The Shit Paper
...After you have finished washing your ass, put the water bucket in its place. Then take another shit stick to wipe your ass dry. Or you can use shit paper. Both dick and ass should be thoroughly wiped dry...
(Shôbôgenzô Senjô)

last month * * * next month

Too much is not enough?!
(Adult practice - Part V)

"You don't have to behave like a baby too!"
My daughter Megumi was born in June, and since then I heard this remark quite a number of times from my wife. When a baby is born, sometimes its older siblings start to behave in a baby-like way to attract their mother's attention, which is directed towards the newborn. This starts to be a problem when the father, who should rather care for the baby himself too, is the one who becomes infantile and pretends to be a baby. It is especially a problem, when the father writes about "adult practice" every month in the shit paper. Does he try to pretend to be an adult, just to hide the fact that he really is just a baby himself? Maybe it is because he himself is still a baby that the infantile people around him bother him so much? Anyway, "adult practice" has to start with reflecting on ourselves, it seems.

Last month I was talking about "training" and "practice" and came to the conclusion that "adult practice" means to live as a buddha and bodhisattva - "practice" meaning "to live" while an "adult" is a "buddha and bodhisattva". In Japanese, the word "adult" is written with two Chinese characters which literally translate as a "great person". Usually they are pronounced "otona" in Japanese, but as a Buddhist technical term they are read "dainin". "Dainin" in fact happens to be a translation of the Sanskrit "mahasattva", which means nothing other than a "buddha and bodhisattva". In most countries, you are considered an adult when you turn 18 or 20 or 21, but how many of us can claim to be true adults, that means mahasattvas, just because we have reached that age? Even though we claim to practice what we call the "buddha way", too often we are only adults by age, while our practice is as childish as ever. So, what does it mean to be a true adult?

In the "Eight awarenesses of true adults" fascicle of the Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji lists eight characteristics of a true adult. The first two are "small desire" and "knowing that one has enough".
When I was practicing as a monk in a Rinzai temple in Kyoto, one day our group could just not seem to get enough money on our daily begging round, so we wound up begging until we realized that we would not make it back to the temple in time for lunch. Being late is not an option in Rinzai Zen, so we had to use our money to hitch a ride in a taxi. The first question the driver asked was:
"Have you never heard of the first two characteristics of a true adult?"
"Of what?!", the leader of our group replied.
"I mean the truth that you will always have enough if you don't desire more than life at this precise moment has to offer to you. The more you try to get, the more you will suffer." - In Kyoto taxidrivers usually know more about Buddhism then Zen monks, who train there to get licences as "full fledged Zen priests".
"You talk to much", was all our leader could say. It seems he was no match for that driver.

But really, it is easy to say that "you will always have enough if you don't desire more than life at this precise moment has to offer to you." It is not so easy to realize and mainfest it in one's life, though. We never seem to get the satisfaction we are looking for. We can't never get what we want, and we can't even really get what we need, or at least that is how it seems to us. Or isn't "satisfaction" the absolute minimum that we expect from life? This, again, puts us in line with that big child that still wants "candy, toys and satori", we cry for happiness and satisfaction just like a baby cries for milk.

Zazen at Antaiji is good for nothing. You do not gain spiritually, and you do not get any pocket money either. You end up loosing - loosing ideas and ideologies, and you even end up spending your money buying things for the temple. As an unsui (monk practicing under the guidance of a master), I was not really worried about this. I was convinced that Zen practice is about loosing rather than gaining, and who would ever expect to get paid for Zazen? Begging during the winter break would usually yield enough money to pay for the health insurance (about 150 dollars a year) that covers 70% of hospital bills, although not enough money to pay for social security (about 120 dollars per month) without which you will have no support during old age. But isn't poverty a matter of course for a Zen monk, and how could we worry about our old age, when we should practice as if we had to die today?
Now, as the abbot of Antaiji, I still find myself without a personal income, and my perspective has changed: I have to take responisibilty for my wife and baby now. How am I supposed to provide for them? As an unsui, I could take time off during the winter to beg, now someone has to take care of the temple - which leaves almost no time for personal begging. As an unsui, a tooth brush and some underwear would be enough possesions, now a growing child demands more expenditures. What will happen when she starts to go to school? What about college? What happens when I die?
If I think about life in this way, it will be impossible for me to realize that I have enough with what life offers to me at this precise moment. Even if someone gave me a million dollars, I would still be worried about the future, about inflation, about thieves... I would never have enough. How childish!
I have to remember what I am here for: Adult practice. I made the decision to become a monk and practice at Antaiji, I agreed to become abbot, and I also married and had a baby out of my own will. What could I possibly complain about? Even without money, I and everyone in Antaiji have air to breath, water to drink, and whatever vegetables to eat that grow in the garden. Even though the harvest is poor this year, I never heard of anyone starving to death here. Dogen Zenji says that you have to be poor to practice the way. What better life than this could I be wishing for then?

Poverty of course does not mean only few material possesions. First of all, it means purity of mind. Sawaki Roshi says:
"If the glass of water in your mind is completely full, it will flow over when you receive more. You have to empty that glass of water - that means to throw away your personal ideas and ego attachments. Only thus can you develop an attitude that allows you to listen to and accept everything that your true teacher offers to you."
Adult practice starts with letting go off our egos. Without this attitude, we will never get what we want, because we can not listen, we can not accept the teaching, we see no instruction, we develop no faith in zazen, and after a couple of years of "practice" we will finally realize that we are just wasting our time - blaming it on others or on zazen, without seeing that it is the "glasses of water" in our own minds that are overflowing with ego-centered ideas. "Too much" is the reason for our never getting enough. To find real adult satisfaction, we do not need more - we have to lose more, let go off ourselves.

Maybe you have enough already, still I would like to continue to explore the world of an adult for a little bit more next month.


Tasting the water

Why travel such a long way to come to a Japanese monastery for the purpose of engaging in a practice which is expressly "useless" and "good for nothing"? Why not just be sitting in an ordinary traffic jam back home? Once upon a time these sorts of questions would have seemed interesting to me. Today I only raise them because Muho has asked me to write something for the Shitpaper. Thinking about it now, the question of what may have brought me to Antaiji seems kind of unreal. One is either here, or one is not, and the rest are bubbles in the mind. I don't know if I had any particular idea or expactations before coming here. If I did, I seem to have lost them since arriving, perhaps in sweat during samu. Not having been here for long, I can't really say much about what life is like at Antaiji, except that it feels natural and complete in the way it is. I remember my teacher in Australia, Ekai Korematsu Osho, saying once that Zen practice is like a glass of water. The glass allows the water to be what it is without being spilled or having to be frozen into a block of ice. A good thing about practicing Zen at Antaiji has been that the form of its glass happens to be a little different to the one I have known to date. There is less chanting, different sound signals, a different style of meal practice, and so on. It is useful sometimes to be drinking from a different glass of water and taste the water all the same. In general, there is less emphasis here on ritual elements of Zen and more on physical work as a means of sustaining one's own body and that of the shared practice. Whatever the differences, there is always Zazen as the common ground to return to time and again. My stay at Antaiji is only for five weeks, but I am glad to be here, and grateful to the abbot and the sangha for making me welcome.

(Note: Seikan uses the same metaphor of a glass of water that Sawaki Roshi used in the quote above, but he is using it to illustrate a completely different point - just in case you should think there is a contradiction. Some people see a contradiction in Dogen Zenji's Genjokoan when he says that seeing and hearing with whole-body-and-mind is not like the moon reflected in water, and then goes on to say that a person having enlightenment is like the moon reflected in water. But there is no contradiction, Dogen Zenji is just using the same metaphor to illustrate different points. Seeing and hearing with whole-body-and-mind are simply different from a person having enlightenment, and ideas in our mind are different from Zen practice. Muho)

Seikan soaking in "Antaiji" water

Somen and Soy Bean Crush
Doing the Tenzo at Antaiji

"Tenzo" is one of those temple words which ordinary Japanese people don't know. When I first came to Antaiji, my Japanese wasn't so good (things haven't really changed!), and I couldn't understand all these special words which weren't in the dictionary. Another one is "shuku" which means "rice gruel" but most people say "kayu".

Anyway, the tenzo is the temple cook, but it's more than just cooking. It's answering the phone, preparing the bath, representing Antaiji, and serving the community, 24 hours a day. Even concerning the food, calculating the numbers, setting the table and ensuring the meal is on time, seem to be a bigger job then the cooking itself!

Even if you have had cooking experience, doing the tenzo is full of difficulties. You need to work with wood fires, because there's no gas here. In particular, this makes cooking tempura tricky, because the heat is not so easy to control. There's only 30 seconds difference between good and burnt tempura, so when the phone rings and the tenzo must answer, it's real trouble!

I learnt initially from Eiryu-san, who cooked traditional Japanese food very well. However, he liked to stick quite rigidly to the "rice/miso soup/a few side dishes" format. The tenzo must think of his own ideas of what to cook, and in the beginning I didn't have many, so I tried to cook the same stuff as I did in Australia, Western food like tomato sauce pastas and risottos. That dish, the risotto, has been a bit controversial. Eiryu-san looked at me in disbelief when I said we put the uncooked rice into the frying pan. It didn't fit into the Japanese nomenclature of either normal rice or fried rice. So Eiryu thought I was crazy and I thought he was uncultured for not appreciating the intricacies of the Italian way of cooking rice. I decided it was pointless to put all this effort into a rice dish when the Japanese eat rice with every meal anyway. The risotto also got me into trouble another time when I underestimated the amount of rice needed for seven people, and the cooking time, leaving the brown rice far too hard. The tenzo isn't a popular person if he or she produces too litlle or inedible food!

One amazing part of the tenzo here is simply walking outside the kitchen, in the middle of the mountains, and picking some vegetables to be used that same day. There are also many wild edible plants around, and in spring it's great to hunt for "sansai" (mountain vegetables) such as the delicious bamboo shoot, but you have to be quicker than the wild boars! We eat with the seasons here, something which I now appreciate but never thought about or did living a city life.

While we eat according to the seasons, we also eat according to what we have. Antaiji is a self-sufficient community - the tenzo can't just simply dream up a menu and go buy the ingredients. Instead of thinking of what to cook and then searching for the ingredients, the tenzo must first ascertain which ingredients we have and then decide what to cook. It's a complete revolution in one's approach to cooking!

Visitors generally seem to like the food here, but for the long-term residents, all of whom are part of the tenzo rotation, there are two difficult problems. One is "kara" or raw soy bean crush, the by-product of the tofu-making process. Another is somen, a type of Japanese noodle, which we receive so often from donations that we accumulated many kilograms. How do we usr these guys in a dish? We've tried frying, deep-frying, using them as base for salads and burgers, and included them in "chawan-mushi", soups and anything else we could think of... Still the long-termers here seem to recognise the somen or crush and, sick of eating it every day, try to avoid it... ahh! A tenzo's nightmare. So the clever tenzo learns to place the somen and crush dishes near the visitor's place at the table!

Ultimately, as Shinryu Suzuki said, cooking is "working on yourself". The two main activities at Antaiji (apart from Zazen) are the tenzo and samu (outside work). At the beginning, whenever I was tenzo, I would look outside at the green trees, blue sky and shining sun and think, "I wish I was doing samu today!" But whenever I was doing samu, and I was covered in sweat with aching muscles, I would think, "I wish I was the tenzo today!" How human. We never seem to be satisfied with our present condition. So doing the tenzo here has been, and continues to be, great Zen practice. Firstly by serving others and secondly by learning to drop off our almost constant desire to be somewhere else, and settling down in the present moment, concentrating 100% on whatever we are doing, chopping carrots, starting a fire or collecting wild vegetables for another delicious tempura lunch.

The Dark Side of the Moon

No, this isn't about Pink Floyd. It's actually from Dogen's Shobogenzo Genjokoan, "When one side is realised, the other side is dark." Zen is full of contradictions, or should I say, life itself is full of contradictions and Zen merely highlights these without trying to intellectually reconcile them, something which is impossible. But the Zen way does resolve these problems in a way which allows us to live fully, despite having nothing to cling to, in this mysterious impermanent world.

So firstly, we have form and emptiness. What is this world? Is it form? Or is it emptiness? Do things exist? Or don't they? Is there essence? Or isn't there? This question has baffled philosophers for centuries, leading thinkers like Plato and Descartes to come down on the side of form and essence, with Plato positing his "World of Forms" in another realm, unchanging molds of everything is this world, while Descartes boldly declared "I think, therefore I am", positing this "I" as a definitely existing essence, something to be sure of, to count on, to cling to.

Then we have the nihilists who insist there is nothing, only emptiness. So who is right? From the Zen viewpoint, both are wrong. There is form. There is emptiness. There is either only form, or only emptiness. Which side of the moon are you looking at? We can look at the world as only form, treating all objects and people as real. When we touch the heater, it's hot. That's real. That's all there is in the world of form - there's no room for philosophising about "realness". Or we can look at the world as only emptiness, seeing everything as impermanent and without essence, always changing, truly empty. Both worlds are this world. Both ways of looking are your life.

Another way to say this is: there is both being (form) and non-being (emptiness). There is nothing we can call essence, there is nothing permanent, and yet in the middle of all this nothingness, something moves. Something lives. Something breathes. You, I, this pen ... they are all nothing, they have no self, and yet they are there, changing every moment. So the Zen person uses this somethingness, this pen for example,living in the world of nothingness.

Carlos Castaneda was always searching for a rational reconciliation of these two views of the moon, but Don Juan knew that was impossible. He would tell Carlos, "The world depends on our perception" or "Reality is perception". Carlos would complain, "But Don Juan, if someone else saw what I just saw, would he see the same thing?" Carlos wanted to know if the world was subjective or objective. Again, from the Zen view, from the "Right View" of the Noble Eightfold Path, the answer is neither. Or both. When I look at this heater, I can only see some sides of it. Furthermore, I bring all my judgements, preconceptions and desires to my viewing - maybe I like the heater because it's a cold day oustide, etc. However, you see different sides of the heater and perhaps dislike it because you are already wearing a warm jumper. That's emptiness. But when I touch the heater, it's hot. When you touch the heater, it's hot. That's form. When there's emptiness, there's only emptiness and no form. When there's form, there's only form and no emptiness. Which side of the moon are you looking at?

It's important to be flexible enough to live knowing that we can't intellectually reconcile these two sides of the moon. Perhaps this is why training Zen monks are called "unsui" which means "clouds and water". Clouds can pass through highest mountains, and water around sturdiest rocks, due to their flexibility. Bodhidharma's famous relpy to the Chinese emperor - that Buddhism's chief virtue was "nothing holy" - must be balanced against the social norms and values by which society runs. For example, we don't go and piss in a beautiful Zen garden just because nothing is holy. We need to see both sides.

Sometimes it is very frustrating trying to achieve this balance. For instance, take zazen itself. What is zazen? Some people say, "Zazen is everything. Zazen is eating, sleeping, working". If this is true, then there's no need to sit on the cushion facing the wall. Other people say, "Zazen is only sitting dwon on the cushion". If this is true, then we should be spending more time sitting and less time working, helping others, etc. How do you resolve that? It's similar to being too serious in your practice, or not serious enough. Occasionally here at Antaiji we receive visitors who come with so many expectations that they leave the very next day after they come, because they think that practice here is not earnest enough and they have nothing to learn! Being too serious can be a hindrance to the Way. But on the other hand, if you drink Japanese rice wine all night and have no motivation to sit, then that's not following the Buddha Way either. So it is exactly here at this juncture that the Zen person sits, lives and follows the Way without bothering to reconcile all this intellectually, and yet, at the same time, still knowing what he or she is doing, still acting with direction. This direction comes from lack of expectations - I'll talk about this a bit later.

Contradictions can also resolve themselves naturally. For example, it's common enough to arrive at a Zen monastery like Antaiji and become frustrated by all the rules, the schedule and the lack of personal time. It's easy to feel like you have no freedom. However it is exactly within this structure that we can find great freedom. It's the freedom of letting go, of going beyond your likes and dislikes. When we are doing hard work, we tend to wish it was break time; when we are in the middle of a painful sesshin, we tend to wish it was meal time. But once we awaken to impermanence, and see both the breaks and meals, sweat and pain, appear and disappear, constantly, we can let go and just accept the cycle for what it is. I know I have to carry heavy logs in a few hours, but I also know it will finish; I know I will eat a nice dinner tonight, and it will finish, too. Why waste time thinking about it? Pain comes and goes, pleasure comes and goes. By living here at Antaiji for a long time, you can learn to let go of trying to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Just accept both as part of life, and settle down in the present moment, living through the pleasure and pain with 100% concentration, until even labels like "pleasure" and "pain" will disappear, and there is only "100% life" remaining.

Zen is famous for its short, sharp, wise sayings, and one which seems to address this issue of life's paradoxes is "seek without seeking, act without acting, do without doing". What does this mean? In short, it means acting without expectations. This is an absolutely essential part of the Zen way. In his commentary on Dogen's "Tenzo Kyokun", Uchiyama Roshi discusses the paradox of "impermanence" and "cause and effect". On the one hand, Buddhism teaches that everything is impermanent and has no meaning or essence. On the other hand, Buddhism also teaches that we are subject to conditions, to the endless cycle of cause and effect. If everything is impermanent and nothing matters, we can just go and out and do what we want, right? But then cause and effect appears. The lustful young man contracts a sexually transmitted disease after having a good time with prostitutes. If there is only cause and effect, we can spend years over-working to hoard money and possession, right? But then impermanence appears. The social climbing businessman dies suddenly on the eve of retirement. The former is detached, but directionless; the latter has direction, but also attachment. How do you resolve that?

By acting without expectation, we are detached yet have a direction. We act in the present. We have a purpose, even goals, plans and schedules. But the Zen person is not attached to these, but is rather like the farmer who plants the rice crops in spring, not knowing whether there will be a harvest in autumn. That is beyond control, dependent on the sun, the rain, the typhoons ... normal "doing" is doing with the thought of gain, but "doing without doing" is acting freely, accepting everything you encounter as your life, putting in 100% effort in both pleasurable and painful situaions, without bothering to expect anything in return, just accecting humbly whatever the universe may throw your way.

Here at Antaiji, this paradox is a very real part of everyday life. We sit many hours of zazen, but we are told to sit without expectations. No reward. We don't gain any money, qualifications or fame from this. So why do we sit? It's easy to lose motivation in such a circumstance, but the point is, zazen is beyond gain and loss. Zazen is true "doing without doing", where we stop being human for a while and cease thinking about "what's in it for me". We just sit right in the middle of this contradiction with strong faith in the power of zazen, and abandon any attempts at an intellectual resolution. That's Dogen's way of "shikan taza" or "just sitting".

So ... which side of the moon are you looking at?