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On Friday, April 6, the University Library and the U-M Center for Japanese Studies cosponsored a symposium entitled Sacred Texts in a Secular Society: Handcopying Buddhist Texts in Japan.
In Japan, the copying of Buddhist texts by hand is done by religious and non-religious people alike. This meditative activity cultivates inner focus and attention. But the vital practice of hand-tracing religious texts-- whether with brush, pen, or electronic device - is little known outside Japan.
The symposium introduced shakyō, the living tradition of copying Buddhist texts by hand, by means of two morning lectures that surveyed the uninterrupted production of shakyō from the 8th century through the 20th century. In the afternoon, the focus shifted to how shakyō is practiced today in Japan, including a hands-on opportunity for participants to copy a short Buddhist text themselves. Dawn Lawson, Head, Asia Library, and Associate Professor of Japanese Religion, Micah Auerback, Asian Languages and Cultures, co-organized the event, which accommodated 30 participants and generated a short waiting list as well. For a fascinating account of the procedings, see Paula Curtis's Twitter feed.