If I may I would like to share a few directions-suggestions about kesa sewing:
Many mistakes are done when you sew a kesa, stitches disappearing, imperfections…as much as possible, we don’t correct mistakes, we notice them and our reaction to them. The point is not to make a work of Art, something sublime; it is to be utterly sincere and true. Clumsy or not is irrelevant. Please, don’t be obsessed with small stitches. Many kesa I have seen in The AZI are really beautifully sewn but a few of them are not alive (too good) for they display more intention of right doing than total care freeness. The kesa is not a rigid but a flowing form.
The kesa is not a personal thing, your-my possession. I feel sorry for all these people I have met in different temples and Zendo of the West refusing even that somebody would sew on “their” kesa. There is nothing one can call “my” kesa. The kesa is the robe of stillness and selflessness. We merely borrow it as elements are borrowed to manifest this body-mind. It cannot belong to anybody for it is the robe of not knowing.
Be really awake to your own lack of patience. Kesa making requires a lot of time, and I often experience a burning-creeping sense of expectation. If you can allow it, don’t expect or even dream completing the work. Work for nothing. Just sew. Sew also for others, most of my kesa were given to monks and nuns and lay people. It is a good practice to sew for sewing or for others. It is good practice to give.
One practice I always enjoy is to sew as a group on a single kesa. Any type of robe can be sewn collectively, 7. 8,9,13,25 stripes robe.
Every so often, ask yourself: “how can I sew mists, fields, surburbs, shouts, chirps, rubbish, old shoes, sky, clouds…together? “ Most useless question which opens the door to what is open.
Should one recite anything during the sewing? Some sewing schools recommend to chant Namu Ki E Butsu. Namu as the needle is inserted, Ki E as it comes out and then Butsu as you pull the thread. This means, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the sangha.” What is very advisable is to remind ourselves that we can breathe all right, our reaction to sewing shortens our breath. And I believe this is why originally monks and nuns where singing they heart away: to keep on breathing.
Unlike in the Soto sect, Nyohoe kesa has nothing to do with you-me being special, important or whatever. It doesn’t have to show if you are a beginner or an experienced monk. Bullshit (pardon my French…). Black is not better, black is in Japanese training monasteries the color of the kesa of young monks who did not receive Dharma transmission. Unless you care too much about offending some high rank Japanese priest, I would not worry. Follow the instructions about the color: broken, mixed not primary. There is great joy in sewing and wearing the robe. Joy. Not pride. Joy. Nyohoe kesa is the kesa of rebels, destitute, excluded people. Nyohoe kesa is not the kesa of institutions. It is not made by professional robe makers but by fools who will hang it in trees so birds feet can soil it, so the rain can soak it, so the wind can play with it, so it can be stained ( Tenjo) by life.
And when we meet sadness, sorrows, death, suffering, may we open this kesa and let it be wide open on all things...