My Teacher’s House

Shinyu Miyaura and the History of Antaiji in Hyogo According to Muho Noelke
(by Edward Moore)

II – A Delicate Flower and the Trump of Zen (2)

Edward: In Arthur Braverman’s book Living and Dying in Zazen, he highlights how he always had an issue with Uchiyama.
Muho: He describes in that book these discussions about who was the best Zen teacher. In the end, someone says, Sawaki is Sawaki and Uchiyama is Uchiyama. I can imagine that at the time, more than now, people who came to Japan to practice Zen had the idea they needed to get satori and could only do so from an enlightened master.

That’s basically what you heard from the books of D.T. Suzuki. I read this stuff when I was young. Somewhere he says, on this planet there are maybe five enlightened masters. So not any ordained priest is an enlightened master. It’s not so easy to find these guys because only an enlightened master can discern another enlightened master. As an amateur, you can’t judge it. And some people say they are enlightened when they are not.

When you’ve read these books, you come to Japan with this expectation that you need to find one of these enlightened teachers but you can never be sure. In the Soto-shu, there’s 15,000 temples. Most of them don’t operate as dojos. There’s at least 30 or so training monasteries. In Rinzai, the number is the same. If 10 per cent of these monasteries has a genuine teacher, how can I be sure. But anywhere you go, of course they will say there’s no problem here with our roshi, he is enlightened.

I could imagine that people like Arthur Braverman, when they came to Antaiji, would think, there’s a good number of people here and there was this famous Sawaki roshi who was here in the past, so maybe I kind find one of these enlightened guys. But if you ask about enlightenment at Antaiji they just say, forget about it. As long as you want enlightenment you’re a dog barking for a sausage but the Buddha will never throw that sausage for you. Just shut up and sit for 10 years. After 10 years, will I get my enlightenment? The answer is no, sit for another 10 years. Then after 20 years, sit another 10 years. Then after 30 years, probably your mindset would have changed to a certain degree. There’s not even a promise that after 30 years you will get the enlightenment.

People were probably seriously worried that they couldn’t get this enlightenment that they came for at Antaiji. It wasn’t even the biggest thing that he read the newspaper at lunch. Some teachers get a 100 Rolls-Royces or have sex with their followers. But all this would be fine as long as he was enlightened. But Uchiyama was different. Sometimes he would say things like, satori depends on the weather. And that was not so motivating for the hippies who came here.

Before he came to Antaiji, Arthur Braverman was practicing with a koan roshi named Tetsugyu Ban. He was one of the few foreigners there and the roshi liked him. He let him pass these koans. When he went to Uchiyama, he just laughed it off. I think that was something that impressed Arthur Braverman. His teacher told him he got kensho but he didn’t feel he had changed so much. Then he meets Uchiyama and he just laughs at this kensho.

But, over time, Braverman is looking at Uchiyama and he doesn’t see much there maybe. Except a very honest, intellectual guy. And he is practicing at Antaiji but he doesn’t transform to the degree that he might of expected.

One thing I found interesting in Arthur Braverman’s book, which I also experienced myself, both when I was a student and teacher, is when he visits Uchiyama’s house when he is very old in Nagano. He has a talk with him and he doesn’t want to leave. Uchiyama also doesn’t tell him to leave but it seems that he is waiting for him to leave. I think Braverman is hoping that Uchiyama will invite him to stay the night. Eventually, Uchiyama’s wife tells him to leave.

Reading between the lines, there is this secret desire – maybe Watanabe had the same – that you want to be part of the family. You want the teacher to be like a daddy to you.

That was something Watanabe was good at. If you played the good boy that he expected you to be, he would be your daddy. He’d be very affectionate, drink sake with you and take you to the onsen. He would always welcome you by his side. Uchiyama wasn’t that kind of guy. He would sleep until 10am and then after dinner would be in his room. If Watanabe was organising a party, he would come out and tell them to keep it down. Watanabe would ask him why he needed to sleep from 10pm to 10am.

Edward: Were the Westerners who practiced with Watanabe, looking at him thinking he was enlightened?
Muho: I never heard from any of the foreigners. There were these three Italians and maybe they did, but not the ones that practiced with Uchiyama. I don’t hear of anyone that got along so well with Watanabe. Recently, I keep comparing him to Trump.

Eko is similar – it’s this Showa Japanese thing. Even young Japanese today have difficulties with this pseudo-family relation between people in a hierarchy. Like when you stand above them, you act like the older brother and when you’re younger, you’re the younger brother. In Japanese, there is no word for just brother or sister, it’s either older or younger.

All of these hippies probably left the US because they didn’t want to be drafted into the Vietnam war. They didn’t want this militaristic style that Watanabe promoted. They were probably more drawn to this laid back Uchiyama style. If they wanted Watanabe’s strict practice, then they would have stayed.

For Watanabe, it was 24-hour practice or you weren’t part of the family.

Edward: So were the majority of Uchiyama’s sangha hippies?
Muho: The foreigners were mostly hippies. As for the Japanese, a lot were involved in the student movement. But compared to America, in Japan the student movement was a lot more politically motivated rather than about free love or smoking marijuana. In Europe, it was a mix of the American thing, breaking out of the Christian frame, but also the Marxist, Maoist ideas that were floating around.

There was a mutual influence between these foreign hippies and the young Japanese. But they were living in quite different worlds. Even these Japanese students were still pretty old fashioned in the eyes of the hippies of the time. Especially with relationships.

Edward: Was Watanabe’s teaching style hands-off or hands-on?
Muho: Hands-on. He wasn’t so much about form but he would always voice his opinion and also connect with people like, hey let’s have a cigarette behind the hondo.

Edward: I find it interesting that he sounds like this sociable guy but you say he was difficult to deal with.
Muho: Well, he was this older brother who would care of his younger brother. But if you didn’t want that older brother and said, hey I can take of myself – or I don’t want to smoke because I don’t actually smoke – then you wouldn’t have a good relationship with him because you weren’t taking part in the practice. But if you did go for that smoke with him, you’d talk with him and maybe get something from that and love the fact that you had this older brother and daddy. Maybe you would even grow and bloom from such a relationship.

But if you were a student of Uchiyama’s and you were following his teachings, you’d ask why you had to smoke and drink sake with this Watanabe guy and listen to these dharma talks that are basically watered down Uchiyama with a little bit of Red Bull in there.