Yearbook 2007


Alex (Antaiji, 36yo, Banker from Austria)

I came to Antaiji on May 6th. It was to some extent because I was having my back to the wall and on the other hand a heart decision, motivated by the fact that I have had read on the Internet about closed doors for newcomers from June 6th on. I was really afraid of the big sesshin. 15 hours a day, this was impressive and seemed not doable for me. Usually I would have prepared for this kind of sesshin for months, so I could have been sure I would be able to do it. On the other hand, how can you prepare for a 15 hours a day sesshin? You can try to sit it, but who can do this alone? Due to a Zazen crisis, I will touch later again, I haven't had done Zazen for four months or so. So when I read about Antaiji's shutting doors, I thought, what the heck, let's just go there. Totally unprepared, it was a jump in at the deep end. A heart decision. First time in my life it went like this. Looking back, one of the best decisions in my life. I wanted to stay longer, but first I wanted to see how it is, so I applied for three months and was granted just one month. Due to some ceremonies etc. May wasn't really very Zazen-intensive, there were maybe two one-day Sesshins or so, which at least gave me a flavour of how the big sesshin would get. Also, in May my praxis was actually very bad, I didn't care about others or other things, a couple of times I also thought about leaving Antaiji. June 1st came nearer and a senior monk hearing of my fears told me, "If you are really determined, you can do it". This motivated me, it told me that it is less a question of training or the current status of your physical condition, no, it is more a willpower game. So everyone can do it. Shortly before the sesshin, Docho-san said, there is still enough space at Antaiji's graveyard, so far nobody died during a sesshin, but if someone feels like, he should please feel free to do so. It was a joke, but also in his book or was it an interview, he wrote, unless you are ready to die, you won't make (progress at) the sesshin. Both not accurate quotes, but that's how I got it. Anyway, the sesshin came, to make it short, it was very hard for me, but June 5th 3:00 p.m. came and over it was. It was also the first time in my life, I have felt real modesty in a way, that, if I can do this, it is not because I did it, it is more because fate let me do it or gave me the power to do it. Usually when I reached an important goal, my ego swell, felt very strong, like, I did it, I am the best, and so on. But after that big sesshin I just felt, thank's god or whoever you let me survive or do this (maybe please let me also do the next one). My Zazen was always very bad, this hasn't changed so far. But, everything bad has also it's good side. So, because my Zazen is bad, I have always lots of time to think during a Sesshin. So during this June sesshin, a lot of things came clear to me. What is important in my life. What the life at Antaiji is. Those two things matched to me. So immediately after end of sesshin I asked Docho-san to allow me to stay at Antaiji for at least three years which I was getting granted.

The following four or five months were like a learning curve. Interesting, like a child exploring the new world. A lot of enthusiasm about everything. Now, daily routine has me, my praxis is deteriorating. It could be much better. There are still a lot of possibilities of mental escape from Antaiji life (Internet, muic, books, etc.). How am I spending Hosans (free days)? Am I sitting on Hosans? How much time on Hosans do I devote to practice and how much time to escape? How much of a parental mind do I have for others? These are questions I can't give a very positive answer at the moment.

Before I came here I always thought, I am doing Zazen in order to improve my life. Like the more Zazen I do, the better my life will get sometime in the future. Like a miracle cure, that will solve all my problems for me. Well, this approach didn't really work out too well. Disappointed, I stopped doing Zazen at all for a longer period a couple of times in the past. The problem with that approach was, that it didn't deal with my real problems. So Zazen is just the frame for my everyday's life. It won't improve anything. Just to put that into a different relation: On a Nyojo (working day) we sit two periods Zazen in the morning and two in the evening, which makes 220 minutes Zazen. We go to bed at say 20:45 p.m. and get up at 3:45, that makes 17 hours of non-sleeping time. 220 minutes of 17 hours are actually 22%. Well, that suprises me now, I thought it's less, anyway, 22%, not even a quarter, can't change a lot. Even if you dwell in superior enlightenment sourrounded by heavenly beings during the 220 minutes, if you do bad practice for the rest of the day, there will be no change in your life. 78% is just too much. The same calculation goes for the four 9 p.m. sesshin days and the five 3 p.m. sesshin days we have every month. Even if you spend those 9 days having a good practice, if you conduct bad practice during the 21 remaining days of the month it will be the 21 days having the bigger impact on your life, simply because 70% outweigh 30%. The other way round, if you have good practice during non-sitting time, it will lastingly improve your life, even if your Zazen is very bad. So it matters what you do and how you do it the main part of the day. For me it always comes back to this: unless you don't face and work with your problems, bad practice, etc. there won't be any material change. There is no other way round.

A very important thing at Antaiji is the work and how you do it. During samu (work) there are some jobs I like and others I dislike. When I am appointed to do jobs which are not my favourite ones after half an hour or an hour maybe I realize that in fact the job itself is not so bad, it was just my mind creating preferences. The voice inside my head was telling me to not like this job, to feel bad because I have to do it. Samu days bring order in my life. They ground me. Physical activity is important to wealth, etc. and if this physical activity contributes added value to a self-sufficiency monastery, well it maybe also makes a little bit sense.

The evening before sesshin we do Rinko, alternating, everybody prepares a part of Dogen Zenji's book about how to be a good tenzo (cook). There I learn a lot from Ante-san and Daisen-san my two fellow pracitioners. They are much younger than me but already very progressed. Butsuin-san stayed with us for three months, he is 23 years old but has already a very profound understanding of Buddhist stuff. Naturally, not having to think about it too hard. When I was 23, in my head there were things like girls, money, cars, party and so on but buddhism, thanks, but no, thanks. So in many respects those youngsters are more progressed than I was when I was their age and even than I am now. Okay. But, this is not a competition, I keep telling myself. Typical western mind. Anyway, here at Antaiji, with my age I belong to the old guys. Also a new experience. Like someone wakes you up from your "I believe I'm young" dream, telling you, "you know what, now you are old, you belong to the oldies". Thanks. But, in terms of Zen-buddhist practice and experience at a monastery I am still a beginner, a junior, which balances things again a little bit.

In September we were going to Osaka to do Takuhatsu (monk's begging) for five days. Completely new experience, physically exhausting. Samu and Takuhatsu is work, but there is also ease at Antaiji. On average once a month we do something out of schedule, for example when we brought Eiryu-san to Tottori train station, we visited a temple on our way and also we altogether went to the beach. Or, we were allowed to do a hiking day, which we changed into an onsen (Japanese spa) day, just relaxing. Or, once a year, there is a firework in Hamasaka, the next town, to celebrate the upcoming public holiday, we went there and had a good time. Also after a Sesshin we might give a small party. Just ease, relax.

Winter will get tough. I am actually afraid of Rohatsu sesshin, 7 days, last day until 00:30 a.m., last sesshin in cold hondo (no sesshin in January and a little bit relaxter sesshin in heated hiroma [living room] in February and March). But, winter is also ease, almost no samu, just reading, learning, preparing rinkos and a longer paper about a subject of your choice. So winter is maybe like everything else at Antaiji, sometimes tough and sometimes easy, like is or should be life.

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