For the last several weeks I have been doing the work of sewing my first rakusu and studying the Precepts in preparation for Jukai. I have been doing this with a small band of fearless beings. We sit side by side, making tiny stitches that unfold millimeter by millimeter, the tiny steps of practice. Sewing and working with thread is an invitation to become entangled. Though we work in silence in front of our tiny, limitless fields, every now and again a quiet exclamations can be heard from across the table. “Dang it!” or “Are you serious??” or even a long and resigned sigh. Our threads are spun from cotton blossoming in the fields, from the magical cocoons of silk works, or from the wooly backs of sheep and goats. It comes to us from wild places, and that wild, twisting and tangling line runs through the core of our practice. When a tangle appears in our sewing, sometimes we pull too hard, and then the thread breaks and the stitches have to be removed. If we go slack, more tangles appear. The practice of sewing reinforces a middle way of moving through the field of cloth, but also the field of our lives. The wisdom we are beginning to see in sewing Buddha’s Robe is that it cannot be rushed or ignored, hammered into being or expected to sew itself, but every stitch must be met with as a step and as a step is in the practice life: alive, in the moment, and feeling for the center. And then we have a chance to feel the stepping back of the fabric of the world, a backwards step.
The study of the Precepts, as we are unfolding in our Dharma talks, is also an invitation to become entangled, but in them, we are the wild things spun into the thread of practice. To kill, to steal, to become angry and so on...in a way these are our wild impulses. We feel that the Precepts offer a kind of directive, a clear way to live more at ease and be without the tangles and impasses and dangers of our alive world. But in another way, though we may try to smooth out our existences, again and again, the threads of life always curl back, always twist beyond our control, always fray. To live with the Precepts is the practice of continuously confronting the wildness of life, the places where we become entangled with ourselves. They give us a way to steady ourselves in each step along the Path.
When I look at my nearly finished rakusu, each line of stitching is like a footprint on a sandy path. We can sort of turn around and see our meandering way through the world. Some stitches shift a little this way, others move slightly to the other side, and others are totally inexplicable and out of line. We fix what we can along the way. I see those stitches as a strange kind of memorial to this time of preparing for Jukai. I can literally see, embodied in the thread, moments of anxiety, moments of uncertainty, moments of clarity, moments of no-fear. They are stitched together from a great and single Buddha’s Robe, nothing has been left out. In the tiny world of the Rakusu, only a few inches square, it can be easy to see this big picture. In the big Robe of the world, my ongoing practice is to confront each of these steps as wholeheartedly, to see the big Robe in the little one, and the little one in the big. Not too forcefully, not too lackadaisical, but with the wholeheartedness and openness to which the Precepts point.
As it gets warmer out and Spring is upon us, many of us in the rakusu sewing group are eager for the time when the sewing will be complete and the Robe will be finished. The Robe is never finished.