This is another post to celebrate the Ohigan holiday. When I flew to Japan recently, I bought a small notebook at the airport gift shop:
It was an impulse purchase; I don’t know why I bought it, but it looked nice and I thought it might be useful. Then, when I came back to the US, I thought it would be interesting to experiment with using it as a Buddhist prayer book.
The idea is simple: the Buddhist sutras are traditionally treated as sermons of the Buddha, carefully handed down generation after generation through an oral tradition that requires multiple people to memorize and recite together (in case on person remembers it wring). That’s why the sutras always begin with the phrase “Thus have I heard”. In the old days, getting even one sutra from one country to another was a huge challenge, when sutras arrived in a new country, monks would painstakingly translate it, copy it by hand and take it back with them to their own monasteries. Many famous Buddhists of the past would stay at a monastery just so they could read and study a particular sutra they had heard about.
Nowadays, you can obtain Buddhist sutras on the Internet, but it’s easy to take this kind of thing for granted. So, I decided to take sutras I would normally recite, and copy them into the notebook. Here’s a copy of the Metta Sutta from the Pali Canon I copied:
And here’s the Heart Sutra, a Mahayana text:
I have bad handwriting, and I had to correct some mistakes, but I was still proud of the work. Since then I’ve added excerpts from the Lotus Sutra, chapter 16, an excerpt of the Earth-Store Bodhisattva Sutra, and my next project is to add the Maha-Managala Sutta from the Pali Canon and excerpts from the Diamond Sutra among others.
Because the notebook is very small, it’s very easy to take to work or other places, so I keep it on me often. When I have some spare time, and I find a useful bit of Buddhist text, I write it down. I didn’t write the sutras above in one day. It took me about three days to copy the Metta Sutta for example. Every day, a little bit at a time. I decided to write in English, not in any Buddhist liturgical language (Sanskrit, Pali, Classical Chinese, etc), because I wanted to understand it as a read it. I feel that reading aloud the sutras in my native language many times over the years helps me internalize the meaning more,1 though for some occasions (or for mantras specifically), it’s still a good idea to use the liturgical language.
This is something any Buddhist in the world with a pen or pencil, and a pad of paper can do, and maintains a tradition that’s as ancient as the Buddha himself for another generation. Also, the simple life is nice sometimes. 🙂
Namo Shaka Nyorai
P.S. In case anyone wonders, the notebook above is not leather. It’s cardboard that’s been painted to look like leather. ;p
1 To be honest, when I am really mad at someone, or very irritable at work or something, I read the Metta Sutta aloud by myself. I find it very helpful. People at work and elsewhere tend to joke I am very “zen” because I don’t get mad easily, but I prefer to have no anger at all if I can help it. Avoiding anger is one of the 10 Good Deeds as well.