Yearbook 2007


Shinju (Canada, 27yo, Musician)

One finds surprisingly few Buddha figures on the Antaiji grounds. Besides the Hondo's Asura-like, black-lacquered, gold-leaf statue, there is a scattering of smaller figures, including some Bodhisattvas (above the hallway west of the Hiroma: Jizo?) and carvings of Sawaki roshi and other Antaiji alumnus.

Yet there is no Kannon. The beloved Kanzeon Bosatsu, or Guanyin as she is revered in China, is the female personification of the ancient Avalokiteshvara, an androgynous deity of 1,000 arms and eyes (or ears?), to hear, and respond to, the cries of the world--the suffering of all sentient beings. She is a complement to Manjushri (wisdom manifest, bearing a diamond-sharp sword), and is sometimes seen by Westerners as lacking from a strict monastic Zen practice.

I arrived at Antaiji in the ripeness of summer (2007), with hot, late-August samu and the usual ebb and flow of visitors. Within a month of navigating the rythyms of schedule, soji, samu, and sesshin, the world turned upside down: Jikishin, then Jikai, both left. The vacuum created by two longest-standing residents' absence was filled, as a bathtub's gurgle when it empties, with a couple of us, ranging from 6 months to six weeks experience (ie, Maeda and I), struggling to cover the bases (Antaiji's "responsibility list") and perhaps more importantly, to feed 5 to 9 hungry stomachs each day. "Tenzo training" became a priority.

Like Daido-san, the natural beauty of Antaiji was, and is, a vital colour in my daily practice. Like a vast backdrop of calm, the trees and hills around Antaiji are a reminder and a return, a haven. I was used to the life of the pilgrim, the wanderer, the mountain hermit, taking Ryokan, Thoreau, and Stonehouse as mentors. Yet my time in sangha, although at times suffocating, has offered the slow realization that the lonely way is really the life of a child--not growing up, lacking connection or concern, and also responsibility. Of course, the hermit or wandering monk can walk with all beings, but only after suffering (yes: and learning from) the at-times grating tensions and geologic upheavals of sangha life.

Our root vow (the four great ones splitting out from it like light through a prism) is to save all beings--like Kannon's arms, like the tenzo in the kitchen, performing concrete work, palpable, simple, and yes, being busy, multi-tasking. This practice of cooking for multiple mouths at Antaiji is a great honour, and a heavy demand - each day to be more thorough and meticulous on the one hand, and sincere on the other. As one facet of being a giver (an adult), as well as a student, at Antaiji, the axis is continually flipping...

So I struggle with the fire, the busyness, the pickles, and the demands for impeccability and cleanliness, which are a mirror to dirty spots in my own self, my relationship to this body, others, and our precious tools. I recall often the Tao te ching (chapter 61):
He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.
and also Confucius:
In the archer there is a resemblance to the mature person. When he misses the mark, he turns and seeks the reason for his failure in himself.
Who am I cooking for? has become a koan. Cooking not for my (small) self, but for big Self that does include me but also those around me, taking into account many mouths, many tastes, and many viewpoints. Challenged to include more each day, embracing and widening with the backdrop of zazen and landscape.

And "tenzo training" has also been a thorny teacher, surfacing the difficulties of opening ones' mouth (risking ugliness, unlike the virtuous, obedient apprentice who doesn't say a word), and moving past the rigidities of "this is the only way". But standing behind my actions fully (rather than half-inhabiting them) has made them more palpable and accountable--like a stone in the hand, the better our grip, the farther (or defter) we can sling it.

But of course, the tenzo is not alone. He doesn't have 1,000 arns, however deft or sincere. Yet perhaps, learning to dance with the help of sangha (in many forms, from setting out shoyu and hashi, to the really true saying, "a hit is a gift"), also in the kitchen and outside of it, we can bring to life a blazing Avalokiteshvara in our midst, each of us a limb of this magnificent creature, actualizing a fierce compassion palpably: Kannon truly manifest at Antaiji.

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