10 July 2007

Help! I'm back in elementary school!

It's a good thing I'm typing this or you'd never be able to read it, my handwriting is that bad. I was the only one I knew of who Miss Holmes kicked back down to pencil after graduating to pen in fifth grade. I don't remember if I was ever allowed to write with pen for the rest of the year. So, when we were told to go to the conference room on top of the other wing of the Hsi Lai Temple, that we were going to spend the next hour "copying the Heart Sutra," I confess I panicked.

The conference hall had long U-shaped conference tables that could seat dozens of people. At each place around the table was a beige booklet and what looked like a black brush but was actually an automatic brush, kind of like a pen except with a brush instead of a roller ball or ballpoint. We could copy the Heart Sutra in Chinese or in English. Guess what I chose.

The Heart Sutra is considered the best. most condensed summation of Buddhist thought. It's hard to overstate its importance. It's venerated in all branches of Buddhism. Its power comes not just from the meaning of its words but the very vibration of saying it aloud. Some branches say that The Heart Sutra is enlightenment. There are many different translations of the Sutra, (this link takes you to one of the versions.) There are longer and shorter versions as well as line-by-line interpretations of it by countless Buddhist monks and scholars.

The practice of sutra copying is yet another exercise in focus, in mindfulness. And there's nothing like making the effort to do something perfectly with breathtakingly imperfect skills. I think heard Miss Holmes, wherever she may be, cackle when she saw me take up that brush and try to flawlessly trace those faint gray letters. And here are the results of almost an hour of work.

Yes, the part in black was all I got done.

Avalokitesvara was profoundly absorbed in prajna-paramita; I, on the other hand, was profoundly absorbed in trying to stay on the lines.

I think Buddhists might say there's no difference. Miss Holmes would beg to differ.

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