Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sewing a Rakusu

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.


  1. Congratulations.When I sewed my rakusu, I loved being part of the sewing room community at City Center and was grateful for all the positive reinforcement and help I received.In the sewing of my rakusu, it was my own expectations of myself that arose and had to be dealt with. My teacher says "Study yourself."

  2. way to be. the virtue of your blogging activity knows no bounds.

  3. Note: "Anonymous" sent a follow-up email - this comment is from Joan. I don't know how she finds time to comment when she's being shuso at City Center - the woman is amazing!

    Marjorie, Thanks for your good advice re: sewing. I kept it in mind today and it helped.

  4. I've found it the reverse of helpful. I'm sure that people who like to craft or do not associate crafting with being bullied and belittled. For me, sewing is nothing more than an invite to relive unhappy moments in my life. If this the the price of jukai, I am going to pass. I rather just keeping sitting and observing the precepts without initiation. I don't doubt many find the experience valuable, though I dislike having my own experience negated with tales of how helpful sewing has been to somebody else.

    1. I am sorry that sewing has such a negative connotation for you. It certainly did not have a positive feeling for me before the rakusu experience. My only sewing prior to this was in a home ec class, which I was forced to take, and I was miserably inept, and I hated every moment of it. The rakusu experience felt very different to me. I was initially very reluctant - mostly because I was afraid of being very bad at it, sure of failure. Instead, I found the environment very supportive and welcoming - and most important, it seemed there was no "wrong." The entire process was a meditation, an exercise of practice. Again, though, that is only my experience. I in no way am aiming to tell you what your own experience would be. Each person lives a unique life.