Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 2
What do you "practice"?

Let me continue with my reflections on "adult practice". It will probably cost me a couple of months or more to complete this series, but I would be honoured if you joined me for a while. I would like to begin this time with the head of the "Guide to Antaiji", a booklet that we give to all the visitors here, and that is also part of this homepage:

"Why do you come here?

Antaiji is a temple devoted to Zen practice as a natural expression of life.
Zazen and work are not simply practiced as one part of life, rather all 24 hours of your daily life itself are to be the manifestation of Zen. Antaiji has no other special practices, teachings, meditation techniques, insights or spiritual guidance to offer you. Nor is it a place to get in touch with the mystery of the East, have occult experiences or just have a taste of Japanese culture.

This is a place where you can create your own life as bodhisattva practice. Although you are expected to live harmoniously with the other practioners at Antaiji, the responsibility for your practice lies solely on yourself. There is no one to live your life for you. Nobody will wipe your ass for you.

What is most important is not to use the buddha way for your own purposes, but rather to give up your own ideas and throw yourself completely into the practice of the way. For this, you should be clear about the basis of your practice and the motive that brings you here. If you expect anything other from your stay than what life at this precise moment has to offer you, you will invariably be disappointed. Make sure you know why you want to come here - do not fool yourself or others."

I wrote this ten years ago, as a guide for foreigners who want to practice at Antaiji. At that time I was 25 and an exchange student at Kyoto University, visiting Antaiji to participate at the monthly sesshins. It was before I was ordained as a monk. The abbot, who later was to become my master, asked me to write a little guide book for foreign visitors in English, which I gladly agreed to do. Later, after becoming a monk at Antaiji, I translated it into Japanese, and even now it is used here for both Japanese and foreign visitors.

What I wrote is pretty pretentious for someone who is not even a zen monk himself. I had spent six months in Antaiji at the age of 22, but at that time I was more a like a "spectator" of the zen life, understanding bodhisattva practice intellectually, without really knowing the pain of actually putting that practice into practice in daily life, 365 days a year - on a life time basis. After becoming a monk at Antaiji, I fortunately had the opportunity to jump over the gap between ideal and reality when I had to put into practice what I only wrote about formerly.

Anyway, what made me write the above passage as an exchange student? The most important reason, I think, was that I realized that during the first ten years of my zazen (to which I was introduced when I was 16), my practice had been directed totally wrong. I had been looking for some kind of Eastern wisdom, or rather a kind of wisdom that transcends east and west and defies ordinary logic. People call it enlightenment or satori or the true self or the meaning of life. Seekers of truth have been looking for it for ages. I, too, thought I was looking for it, but the more I tried to get a grip on it, the further it seemed to move away from me. I had to make my way to the other side of the planet (how could you possibly find the absolute truth in a place like Germany?!), without ever realizing that in each single moment of the present, life was already realizing itself. Truth was manifest all the time, I just never cared to take notice, because I was looking the other way, for things I supposed to be far away: Satori, wisdom, etcetera.

The first time I had a vague idea that my efforts were directed wrongly was during that 6 months stay at Antaiji, when I was 22. I felt that I had found the place where to become a monk, although I still thought that I should finish my university studies before I enter the buddha way. At Antaiji, I found a monastery in a almost perfect location, with a master I could trust and a couple of senior monks whom I could respect too. On the other hand, there were also those monks which made me wonder why they had come to Antaiji in the first place - what were they "practicing" here? They seemed to do nothing but sleep and eat and bully their juniors... Thinking back about it now, this was probably just another projection of my own immature mind.

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