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A Guide to Hand Copying Sutras

As with the other Buddhist practice methods, copying sutras has a methodical step-by-step approach. It is a quiet exercise which calms the body and mind provided that the proper guidelines and methods are observed.  

The process of single-minded sutra copying-- starting from cleaning one's hands and quietening the mind, and proceeding to making vows and dedication of merits-- is akin to attending a solemn Dharma service. As a practice method in the Chinese Buddhism tradition, the well tested method and process of copying sutras enables practitioners to reap the benefits of calmness and concentration. The next few paragraphs detail the preparation, rituals, and method of copying sutras. 

Just like the head movements and deep breaths exercises we would do prior to sitting in meditation, some preparation of works are also required before we hold the pen to start transcribing sutras. Through the process of preparation, we can gradually relax and adjust our body and mind for copying sutras. 
1. Clean and tidy up the room or surrounding area.
2. Prepare the paper, pen, and sutra, and arrange them in one place.
3. Take care of personal hygiene such as washing hands and rinsing mouth. 
4. Calm the mind. This can be done through incense burning or a short meditation session. 
This preparation process may seem cumbersome, but it is a necessary prerequisite for us to give rise to the proper mindset. Additionally, if we can read or recite the sutra once before copying in order to fully understand its content and meaning, this would help us to ward off the loss of concentration or wandering mind while copying sutras.
The Ritual of Sutra Copying 
The steps are as follows:
1. Make three prostrations or bows to the Buddha statue. 
2. Be seated.
3. Join palms and recite "Homage to the original teacher Shakyamuni Buddha" three times, followed by the "Sutra Opening Gatha": The precious supreme and sublime Dharma is hard to encounter, even in hundreds, thousands, or millions of kalpas. Yet I have the fortune to see, hear it and are able to receive and uphold it today. I sincerely vow to understand the true meaning of the tathagata's teachings.
4. Begin copying the sutra.
5. After completing the transcription of the whole sutra or the planned segment for the day, join palms and recite the Three Refuges and the verse of Dedication of Merits: May the vexations of the Three Obstacles be eliminated; May I gain true wisdom and clarity; May all sins and obstacles be eliminated; May I to take the path of the Bodhisattva life after life. 
6. Leave your seat.
7. Make three prostrations or bows to the Buddha statue.

Extended Reading:

Transcribing Sutras

Sutra transcription: A practice that enhances our health

Transcribing Buddhist Scripture as a Method of Practice for the Benefit of Self and Others

The Exceptional Merits of Transcribing Sutras

A Guide to Hand Copying Sutras

Reminders for Sutra Copying

Resource: Issue 371 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 371 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation:  Shujen Yeh (葉姝蓁)  
Editing: Leefah Thong, Keith Brown