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Sutra transcription: A practice that enhances our health

As Ven. Hsin Pei of Fo Gunag Shan pointed out in his book "Transcribing the Sutra with Joy", modern people often lack mindfulness of their body and mind, and tend to constantly seek outwardly. The practice of sutra transcription requires attentive focus, and is thus beneficial for cultivating a concentrated mind, developing patience, familiarizing ourselves with the Dharma, and helping us grow in wisdom.

By spending a significant period of time transcribing the sutra in a concentrated state, we will experience positive changes and inner transformation, both physically and mentally. In Calligraphy for Health and Behavioral Therapy, author Henry Shang-Ren Kao, who specializes in the psychology of calligraphy, shared his years of research results and summarized the following points: after starting to write calligraphy, he found that the subjects immediately experienced a decrease in heartbeat, pulse, and blood pressure. After receiving calligraphy therapy, patients suffering from depression and anxiety disorder made a significant improvement in psychological ailments, such as anxiety, depression, hostility, and confusion.

Liu Yaling, Chief Financial Officer of Mae Tay Precision Corporation, started her practice of transcribing the Heart Sutra in order to ease her panic disorder. She found the passage— "…one dwells with a mind without obstruction, without the existence of fear, having gone beyond all inverted views and deluded thoughts (…viharatyacittāvaraṇaḥ cittāvaraṇanāstitvād atrasto viparyāsātikrānto…)" —especially useful in calming her down, thereby helping her let go of unnecessary fear and attachment. Now, whenever she gets tired from work, she will temporarily put her work aside and transcribe the sutra, with paper, brush, and ink always ready at hand. Since every stroke needs to be done with full concentration, our mind and mood soon become more relaxed. She shared her discovery: "When I get back to work again after the transcription, I feel refreshed, my brain becomes clearer, and I become more efficient in doing my job."

Sutra transcription as daily practice is simply easy

"I don't know much about the Dharma." "Preparing the necessary materials to do sutra transcription is such a hassle." "I don't have the time." Some people are daunted even by the thought of transcribing a sutra. But anyone who can do basic calligraphy will actually find it easy to get a handle on it. What matters is a devoted and sincerely respectful mind, not whether you can write beautifully or not. Provided you can find a nice, quiet place, and get the sutra, brush, and paper ready, you can sit down and transcribe the sutra just like that.

"All you need to do is make time" said Ven. Guo Xu, the director of the Anhe Branch Monastery. Considering herself an extremely busy person unable to spare any time to do sutra transcription, she ended up enjoying it more and more once she started doing it, because it helped her know the sutra better, have a calmer mind, and develop clearer thinking. Starting from only one page a day and gradually adding on more, eventually she found herself completing the transcription of the whole Lotus Sutra of over 60,000 Chinese characters. Therefore, sutra transcription practice is not as difficult as many think it is.

Today, living in a digital era, we may find it handy to just type on computers and text via a smartphone. However, the convenience of "copy and paste" has compromised our handwriting, and caused us to forget its advantages and merits, especially when sutra transcription can help us reduce our afflictions, grow in wisdom, and stabilize our mind. Calligrapher Daren Wu, who takes sutra transcription as a form of daily practice, smilingly pointed to its benefits: "By extending the peace of mind developed from sutra transcription into our daily life, we will enjoy a good mood throughout the day. And, the longer you practice, the more you will experience and realize the underlying true meaning of the sutra".

 In our hectic life, we are often so busy dealing with external matters, being affected by the outer world, that we hardly ever take the time to quiet down and really be with ourselves. When our mind is disturbed, it is all the more important to calm down to adjust our body and mind. For this purpose, transcribing the sutra, similar to practicing handwriting as a child, might be a helpful option.

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:  Jonathan Liu
Editing: Chia-cheng Chang (張家誠), Keith Brown