In 1990, while studying at Kyoto University, Muho first stayed at Antaiji for six months. Aged 22, a self-described melancholic and intellectual, life at the Hyogo temple introduced him to hard manual labour – it was, as he once wrote, the first time he had lifted anything heavier than a volume of the Shobogenzo. In the autumn of 1992, while still a student at Kyoto, he returned to Antaiji again for monthly sesshins and, in 1993, returned as a permanent resident. In 1994, when he ordained as a monk, he took the dharma name Muho. But in 1995, unhappy with the way the work was organised and the awkward feeling he got from the sangha’s hierarchy, Muho decided to leave Antaiji to practice at the notoriously harsh Rinzai monastery Tofukuji, Kyoto. He stayed there for a year but realised his true home was Antaiji after all so, after acquiring his priest’s licence with a yearlong stay at the Soto monastery Hoshinji, Obama, returned to Hyogo in 1997. At the end of this hiatus, Muho began a regular exchange with the previous Antaiji abbot Koho Watanabe. Sometimes unhappy with the way Miyaura would run temple life, Muho turned to Watanabe for guidance. Watanabe’s advice would often draw from his own experiences with his teacher, the ever meek and sickly Kosho Uchiyama. It is not the teacher who creates the student, Watanabe would say, but rather the student who must create the teacher. Following after this approach, Muho often had his work cut out for him. (Edward Moore)

Edward: Why did you find things inefficient here?

Muho: For example, if you want to move logs, there’s some easier ways to do it – like with the power shovel or the truck. But sometimes we would leave the logs where the abbot didn’t want us to and have to spend a whole extra day moving them somewhere else. If people had planned things better, it could have been done in 20 per cent of the time.

It was considered, don’t think too much, just do it. It’s not about the theory but the attitude with which you do it. Who cares if it takes five times as long. It’s good for nothing, so what.

But, as I also wrote in the Adult Practice articles, if it means we have to skip evening zazen, we should think about efficiency to a certain degree. It’s not that we wanted to finish work as early as possible so we can have an extra minute of free time. It was often just bizarre. Like when you have the grass-cutters, why would you use sickles to cut the grass manually.

Often it was just a communication problem. People wouldn’t understand what they were supposed to do but they were afraid to ask Miyaura. Sometimes he would have a bad day and if you asked a question, maybe he thought that you didn’t want to do the job and weren’t loyal to him. You were afraid of asking things like, are we supposed to weed the carrot field or the daikon field?

Edward: Was there too much work for that number of people?

Muho: It was too much. There was always the hope that more people would come. If you don’t have enough to eat during the winter, that’s a problem. But if you also have too much, that’s not good but at least people don’t starve. So you were always planting more.

There was also the grass-cutting in the summer, which takes a lot of time. That had the same issue with the planning. Often you have that issue in Japan where if you ask, why do we do it like this? The answer will be, we’ve always done it like this.

Edward: Was there an awkward hierarchy with two older unsui and Miyaura?

Muho: Maybe. It was different at the time of Watanabe when he had maybe a dozen of these old students of Uchiyama. Miyaura only had two. But it was probably a little bit like that.

Edward: What happened between the period after you first visited Antaiji until your return as a long-term resident?

Muho: A big change happened when the two oldest unsui left. Two new people had come instead but they were the kind that couldn’t make it in society. They were nice people and Miyaura liked them but you couldn’t give them much responsibility without things becoming even more chaotic.

In my eyes, the sangha was having a difficult time. The unsui who was now at the top at the time, had difficulty seeing. His eyes were not good, his ears were not good. He had a loud voice and a strong ego. Nobody wanted to listen to him because he didn’t listen – he couldn’t. He was a really funny character but he had a difficult time.

Also, Miyaura had difficulty communicating with him so, even though he was first monk, he was bypassing him to talk to us. This created more stress. The first monk wouldn’t know what was going on because he couldn’t hear anything at team meeting and would just shout at the beginning of samu, everybody follow me. But people already had instructions, so just ignored him. It was hard for him. So he left after five or six years.

That was a typical pattern at the time. Each time the head monk left, it was always because there was some kind of conflict. Not all, but some of them were really trusted by Miyaura. I thought one of them would be the abbot at one point. Often people left in a fight.

But over the years, some people reconciled. Others never came back. One left to a different Zen master and you can read on the internet how he said there is no master at Antaiji, there is no practice; they just sleep during zazen and there is no satori to be found.

He said that to somebody and they put it on the internet. It was a Soto group but they practiced koans with the aim of gaining satori. Basically the opposite of Antaiji.