Sewing practice: a meditation in action

The Brooklyn Zen Center sangha is currently sewing a nine-fold okesa (full-body robe) for dharma teacher and senior priest Rev. Kosen Greg Snyder. The okesa is completely hand-sewn using a traditional rice field pattern.

The nine jo okesa is the teaching okesa, worn for dharma talks and ceremonies, and is traditionally sewn by the Zen students in the sangha, especially those working with the teacher for whom it is a gift.

Tomoe Katagiri, one of the first Soto Zen Buddhist sewing teachers, described the importance of sewing practice:

“Through sewing you learn a lot about the dharma, Buddha’s teaching. It’s not just sewing! One stitch. Tiny stitch. When you think how many yards you will sew, chanting the Buddha’s name with every stitch, if you count all the stitches, you say, ‘I cannot do it!’ But, if you do this stitch: one stitch. One stitch. One stitch continuously, you will finish. If you stop, if you quit, even if you are very good at stitching, you will never finish. Just continue! When you continue with the stitching you will have many problems. Experience. Yes. That is your life. You can learn about oneness just chanting refuge in the Buddha with every stitch, and your life, that is dharma stitching.”

In the words of Suzuki Roshi:

“Be concentrated on every stitch… as you are concentrated on your breathing. ‘Concentration,’ we say, but that is not actually [the] point. Actual point is – real point is to become one with what you do – to become one with your practice… You should try to be concentrated… on each stitch, and someday you will understand what does it mean. Not immediately [laughs].” — (Shunryu Suzuki, 71-06-20, 3)

Sangha members Kiku Morimoto and Layne Negrin marked and cut the fabric instructed by a sewing teacher, Rev. Korin Anita Swann, in the summer of 2017.

Okesa sewing is an important Zen practice and it’s a tradition for every sangha member to add a stitch.

Everyone is welcome to join the sewing of the okesa. No experience or sign up is necessary. Sangha members can just drop in one of the upcoming sewing practice opportunities on November 28 and December 5, from 3 to 6:35 p.m.

We look forward to sewing together!