Make Your Own Buddhist Liturgy Book

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:

Notebook

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:

The Metta Sutta

And here’s the Heart Sutra, a Mahayana text:

The Heart Sutra

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.

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

8 thoughts on “Make Your Own Buddhist Liturgy Book”

  1. I have a similar practice, although my booklets are typed and then printed, not hand written. Perhaps adapting handwriting to my practice could be an additional aid in memorization. Thank you, friend.

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  2. Beautiful post. Thank you! After a long journal keeping hiatus, I’ve also recently began more thourough consciousness work via handwriting. Lots of breakthroughs this way. 🙂

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  3. Hi everyone!

    Just to be clear, my efforts to record sutras in a notebook is not really intended as an exercise in mindfulness or anything, it’s just for practical purposes so I can collect stuff I recite anyway, plus memorization. 🙂

    @Jonathan: Thanks, good to hear from you.

    @Hickersonia: yeah I used to print them out, but it was still just too easy to forget about them later. Typing would’ve been a nice middle-ground though. 🙂

    @Amanda: Thanks! Handwriting is a skill worth keeping up even in this modern age.

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  4. Actually, sir, your handwriting’s not bad at all…even from the picture it’s still readable. And that’s a good habit too…sutra-writing…earns lots of merit in some sense.

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    1. Hi Joshmendreza,

      Thanks, but that was only by focusing really hard on the text as I wrote it (did I just contradict myself on the mindfulness comment above? :p )

      As for merit, I admit I did think about that too, but I tried to not make it a focus. Then it becomes a Buddhist game of accumulating merit. You might be better off playing WoW instead. ;p

      Instead, I try to focus on “sucking less“. 🙂

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