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 (4)

Edward: How did Miyaura get along with Watanabe? Did he look up to him?

Muho: I think in the beginning it was ok. It could be that he was looking up to him but that there was an unspoken stress as well. He was one of the original Watanabe students who made it easy for him to deal with Uchiyama’s people. The new students were unconditionally loyal, while the old ones would resist.

Edward: Was he particularly close to Watanabe?

Muho: I have the feeling he was not the very closest. There was another guy who was probably the closest. He was like a cult follower. He left after seven or eight years because there was a priest in Hiroshima who was building a new temple and needed a priest. He asked Watanabe if he could have one of Antaiji’s monks. So Watanabe said, of course choose whoever you want. He picked the top guy, the one closest to Watanabe. Watanabe let him go. For whatever reason, I don’t know.

If this guy hadn’t left, I’m sure he would have made him abbot because that was the person he trusted the most. He was also involved in Watanabe’s conflict with Miyaura much later on. He was often used by Watanabe as a communicator to Miyaura. He was my teacher’s senpai but age-wise and practice-wise they were not so far from each other. He wasn’t a super smart guy but he had a university education and could read books. He was a bit more intellectual than Miyaura.

Edward: How long was Watanabe in Hyogo?

Muho: He was here for 10 years after having been in charge of Antaiji for two years in Kyoto.

Edward: With Watanabe, why were the 30 people that moved to Hyogo expected to stay for 10 years?

Muho: It was just the philosophy from Uchiyama. Sit silently for the first 10 years, then another 10 years and finally 10 years more. That’s something he said at his retirement speech in 1975. But when Uchiyama himself became abbot of Antaiji, that was less than 25 years after being ordained by Sawaki. So you should not take those 30 years too literally.

A lot of Uchiyama’s students got transmission after four or five years. It wasn’t that they stayed with him for 10 years. Most left earlier.

But then there were others who stayed for 15 years at Antaiji. Some stayed for five years at Kyoto, then another 10 years at Hyogo. The Italians stayed for seven years or something. What monks told you when you came was: if you are serious about this, just sit silently for 10 years. But very few of the people who came here actually stayed for 10 years.

Uchiyama, Watanabe, my teacher, and myself, were the only people who stayed at Antaiji for more than 20 years.

Edward: There was also this nun Joshin Kasai.

Muho: She was at Antaiji for a very long time. She was Uchiyama’s senior in Kyoto but didn’t live at the temple all year round. Joshin was cooking during sesshins when Uchiyama was still abbot. Then she moved into her own house at the new Hyogo temple but was also still travelling. She was quite an independent spirit.

Joshin wouldn’t participate in samu or even zazen but did kesa sewing. If some of the monks had a fight with Watanabe, they used her house as a refuge – she was like a mother. Joshin was a strong character and would stand up to the abbot.

Edward: Other than Miyaura, was there anyone else who died at Antaiji?

Muho: Yes, there was a young Japanese novice who was going to be ordained but he was crushed in an avalanche before spring in 1983.

Edward: Why did Watanabe choose Miyaura as his successor?

Muho: Around 1986, Watanabe decided he wanted to go to Italy to bring Antaiji-style Zen to Europe. Some of his students had already left by that time. There were other people who were just small characters – subordinates. I think Watanabe saw Miyaura as the only one who could stand on his own feet. He thought he would protect the place.

So Watanabe left with his three Italian students in 1987 and only my teacher and two relatively young monks stayed.

III – The Money Problem (1)

Koho Watanabe’s dream of creating a self-sustainable monastery came at a cost – several million dollars. The amount the Kyoto property was sold for was, according to Muho Noelke, some $4m, which today would be around $18m. A sizeable sum. At the new location in Hyogo, the land, residents building and meditation hall cost somewhere between $1m to $2m. A large portion of the rest was used on machinery, vehicles, equipment, materials to build the mountain dam, and farm animals – as well as a few horses with the leftover money. By the time Shinyu Miyaura took over in the mid-1980s, Watanabe had spent almost everything, believing it was no good for Antaiji’s future as a Buddhist community being attached to money. Miyaura thus faced the task of running a dream project, which was realised with 30 people and plenty of cash, with a small sangha and little to no funds. (Edward Moore)

Edward: What was the issue here with money?

Muho: During Miyaura’s time there was almost nothing. When I became abbot there was about $1000 left in the account. There were no big resources. The only project that happened during Miyaura’s time was the zendo and library. Unlike the main building and hondo, they built that themselves – it cost about $30,000. Part of that was donated and the rest came from intensive takuhatsu.

Miyaura didn’t have any attachment to money. He probably wasn’t a good fundraiser. I don’t know how often and how deep he could think about it. But then there was also this question, what happens when this place needs fundamental repair in 10 or 20 years? Per year, just to live here, $10,000 is enough. But if you want to keep things in shape you need much more than that. But even though there was this issue with money, it was never really mentioned.

When I came back from Hosshinji, around 1997 or 1998, there was a relatively good amount of people living here. Until then, it was taken for granted that, although we grew our own rice and vegetables, everything else required about $10,000 – electricity, fuel and the repair of machines, stuff like that. All of this was generated through takuhatsu during the winter.

I don’t know what triggered it – perhaps something Watanabe said – but Miyaura suddenly decided that with 12 people, which is not so much for here, life was getting too easy. At one point he just said, I don’t want you to do any more takuhatsu for the temple. Because we are self-sufficient, it would be a kind of a lie if we rely on it. So all of the money that we need to pay the bills should be generated through other means. You can come up with any ideas you have, just no takuhatsu.

One person had the idea that we could bottle the water from the mountain and sell it as mineral water. At the time, we had a cow. The cow would have a baby each year and we would sell the baby cow for about $1000. The only reason we had the cow was to make a little bit of money through that. One of the people said, if one calf makes $1000, let’s have 10 cows. Selling 10 calves would generate $10,000 a year and that’s enough. Not everybody was happy about that because if you were responsible for the cow, you had to take care of the cow and the baby. But when the baby was sold, at about half a year old, you’d have to separate them and for weeks the mother would be mooing. She would miss her kid and you would build up this emotional bond if you were responsible.

People were not so crazy about this idea. They would say, I became a monk, I wanted to get out of this, making money, money, money. I wanted to get out of the hamster wheel and now I’m raising this baby cow for money.

Another idea was to sell rice. Also, at the time, I was responsible for the vegetable field, so I said, maybe there’s people that would buy organic vegetables. On each hosan, I was going to the vegetable stores or mailing people to see if they would buy our stuff. Some people were interested but our stuff wasn’t the right quality or we couldn’t deliver all year round. We couldn’t use the excuse that we just had sesshin, so couldn’t deliver at that time.

So, basically, none of these ideas turned into something substantial. One person also had the idea of burning charcoal. Because we have all these trees. Charcoal burning was a trend in Japan, people wanted to reconnect with nature and would use it for various things. If it’s really high quality charcoal you can sell it for a good price. But you have to know what you’re doing. That charcoal guy took a year off from Antaiji and was travelling around and studying about charcoal. But, eventually, he decided that he couldn’t do it at Antaiji and that was his reason for leaving.

This money-making thing put a lot of pressure on people at Antaiji at the time. But Miyaura’s attitude was, $10,000 was needed per year and this is your life here so you need to find a way to make it – you’re not living in your mother’s basement any more.

That whole topic went off the table after two years because there was only three people remaining. Everybody else had left, mainly because of this pressure to make money.

But I did manage to sell a certain amount of vegetables. At the time, we had a yearbook. You can still find it in the library or on the homepage. We would send these to people who had trained here or visited, stuff like that. I would put this letter in there, saying we are selling sato imo or daikon. That was quite popular. People were happy to buy our stuff.

But Watanabe was very critical of that idea. He thought it was like buying fish at the fish store, throwing them in the pond, then fishing them out again. He was right. It was easy to sell vegetables if you offer it to people who want to help Antaiji in the first place. They would have paid any price because for them it was like making a donation. It was like takuhatsu anyway.

After two years, that thing stopped and there was no more talk about making any money. It went back to everyone doing takuhatsu for the temple register.