Last Sunday I began sewing my rakusu. A rakusu is a patchwork miniature robe that you wear around your neck: navy blue for lay ordination (jukai), black for priests, brown for those who are able to teach, having dharma transmission. I've heard there's also a green one, for lay people with dharma transmission, but I've never actually seen one of those.
Hand sewing the rakusu is one stage of the year-long preparation for jukai, taking Buddhist vows. I am part of a group of seven from my sangha who will go through the ceremony next August. For the next three months, we will meet every Sunday to sew together. The sewing is a form of meditation. As you do each stitch, you chant to yourself: Namu kie butsu. I take refuge in the Buddha. We work with a sewing instructor, Connie Ayers, who guides us each step of the way.
Still, it is a difficult task for many of us. Last week, several in the group, myself included, were all thumbs, completely unfamiliar with even the most basic steps involved in sewing. I'm guessing that the lesson in patience is as integral to this practice as the meditation.
Despite the fact that I can barely sew on a button, so far I am enjoying the practice. It appeals to the detail-oriented part of me, with the single-minded attention towards the task. I am sure, though, that over the next weeks there will be at least one post where I throw my hands up in the air over the whole ordeal, frustrated beyond soothing. Bear with me. I'll do my best not to whine too much.
For a great article on the rakusu tradition, see Taking the Precepts: Sewing Buddha's Robe by Josho Pat Phelan.