Buddha’s Robe Is Sewn
This booklet is a collection of quotes from diverse sources and authors, from rare or out- of-print books, and from unpublished lectures.
Hee-Jin Kim: "A fine collection of important thoughts and reflections on the Buddhist robe in the Sōtō tradition." Hee- Jin Kim is the author of Eihei Dōgen:A Mystical Realist.
Read the story of the booklet’s origins by Blanche:
Notes about current and earlier editions:
Excerpt from Jean Selkirk's Introduction
My Journey in Sewing Buddha's Robe
When I sewed my rakusu (small robe) to receive the Buddhist Bodhisattva precepts in the ceremony of lay ordination, the sewing teacher explained to the class an ancient tradition. Since Shakyamuni Buddha, generations of his disciples wore robes made from discarded cloth sewn in a rice field pattern. Now we would sew the rice field, linking us directly to our ancestors. After the initial awe, I felt like one of the blind men on the bridge in the classic Zen drawing -- I had no idea where I was going or how to arrive. Despite these challenges, the intention to affirm my aspiration to practice persisted. As the teacher led me across the bridge, stitch-by-stitch, I watched myself reflected in the sewing.
Continuing to practice and learn, I noticed that sewing and wearing Buddha's Robe deepened my understanding, connection with sangha, and meditation practice (J. zazen). Buddha's Robe began to express for me the essence of compassionate bodhisattva practice. First came the effort of offering stitches without thought of gaining anything -- even finishing. Then, in treating the robe with gentle respect as if we were one, not two, the robe became tangibly steeped in the caring stillness and openness cultivated by practice. Perhaps a similar quality drew Kōdō Sawaki-rōshi in 1910 to learn how to make traditional hand-sewn robes. Like Suzuki-rōshi, he was of the Sōtō School of Zen which Dōgen brought home to Japan from China in 1227. Dōgen carried with him the teachings of zazen-only (J. shikan-taza) and Buddha's Robe.
Significantly, he intended these practices for lay people and monastics alike. When I became a sewing teacher, all I'd read began to come alive as I experienced the twin challenges of sharing what I learned and helping students find their quiet center within this activity. I wanted to extend these teachings to others. Like Buddha's Robe, this collection of quotes is patched together -- not of found cloth, but of voices from various sources in different styles, sutured into a teaching. Sewing and then receiving Buddha's Robe and the Bodhisattva Precepts is an activity not easily expressed in words, although I offer this effort. If you find this guide in your hands, may it be an encouragement to explore and intimately penetrate this experience with your teacher.
Foreword to Booklet
Written by two dharma teachers in the Suzuki-rōshi lineage. Sōjun Mel Weitsman helped Suzuki-rōshi begin the Berkeley Zen Center in 1967. Today Sōjun continues as abbot; he also once served as co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. Zenkei Blanche Hartman is a former co-abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center and the senior sewing teacher.
Zenkei Blanche Hartman
Sewing Buddha’s Robe is first and foremost a devotional practice. Each sewing session begins by offering incense with three prostrations and each session ends with three bows. Taking refuge with each stitch immerses me in just this stitch, stitch after stitch, just as following the exhale immerses me in just this breath as I sit I sit zazen.
I am deeply grateful to the teachers who brought this rich practice to us here in America. First, Yoshida Eshun-rōshi (Hashimoto Ekō-rōshi’s disciple) with her assistant Hisae-san, and Tomoe Katagiri who helped her here and who studied sewing further with her in Japan. Yoshida-rōshi encouraged Suzuki-rōshi to give precepts and to have both priests and householders sew their own Buddha’s robe. Second, I am grateful to my own beloved teacher, Kasai Jōshin-san (Sawaki Kōdō-rōshi’s disciple). I count it as my lucky day when Jōshin-san asked me to assist her, transmitting to me her essential teaching: “Sew with Heart! ”
Sojun Mel Weitsman
When we had the first Lay Ordination at Zen Center in 1970, I remember Suzuki-rōshi saying: “When we receive lay ordination, it’s not that you’re receiving something that makes you better than other people. We don’t receive lay ordination just for ourself, but we do this to encourage other people, to encourage each other’s practice.”