Hi, this month blog post is another one about Kamakura. Hope you’ve read my previous blog post in August.
This time, I would like to introduce you to the ‘Shyakyou’ experience in a Japanese temple.
What is Shakyou?
Shakyou (写経) is a traditional practice in Japanese Buddhism that involves the handwritten copying of Buddhist scriptures or sutras. This practice has been an integral part of Buddhist tradition in Japan for centuries and is considered a form of meditation and devotion. Shakyou is derived from two Japanese words: "sha" (写), which means "to write," and "kyou" (経), which means "sutra" or "scripture."
The process of Shakyou typically involves a practitioner using a brush and ink to meticulously copy a Buddhist sutra by hand onto a scroll or a sheet of paper.
The sutras that are commonly copied include the heart Sutra (Hannya Shingyo), the Lotus sutra (Hokke-kyo), and Diamond Sutra (Kongo-kyo), among others.
While copying, practitioners are encouraged to focus their minds on the meaning of the text, meditating on its teachings and contemplating its significance.
Why practice Shakyou?
Shakyou serves several purposes within Japanese Buddhism:
-Devotion: It is seen as an act of devotion and a way to express one’s reverence for Buddhist teachings and the Buddha.
-Meditation: The practice of Shakyou can be meditative in nature, as it requires concentration and mindfulness while copying the Japanese texts.
-Accumulation of Merit: Buddhists believe that engaging in such practices can accumulate merit (good karma) and help individuals progress on their spiritual path.
-Preservation of Texts: Shakyou has also played a crucial role in preserving Buddhist scriptures and texts throughout history.
While Shakyou has deep roots in Japanese Buddhism, it is not limited to Japan and can be found in other Buddhist cultures as well, albeit with regional variations. It remains a meaningful and contemplative practice for those who undertake it.
(A view of the garden at Kenchoji)
It sounds complicated, but in fact you can try it while you are visiting Temples in Kamakura! (I guess in Kyoto as well)
My intention was to try it out, mind you, my Buddhist knowledge is not particularly good. I guess that I just wanted to feel mindfulness and practice zen if I could.
I researched before I went back to Japan which temples offer Shakyou experience in Kamakura.
I found out that those temples are offering visitors to have Shakyou experience.
(The gate of Kenchoji)
So, what do you actually do at Shakyou experience?
Each temple is offering a Buddhism experience, including Shakyou, on different days or every day.
I visited Kamakura for only half a day and I chose Kenchouji because they offer Shakyou every day whereas other temples' offerings were limited. You need an entrance fee of 500 yen (just under £3) to visit the Temple, and 1000 yen (about £6) to do Shakyou between 10am to 3pm.
There are 2 types of Shakyou, one takes about 60mins, or the other takes 20mins.
I tried the 20mins one, which is called Enmei-jyukku Kannonn Kyou, also known as life- Extending Ten-line Kannon Sutra. All equipment is provided, you can turn up at any time (during opening time) and start doing Shakyou on your own timing. No staff were in the Shakyou room, and I didn’t know where to put my fee money. Luckily I found a person to ask who was doing Shakyou already. (I know I shouldn’t have disturbed the person who is concentrating on doing it, but I had to ask!)
Basically, you put a fee of 1000yen (in cash) into a wooden money box. Then you take a piece of sheet paper, an inked calligraphy pen, a felt mat and a small weight to hold the paper.
There is a desk and chair or a table for sitting on the Tatami mat with cushion, my mum chose a desk, and I chose a table. At first, my mind was bit all over the place, checking how the inked pen work, being aware of the people visiting the temple, noticing sounds of birds outside etc, soon after I learnt how to concentrate and just focus on writing.
By the way, you just need to trace each letter on the sheet, you don’t have to write them on a blank sheet by looking at the example (- which can be a challenge) at least at Kenchouji it was like that!
(My Shakyou sheet)
My mum and I spent a very calm and peaceful moment for about 30 minutes. It depends on the temples that either you can take the sheet home, or you hand it in to temple and the temple purify your sheet. We decided to take it home to remind us of the memory.
You don’t have to know how to read Japanese, because you can just trace the example of letters if you want to. To be honest with you, although I can read and write Japanese (I am Japanese!) I still decided to trace them, but I couldn’t read most of the letters of the sutra (I can recognise each words though). So, even if you don't know Japanese language, you can still try it, you will have the most memorable moment in Japan!
I loved my experience, and so did my mum. We have never done anything like that before and we had a brilliant time
If you’re going to visit Japan and the magnificent Temples and Shrines, don’t forget to take your ‘Goshuincho’, which are beautifully decorated Japanese stamp books and you can have your book stamped at each place to serve as a wonderful reminder of your trip to Japan!
If you are interested in learning writing Japanese, why don’t you practice Japanese calligraphy? We have wide range of calligraphy tools, such as brush, paper sheets and even Introduction to Japanese Kanji Calligraphy Book.