following text by Kosho Kishigami, Dharma heir of Sawaki Kodo:

    http://www.zen-road.org/index.php?optio ... 27&lang=en

    Attached files
  • Tb
    • Jan 2008
    • 3186

    Re: okesa, sewing and tradiion



    Life is our temple and its all good practice
    Blog: http://fugenblog.blogspot.com/


    • Seishin the Elder
      • Oct 2009
      • 521

      Re: okesa, sewing and tradition

      OH taigu,

      Thank you for this wonderful teaching. At times sewing the Rakusu was more a chore than a delight, but what you say here gives new uinderstanding to me that even the "chore" was okay..when it was such. I shall remember that...Sewing is Zazen too.


      Seishin Kyrill


      • Shugen
        Treeleaf Unsui
        • Nov 2007
        • 4535

        Re: okesa, sewing and tradition


        Thank You,

        Meido Shugen
        明道 修眼


        • miheco
          • Dec 2007
          • 69

          Re: okesa, sewing and tradition

          Thank you, and I'm left with "I needed that" at this time. I've finished the panels and they are hanging above my work table with echos of all the distractions you've written plus more, giving care and compassion to calm the mental confusion & physical human suffering of my mother's Alzheimers'. which at times wears my patience thin.

          Your writing has helped me tremendously.



          • Eika
            • Sep 2007
            • 806

            Re: okesa, sewing and tradition

            Many thanks, Taigu.

            I'm about to return to my kesa sewing which had to pause when work got crazy. I value your teachings on this greatly. I sense that this is a good next step . . . like a bow after sitting.

            [size=150:m8cet5u6]??[/size:m8cet5u6] We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life---John Cage


            • Tobiishi
              • Jan 2009
              • 461

              Re: okesa, sewing and tradition

              In zen we practice like trees, all seasons are displayed. Dead leaves and blossoms.
              Thank you sensei
              It occurs to me that my attachment to this body is entirely arbitrary. All the evidence is subjective.


              • Shohei
                • Oct 2007
                • 2854

                Re: okesa, sewing and tradition




                • Dosho
                  • Jun 2008
                  • 5784

                  Re: okesa, sewing and tradition

                  Thank you Sensei...you always seem to offer the teaching I need most when I need it most...not about what I believe is important or when I think need a pep talk...just what is required, no more no less.



                  • Myozan Kodo
                    Friend of Treeleaf
                    • May 2010
                    • 1901

                    Re: okesa, sewing and tradition