Special Topics

The Exceptional Merits of Transcribing Sutras

Transcribing sutras not only helps in their circulation and in the propagation of Buddhism as a whole. When undertaken with sincerity and devotion, it is akin to propagating the Buddhist teachings using our handwriting. Many Mahayana sutras--- such as Diamond Sutra, Lotus Sutra, Earth Store Sutra, Vimalakirti Sutra, Avatamsaka Sutra, Immeasurable Life Sutra, and Sutra on the Divination of the Effect of Good and Evil Actions, etc. --all point out the exceptional merits of transcribing sutras, whether handwriting them oneself or encouraging others to do so. The merits of transcribing sutras may even surpass those of building a Buddhist stupa, or are equivalent to personally hearing Buddha preach the teachings. Moreover, by transcribing these Buddhist scriptures and making offerings, one will not generate fears in one’s heart, can avoid defamation, eliminate doubt in Buddhist teachings and understand their meanings, obtain the right views and correct knowledge, eliminate all sins and obstacles, and instantaneously attain limitless merits.

Therefore, throughout the ages, Buddhists transcribe sutras not just to propagate Buddhism, but even more to do alms giving, pray for blessings, perform repentance, and deliver the deceased, all in the hope of receiving the inconceivable power of blessings through transcribing sutras, in order to bring meritorious blessings to oneself and one's family, the entire country and its people, and even to all sentient beings in the Dharma Realm.

Benefits of Practicing Sutra Transcribing

Master Yin Kuang once said that, when transcribing sutras, a respectful and discreet attitude is essential, without even a moment of negligence. As a method of Buddhist practice, copying sutras places primary emphasis on concentration. Not only should one keep one’s eyes on the text, but one should also recite it silently and transcribe the sutra stroke by stroke, with concentration. This is the same as what we would do when chanting the Buddha's name, wherein each recitation should be clear and precise. Copying the sutra is the same as making a deep and slow reading of the words of the Buddhist scripture. By doing so with perseverance, we can gradually reach the state where our mind and the pen are united as one; that is, where the pen is, our mind will follow, thereby simultaneously fulfilling the practice of Three Studies of Precepts, Concentration and Wisdom.

"When we first take up sutra transcribing, our hand may be writing, but our mind may not be on the text and pen; just like a cattle randomly grazing on a pasture, this situation is unavoidable." Wu Da-ren, calligrapher and painter who often transcribes sutras, maintains that copying sutras requires an unfaltering concentration in order to write the words properly and correctly. The rising of every thought becomes more easily perceived. In fact, when delusional thoughts arise, we should just focus on transcribing the sutra, and settle our mind in the action of reading and writing. When our mind is drawn back to concentrate on every movement in the present, we can thereby gradually curb the scattered mind.

Cuei Zhong-huei, a lecturer at Hong Kong University who studies sutra copying, believes that "modern people's reliance on electronic devices and the internet in their daily lives have imperceptibly reduced the physical activities and opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Therefore, computer-induced agraphia and speech impediments have become more prevalent." She further pointed out that neurophysiological research has proven that handwriting word by word can create special imprints on our brain's language center, which has a stabilizing effect on one's willpower, stamina, determination and the nervous system.

Extended Reading:

Transcribing Sutras

Sutra transcription: A practice that enhances our health

Transcribing Buddhist Scripture as a Method of Practice for the Benefit of Self and Others

The Exceptional Merits of Transcribing Sutras

A Guide to Hand Copying Sutras

Reminders for Sutra Copying

Resource: Issue 371 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 371 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation: Denise Chuk 
Editing: Cheng-yu Chang (張振郁), Keith Brown