Temple of Peace

My practice

Does practice mean to accept reality "as it is", or do we practice precisely because we can not accept reality "as it is"? Do we try to change the world, do we try to change ourselves, or do we try to try nothing at all when we practice? Is practice something special, a kind of training done by a few "zen specialists", or does practice mean the 24 hours of the daily life that each and all of us lead? Does practice mean to accept ourselves just the way we are, or does it mean to refine ourselves with the final goal of getting rid off our egos? Do we deluded beings practice heading in the direction of Buddha, or is it rather Buddha pulling us his way what is called practice? Why do we practice in the first place? Is their a goal to practice? Or is having no goal in itself the practice? Anyway, what the hell is practice?

The only thing that is sure is that I don't know. People who do not know what practice is come together at Antaiji - to practice. That's the kind of place Antaiji is. It is a place to practice. It is not a spiritual guesthouse, and it isn't a mental hospital either.
The question is: are we really aware of this? Do we come here with the clear intention to practice the Buddha Way, even though we might not exactly know what it is? I think it depends on the person.
Sometimes parents send their twelve or thirteen year old kids here because they won't listen at home. And there are the highschool kids that have run away from home by their own choice. There are those who failed at the entrance exams for college, and there are those who passed the exams but now feel bored at college. Some come here because they can not find a job, others want to quit their job, still others do not feel like working in the first place. Some hippies hear about Antaiji on their trip to India and think it is the perfect ashram, others come here in the hope to be trained as professional priests and be assigned to some temple in the future. Some are just tired of life in the city, they want to try the self-sufficient way. Others have lost their job and see no other way to get to eat. There are housewives who have escaped their husbands, and there are "old misses" in search of a husband. Some have just come out of prison or the mental hospital, others want to enjoy themselves peacefully in the midst of nature, they have worked busily all their life and they feel that now it is the time for them to rest for a while and maybe walk the spiritual path a little. A hundred different persons, a hundred different stories.

As long as people live here just as everyone else, we do not ask for their motive that brings them here. We welcome criminals just as the mental ill - we even take spiritual travellers. The problem starts once you are here: why are you here, what do you want to practice here? You are the one who has to ask the question and give the answer in your daily life.
Antaiji is a place for practice. A place for the practice of the Buddha Way. Actually, among the people who come here those who think that they already know what they want to practice here, those who think that they are really motivated and enthusiastic to practice "Dogen Zenji's Shikantaza" or whatever, those people are usually the greatest pain in the ass. Because they can never let go off their understanding, their enthusiasm (which is usually directed only towards one part of the practice, say zazen, while they are not so happy to work for example), or their ideas about what "Dogen Zenji's Shikantaza" or whatever really means. Compared to these people, those who can't even spell "Buddha Way" are much more open, flexible and receptive in their minds. They don't carry all these funny "zen ideas" around with them.
Anyway, the problem for the serious people just as well as the not so serious people is: what do you practice? The question is not so much what "Buddhist practice" is, but rather what "my practice" is. What do I practice?

Starting from May this year, I have been writing about "adult practice" in the "shit paper". The reason for me to start writing that series was an e-mail that arrived one day at the Antaiji account. It contained the musings of one of my elder dharma brothers about the seven years he spent at Antaiji, and the instruction he says he did not get. According to him

"The problem is what 'shikantaza' means. I think the problem is that no one really knows exactly what it is. I think it has to be the master who makes it clear what it is."

"I think the reason why I could find no confidence in zazen and was not able to practice lies in this lack of instruction."

Even after seven years in Antaiji his master did not teach him how to do "shikantaza", he says. And he concludes that that is why he was not able to practice zazen. And he goes on to say that
"That is just like a kindergarten kid trying to study at university. It is meaningless."

I think that that is a quite accurate observation. If you need a master who teaches you everything before you can start to practice, you are really just like a kindergarten kid. Even if such a "kindergarten kid" lives at Antaiji for years, he will just spent his time in vain. Who is responsible for that? Isn't everyone of us responsible for their own practice? So, when people say that they can not practice at Antaiji because they do not understand what practice is (or because they think that they understand all to well but it just seems not to be what evryone else here is practicing), their are two possible solutions. We can lower the level of practice to kindergaten level. Or we have to grow up and become adult practioners. I prefer the last option.

"My practice". Until I became the abbot of Antaiji, this question was all I had to deal with. I just had to worry about my own practice then, but now it is different. I have to be concerned about everyone's practice, I have to take responsibilty for the way we practice here at Antaiji. That is not so easy. Everyone's practice is my practice. It gives me strength to see that everyone is doing their best, but it also makes me worry when I see that "the best" that everyone thinks they are doing still falls short of real practice. What is real practice? You do not have to know the answer, but you should at least raise the question, and it has to be directed towards yourself, because you will be the one who gives the answer, or otherwise no one will. Everyone is responsible for his own practice, but if people fail to raise the question, it is after all "the master" who has to offer a hint. But "the master" must not relate to the practioners like a parent feeding a child. The so-called "master" is just another practioner trying to grow up and be an adult. Rubbing against each other just like rocks in a river, eventually shing like gems, so-called "master" and "student" study together, leaving behind their childish habits, heading towards true adult practioners. It is the master who has to make sure that this direction of practice is not lost out of sight.

"At Antaiji, no one will make you practice. You have to search for the way on your own, and you have to walk the way by yourself. Thus, the place of practice will naturally open up by itself. The goal of practice is NOT to get a glimpse of something that can not be seen with ordinary eyes. Truth is simple and open for anyone to see. It is the 'depth of the ordinary'. The 'depth' is the depth of our practicing this ordinary truth.
Each one of us has a 'temple' in his heart. The question is just how do we manifest this 'temple', the place of our practice, in the 24 hours of our daily life? The question is, how can I create Antaiji by myself, right here and now?"
These words were written eleven years ago, in the "Antaiji Yearbook No. 29" by an exchange student named "Olaf Noelke" who spent his scholarship and most of his time reading comic books in Kyoto. I think my view on practice has not changed so much since then. What has changed is that I now try to put into practice what then was nothing more than a romantic idea in my head. I try to become an adult practioner now, together with everyone of you.

When I use the word "adult", I am reminded that some might say that zen practice is not so much about growing up and being an adult, but rather about returning to that state before discriminative thinking set in, the truely enlightened world of the baby infant! Maybe there are still some people like that. I remember that at the time I started with zazen, when I was 16 in Germany, it was quite a fashion to say things like
"Adults! Return and be like children!"
"Power to the children! Only that will give peace to the world!"
It sounds stupid, but people were serious. Even I thought that way at the time. But one day, in my early twenties, I observed a quarrel between one or two year olds in a playing ground. I was surprised to see how selfish these kids could be. Weren't children supposed to be pacifists? Pure in their hearts, without egos and discrimination? Or maybe it was just "the influence of the bad adults" that made these kids quarrel?
No, I think it was only my idea that "children are pure in their hearts, without egos and discrimination" that was a product of "adult discrimination". A look at reality proofed that kids are just as selfish as adults, maybe even more. What makes them so cute is just the fact that they never try to hide their egos. But that does not make them "universe-size". Just as most "adults", kids think that they are the center of the universe and that everything should revolve around them. "Adults" have learned to fool others and themselves about that. But there is no way for "adults" to return to an infantile state and just live out the ego. We have to grow and become true adults, great people, universe-size people.
I get many new years cards that show just people's small kids. I sometimes wonder if it is good to make such a cult worship around your kid. Well, maybe it is still better than worshipping your car or dog...

My daughter was born this year. I realize that I have to learn a lot from her "no mind" activity, but I also try to be careful not to imitate her to much and become a baby myself (or rather, it is my wife who reminds me of that). Anyway, even though it is said often and rightly that adults have to learn from children, at the same time adults also have to educate their children. Too many adults seem to forget that. And maybe that is also what my Dharma brother meant when he complained that there is not enough clear instruction. But we should not confuse the student-teacher relationship in zen with the relationship of a child to his parent. A zen student must not be a baby. "My practice" - one the one hand, that means everyone's practice here at Antaiji being my practice. On the ohter hand, it means my life with my family, being a completely different but not less important place of my practice. Antaiji and my family home are completely different, because I have to relately differently to my wife and baby than I will relate to practioners at the temple. Still, in both ways of relating I discover "my practice". When I come back to my quarters after shouting at the top of my lungs: "Stop making noise! Don't move! Don't sleep" during the evening sitting (is this a kindergarten here after all?), I might be looking forward to enjoying some peaceful time reading St. Augustine's "Confessions". But I find the purgatory of quarreling with my wife waiting for me. With the practioners at Antaiji, it is like rocks rubbing against each other in a river stream. With my wife also, it can be like rocks colliding against each other. But it is fun too. Maybe it is to enjoy this purgatory that we married in the first place. Thinking back about it now, we quarreled a lot since the time we first met. I was living as a homeless in Osaka at the time, and whenever I had to wait for her in the cold outside the public bath, it would be a good enough reason for me to start a quarrel. Our marriage seems to be an extensoin of those quarrels. and now we are still quarreling... Reminds me of that quarrel of two year olds that I witnessed in my early twenties.
Even though I call it "purgatory", my family life is not so bad at all. Still, having lost my mother at age 7 and having left home with 16, building up a family seems to be just as difficult a practice as building up this "place for practice" called Antaiji. Antaiji and my family are completely different, but both are the place of my practice.

Coming back to Augustine's "Confessions", which I am presently reading: For the first time in five years I visited my father's house in Germany this October and found the "Confessions" there on a shelf with many other of my old books. I had read his "About Trinity" in highschool, and it was terribly boring, so I never went to read this book that tells his life until his conversion to Christian faith. But this book is really interesting. Augustine lived as a Catholic bishop in Africa during the fourth century. He greatly formed the Catholic church's doctrine, but can also be called the last philosopher of the Roman Age. The "Confessions" are the earliest among his main works. He is looking back on his early search for truth and desperation not finding it, his sceptism towards Christianity and the many worldly temptations that keep him from making the "leap of faith". When he describes how he loses track of himself by searching for truth outside when it can be found only inside one's own heart, he is so strict with himself that in comparison Nietzsche, Kierkegaard or Heidegger just seem to be too childish. Greek philosophy influenced Augustine deeply, so he was not able to just swallow what he found in the Bible. Philosophy made much more sense, as a theory. One of the main points he had doubts about was the problem of evil: how could it be that there was evil in the world when the world was created by a completely good god? And how could it be that even an "innocent" baby was supposed to have "original sin"? In the "Confessions", he describes how he saw an infant staring at his baby brother who was drinking from his mother's breast. His eyes filled with hate. There, Augustine saw "original sin". The "innocence" of the infant was just empty philosophy. "Original sin", you could also call it "viewing the world from your own point of view". Even babies do it. What amazed me most reading Augustine was his way of refering to god. He will call god "life", "the way", "wisdom" and many other ways, but most of the time he just says "you". In zen, we also speak of "the way" or "cosmic life force" or "enlightened wisdom", but would we ever call it "you"?
Someone may say: "I and you, man and god, that is typical for dualistic Christianity. In Buddhism, everything is one. We transcend dualism and return to the true self which is all and one with the universe. There, there is no 'you' and 'I'".
Still I wonder if people who speak thus are really transcending dualism and are one and all. Many so-called roshis speak about being one or becoming Buddha by seeing one's own true nature. This reminds me of Dogen's
"When the Dharma does not fill your body-and-mind, you think it is already enough.
When your body-and-mind are filled with the Dharma, you realize that one side is lacking."
Maybe it is because many people do not realize that they are still lacking the Dharma that they love to talk so much about "being one" or "having enlightenment"? If you are really one, then you should also see that "one side is lacking". When you discover that although a human being, you still share the life of Buddha, then you should also realize that as a human being you are absolutely different from being a Buddha, that their is a gap between human being and Buddha that can never be bridged. But then, it is not even necessary to bridge that gap. A human being does not need to become Buddha. A human being is completely human. A Buddha is completely Buddha. A human being stopping to be a human being allows Buddha to become a Buddha. This leads to the human relating to Buddha very intimately, calling him "you" rather than "cosmic life force". If, on the other hand, we try to forcefully claim that "all is one", that one-ness will just exist as an idea in our heads.
Anyway, Augustine's confessions to this "you" are interesting and refreshing. They are not confessions to a person. Rather than calling them confessions to his other self, I would call them confessions to a self outside the "self". To me, they seem to be confessions that spill out of yourself once you remove that "frame" that you protect your idea of the "self" all the time with.

"When I heard that you are a practice temple that lives self-sufficiently without parishioners, I thought to myself: 'Now that seems to be one of the last true temples. Maybe I should go and practice there too?' I checked out your web site quite a lot of times, but now, what do I see!?
The abbot is married?! Has a baby!?
What is this shit? And you are talking about being selfless??? Leave that mountain and work in the normal world, you fucking bald head!!!"

Another e-mail I received not so long ago. I am impressed by this lady's (?) serious approach to practice, from which I guess I can still learn a lot.

My practice starts today. With everyone else, I want to grow up and become a true adult. I hope to receive hints from everyone's articles that will help me to take the next step on the way.

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