Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 7
My Way to Antaiji

When I first came to Antaiji I was 22. I had been practicing zazen in several different dojos for 6 years, and when I did not attend a dojo, I was sitting daily by myself. Still, sitting for an hour or two daily was not enough for me, practicing in a dojo seemed more like a hobby than a way of life.

I was 16 when I encountered zazen, and at age 17 I was pretty sure that this is what I wanted to do for life. It seemed to be the thing that I always had been looking for, without even knowing the dimension of space in which I might find it. Anyway, my original plan was to go to Japan and become a monk right after high school. Why go to university to study what seemed boring anyway? I used to be fascinated with mathematics and physics until then, but how do those subjects really relate to my own life? If anything made sense, it had to be Zen.

Everybody tried to talk me out of it, but nobody could really convince me until the teacher who had originally introduced me to the practice of zazen recommended that I wait a little, study Japanese, and qualify myself for a job to make a living when I come back to Germany. I had never really thought about making a living until then, but I was warned that there were too many cases of people who ended up living in Zen monasteries for life, just because they had no other choice. They could not return to social life, because they would not be able to make a living there. I could not imagine that such a thing could be possible: Weren't those Zen monks some kind of super-human beings, who understood everything? Nothing should be impossible for someone who has mastered Zen - so why worry now about getting a job?

Anyway, I decided to study Japanese before I was going to become a monk in Japan. As it happened to be a fashion at the time to think that elemantary particles as well as galaxies and the universe at a whole obey to the same laws that Shakyamuni or Lao-tse taught, I decided to also take up philosophy and physics at university. Eventually I would not only become a Zen master, but also win the Nobel prize, I thought. After two and a half years though, I realized that studying elemantary particle physics alone is a life-time vocation. So I stopped.
In Germany there is no B.A., so you can not graduate from university until you get your Master's degree. When I was 22, I could not wait any longer to get closer to what I thought was "real Zen", and I decided to take one year off to study at Kyoto University. During the first three months, I attend the weekly Zazen meetings at the Soto Zen Center in Kyoto, and the monthly sesshins in Sonobe, outside Kyoto. University life in Japan proofed to be just as boring as in Germany, and Zen was not a reality in the daily life of Kyoto. It existed for tourists, but there were not even dojos that would function on a daily basis. Zen priests were business men with no interest in practice, and temples would be operated only as cementaries, not dojos for practice. After months at the university, I even learned that my professor was a Soto Zen priest - he certainly did not look like one, and at university he taught Kant. The Soto Zen Center was my only refuge, and during the summer I decided to spend two months in Shorinji, the sesshin temple in Sonobe.

During these two months of Juli and August I got a first taste of "adult practice". I had thought that people at the temple would take me by the hand and teach me everything. It started promising when they put me in the kitchen on my first day, as an assitant to the cook. I was supposed to learn for the first week from the main cook, so that I could do the job on my own and be the cook during the second week. I had never cooked more sophisticated food than scrambled eggs, so I was not quite sure if one week of assisting the cook would be enough time for me to learn the job, especially when the "main cook" told me that he himself had arrived just a week ago from Sweden and that it was the first day for him being responsible alone in the kitchen. Three days later he decided that the climate was much to hot and humid for him and was gone. So I became the "main cook" for the rest of the ten days, after only three days of "training" under a stressed out Swede. I asked the resident priest how he could possibly expect me to be able to cook for the sangha, knowing absolutely nothing about the art. Should not someone competent teach me first? His answer was: "This is what Dogen Zenji calls 'self-realized-samadhi'. You have to read the Shobogenzo!" I had more lessons in "self-realized-samadhi" during August, when Buddhist temples around Japan get very buzy with ceremonies for the ancestors of the parishioners of their temples. The resident priest too was very buzy helping out at a big temple in Kyoto, and for two weeks he would come back late at night to sleep at Shorinji, only to be back on his way to Kyoto early the next morning. Everyone else had taken off for their summer holidays, so I found myself following the schedule all on my own. Running through the temple at 5am with the wake up bell, although their was no one to wake up. Sitting for two hours in zazen, preparing breakfast, cleaning, doing samu, heating the bath and after dinner two hours of zazen by my own. For someone who went to a Zen temple to receive instruction in "Zen", an excellent teaching indeed. "Self-realized-samadhi", or as I call it now: Adult practice.

It was at my begin of my stay at Shorinji that I heard from a practioner called George about Antaiji. George had spent there two weeks during the spring, and although he could not communicate with the all-Japanese monks, he said that the 24 hours of their daily lives there were lived "in deep samadhi". The resident priest in Shorinji also proofed to be a monk originally from Antaiji, and I got exited about the possibility of getting an introduction to Antaiji and see it with my very own eyes. Everything I heard about Antaiji sounded like the "real Zen" I was still dreaming about: Self-sufficiency, cooking without gas, no heat in winter except from a wood stove, two monthly sesshins. And above all, only Japanese monks! I had enough of all these Western fake practioners, I needed to practice with some real Japanese guys. Finally, I would get some real instruction in "Zen"!
Thinking about it now, I can not understand how come that I never woke up to all the fake in my own mind?

Anyway, I got my introduction to Antaiji, and I decided to stop my studies at Kyoto University to practice for six months at Antaiji. I arrived on September 30th of 1990, two weeks after a typhoon had washed away the four kilometer long road that led up to the temple. Some of the monks seemed to be still in a kind of shock, but I couldn't see why: Isn't it a matter of course that a "real Zen monastery" lies remotely in the mountains, unaccesible for normal people, even without mail? I was rather surprised that they had electricity and a telephone there - shouldn't real Zen monks be able to do without?
You can imagine how much more surprised I was when the sesshin started the following day: I had heard that Antaiji practiced "pure Zen" in the tradition of Dogen Zenji, shikantaza without any mixtures, sesshins without toys. What did I find? The meditation hall revibrating with monks snoring, some dropping backwards off their cushion, others banging their heads in the wall!
(to be continued)

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