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True Zen Teachings

The Practice of the Kesa

"Wearing the kesa, practicing zazen, receiving ordination is the greatest happiness. This is the noblest reason for our life on earth, the ultimate stage."
--Kodo Sawaki

The Kesa and Zazen

The kesa and zazen are like two wings of a bird.

The kesa is the symbol of faith in zazen,
and the practice of the kesa is the proof of it.

--Taisen Deshimaru

Not just a garment, the kesa itself is zazen. It is the robe of zazen and the robe of true Zen practice. Since the time of Shakyamuni, all of the masters of the transmission received, respected, wore, taught and passed on the kesa. Like zazen, it is nothing mysterious or mystical, but a natural part of our daily practice.

Some might say the kesa is not really important: "It's a formalism, unnecessary, zazen alone is enough, I don't need to wear it." And of course someone can do zazen without a kesa, it is not absolutely necessary. But without the kesa, zazen becomes only a method of body-mind training, not a true religion. For those who seek the Way, the kesa has a great value.

Wearing the kesa and doing zazen, unconsciously, naturally, automatically, we can receive the great merits of the true Way. Anyone can wear the kesa, and whether it be the grand kesa or the rakusu (mini-kesa), the merits are the same. It protects us as it protects the Way itself.

Traditionally the kesa (funzo e) was sewn from rags that were useless to the social world. It is a symbol of how the worst can become the highest, through kesa, through zazen.

The Practice of Wearing the Kesa.

One who wears the kesa is no longer separated from the way. When we wear the kesa, we are not guided by our selves, we're guided by the practice, guided by the kesa.

--Barbara Kosen

The kesa is most importantly worn for zazen. And whenever possible, if you have one, wear the grand kesa in zazen, rather than the rakusu (especially during sesshin).

The rakusu may also be worn for zazen. But just as Zen practice is not limited to the dojo, neither is the kesa. During the day it should be worn as often as possible, so that the practice of the Way is always present in our minds. The rakusu is especially worn during samu, during sesshin, and when travelling. When we take off our rakusu, it is to protect it. It is taken off when eating (except during sesshin), when going to the bathroom, at parties and for doing samu that might dirty or damage the rakusu. But when travelling, you may keep it on throughout the journey.

Protect the Kesa.

"The kesa is the heart of Zen, the marrow of its bones." --Eihei Dogen

The kesa is not a decoration or an accessory to our practice. It is, with zazen, the essence of the transmission, the essence of our practice. So the respects we pay to the kesa are not mere formalisms, but representitive of the respects we pay to all existences.

When putting the kesa on, always place it on the head and chant the Kesa Sutra to yourself three times, (as we chant it in the dojo with the others each morning). When putting it on, taking it off, folding or unfolding it, concentrate completely on the correct gestures. Keep it in its envelope in a respected place in your room or in the dojo.

Use the zagu for sampai when wearing the grand kesa. Keep it ironed and clean (washing when necessary by the transmitted method). And the kesa never carelessly touches the ground


Sewing the Kesa.

In the same way that the rakusu points follow one another to form a straight line, our concentration here and now on each one of our actions forms a line , straight and true, through our life.

--Taisen Deshimaru

If we sew the kesa without studying the correct method, there will not be correct transmission


If possible, everyone should sew a rakusu or a grand kesa. Following the true transmitted method, in practice with the sangha. You can sew one for yourself, for the Temple, or for another. It is the highest gift you can give.

The color of the kesa is kasaya (broken color). It has a color, put not a limited color. Black or dark brown for bodhisattvas, and monks, lighter color for nine-band kesa and other colors and lighter colors for master's kesa. One can use any material, so long as it is chosen without attachment.

We respect the kesa in progress as we respect the finished kesa we wear. From the moment you have chosen the fabric, do not let the material touch the ground. Keep it neatly folded in a clean, high place when you are not working on it. And respect the sewing room as a dojo.

And most importantly, concentrate completely on each stitch and each measurement. Though formless, the kesa has an rigorous form. The attitude of mind is i shin i pai: One stitch, one pai

"The point should be as small as possible, but it is not necessary that it become a decoration. What is important is that you sew it yourself, whether it's good or bad is not the issue"
--Kodo Sawaki


Faith in the kesa.

In Zen, we have faith in the kesa. Though material, the kesa is infinite. All the masters of the transmission totally respected the kesa.

The authentic transmission of the kesa is more important and tells us more about the dharma that all explication of sutras. We should never forget this.

The kesa is the thread of Zen.

Faith in the kesa is not something in the mind, but a practice of the body. And deep understanding of the kesa only comes through long and continued practice.

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