Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 8
You create Antaiji!

I still remember my first night at Antaiji: Although the temple is located remotely in the mountains, I heard music constantly playing on the other side of the valley. Even in the city it was never so noisy. I remember that during the first night I listened to gospel music, voices shouting "halleluya!" all night long. Maybe there is a chapel on the top of the mountain, I thought. All the noise during the night might have been one of the reasons why everybody was sleeping during the zazen hours the next day. Or not really everybody was sleeping all of the time, but at least three or four out of the five Japanese monks would always be sleeping. To me this seemed very disappointing, having come all the way from Germany to experience "real Zen" here. How can they possibly be sleeping during zazen? In Europe, it is usual that a sesshin is attended by up to two or three hundred people, but you will rarely find anyone sleeping. So, was it a mistake that I had come to Antaiji? Maybe I should have continued to practice in some dojo in Germany?

Thinking like this, I had already forgotten the teaching that I had received the afternoon before from my teacher to be, the former abbot Miyaura Shinyu Roshi. It turned out to be one of the most important teachings that he would give me during his life time:
"You create Antaiji! It is not that Antaiji does already exist and you just join in. Antaiji is not more or less than the place you make it."
I guess this is the first thing that he told everyone who came to Antaiji. You create Antaiji. And I was already complaing about what I found. But what I found was just the Antaiji I created - or rather the flip-side of all those lofty ideas I had had in my head: Of an incredibly enlightened teacher and accomplished monks who would help me with my practice and solve all the problems in life for me. It took me quite some time to really see that it is me who creates all those problems, who creates Antaiji when it is good as well as when it is bad, who creates all the love and hate, all the war and peace in the world. The question was not how my neighbor could possibly sleep during zazen, but rather how I could possibly allow myself to be bothered by it. Wasn't it rather time to take care of my own practice first?

After the sesshin was over I found out where all the noise during the nights (it was incredibly quiet during the day) had come from: The rice had just been harvested and was drying at the far side of a former baseball ground, that the monks had build when there were still enough of them to enjoy the game. Wild boars were coming down from the mountain every night to help themselves to the newly harvested rice, and a full-blast radio posted there was supposed to scare them away. The radio did not really scare away the boars, but it helped to keep us awake during the nights anyway.

I realized there were other reasons for the monks being tired during zazen. The two sesshin each month consist of three and five days respectively of zazen starting at four in the morning and continuing all day until nine at night, with no interruptions except for the meals. Naturally, I had thought, these two sesshin are what the practice at Antaiji is centered around. How could anything be more severe than those marathon-sesshins? I was to learn soon after the sesshin was over: Even after the typhoon that had washed the road away had passed, heavy rain continued to fall for about four weeks that year. It washed away not only the road, but also a four acre rice field, unrooted hundreds of trees and filled the water dam, from which Antaiji gets its drinking water, completely with dirt, rocks and trees. Water from the tap in Kyoto does not taste good - as is the case in most Japanese cities. So I was surprised on arriving in Antaiji, that the water here had an even more distinct taste, and that it was flowing quite thickly out of the tap. Above all, it was brown. When I saw the dam after sesshin, I knew the reason: What I had thought was water had been the mud that had been washed into the dam. Our task during the next three days was to clear all of that mud, dirt, rocks and trees out of the dam. The monks were eager to have clean water flowing out of the tap again, and although it was raining heavy still, samu continued at a high pace until well after dark. Sesshin had been painful on the legs, but this was hell. After three days of samu, we had a "free day". I think they were called "free days" because we had no zazen on those days. Instead we would walk down the four kilometers which before used to be a road, then ride bycicles to the fifteen kilometer away town Hamasaka to fetch the mail, buy soy sauce and oil for the kitchen, and gasoline for the truck and tractor and the sawing machines. All this had to be carried back in 20 liter cans, two of which each of us would carry on our backs. After the "free day", samu would continue: Fallen trees had to be cut and carried into the barn, where they would be chopped to yield fire in the kitchen or heat the bath. A provisiory walk path had to be built down the mountain. The rice had to be threshed. Work in the vegetable garden was regarded a past time. Even on days with heavy rain, work inside was unknown. And the sesshins in fact turned out to be our only holidays.

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