When did your exchange with Watanabe start, after Hosshinji?

Muho: Yes. After Hosshinji, I visited Antaiji but also did a takuhatsu trip through central Japan. Through the so-called Japanese alps and down to Nagoya. I wanted to visit places that I had heard of. At the time, I had also heard that Watanabe had come back to Japan from Italy. He was living in Wakayama.

At first, I called his temple and he said no, I’m retired. But then he asked, do you happen to be that guy I met in Italy? I said, yeah that’s me. So he said, oh then please come, let’s have some sake and go to the onsen. That was after Hosshinji, in the autumn of 1997.

The next year, Uchiyama died and I visited Watanabe at least twice during the winter. Whenever the Japanese guys went home for the winter, I usually visited Watanabe. It was normally before new year’s when I did takuhatsu.

After Uchiyama died, the relationship between Watanabe and Miyaura got bad. But I didn’t notice it at the beginning. In retrospect, I can see that the death of Uchiyama triggered something in Watanabe.

Edward: This kind of criticism drove Miyaura to drink heavily?

Muho: I think so. Though Watanabe was drinking heavily and they say Sawaki’s last words were: “Sake!”, or something like that. Uchiyama said he doesn’t drink so much but because he has cold feet, he enjoys three shots of whisky before sleeping. There’s always been a good amount of drinking at Antaiji. I mean compared to now it was nothing to what it was in the past.

But yeah, I guess it was this conflict. Even without Watanabe, you are at the position I am in now, at the beginning of your 50s in Antaiji, and there’s only three students – and around half of the people left because Miyaura had this intention with money to make people serious. But then, the bills needed to be paid, maybe something needed to be done about the buildings. He wasn’t getting younger, he had his wife but no children. What would happen to him and his wife at old age? What would happen with Antaiji? Nobody knew the answer.

Then Watanabe appeared and said, you’re doing it all wrong. If he had said, well if you do it like this things will improve – that would have been nice. But he was like, with you at Antaiji, it is never going to work out, look at the mess you created during these 10 years. I don’t see any disciples. Maybe I can just use Muho to run things instead.

Miyaura could have said, ok if you say so, I am going to retire. But maybe he felt it was irresponsible to do. And perhaps he thought, well what has Watanabe done in those 10 years that he was the abbot? He had money, spent the money, then went to Italy. When his doctor told him he had cancer, he gave up his mission in Italy, which never sparked anything, and came back to Wakayama and is sitting there telling me I’m not doing a good job. What has he done?

That is what I would have said. I see things are not running the way they should be running but who had the idea to build Antaiji in this place where there is no income and it is hard for people to stay.

There was no real vision.

Maybe the alcohol helped Miyaura to forget that for a while. I mean there is also the theory that the reason for the accident when he died was that he drank too much the night before. There was a party for that guest who had come, whose car he pulled down to the bus stop the next day. The new year’s card that he sent out for that year was for the Year of the Horse. He had painted a picture of a horse lying down drinking a bottle of sake; happy new year’s everyone. He was in this sake mode. Some people said he was drinking too much. So he went down there with a hangover, not enough sleep and maybe had a heart attack from that.

Edward: When you had this realisation that you wanted to return to Miyaura, what came into your mind?

Muho: There’s all this invisible stuff that people do for you that you only realise much later. Sometimes you have this with your parents or a girlfriend you broke up with. With Miyaura, I had always been kind of complaining this, complaining that. But did I do my job? The answer was no. He showed me how to do practical things and stop thinking. All of this very obvious stuff I just didn’t realise. Where is the dharma if you can’t cook your udon noodles properly? He was trying to point me to it in very subtle ways sometimes. I just didn’t have the eyes to see, the ears to listen.

Yes, I felt trapped at Antaiji after two years. But he was the one who ordained me as a monk. He gave me the robes, the kesa, my first rakusu, and I had taken all of that for granted. Like with your parents, you never say thank you for anything because you think it is a matter of course that they take care of you. Some people have this thing that they think their parents owe them something for bringing them into the world in the first place.

It can be like that with a teacher. You ordain with them because you want to become a monk, you get three meals a day, you get rubber boots if you don’t have any. You get everything pretty much and I was still complaining. I didn’t like the schedule, I didn’t like hierarchy, I didn’t like the fact I was tenzo when I would rather have worked outside.

I never said thank you for accepting me as a student, thank you for giving me those robes, thank you for letting me stay here in the monastery. I took that for granted and thought I was even entitled to complain.

When I was at Tofukuji, I realised. Somewhere in the Zuimonki, there is this chapter that always strikes me. Dogen is quoting Dai-e from China, saying you should practice as if you have a debt you can never repay. If you have that attitude you can understand this phrase, the perfect way is never hard to accomplish you just have to stop picking and choosing. Dogen says you need to have this attitude that I owe the world something and I will never be able to repay that. If you have that attitude, why would you pick and choose. And say, I prefer a western breakfast to a Japanese breakfast. Why can’t we have spaghetti?

All of it becomes ridiculous. And that was the Tofukuji realisation I had: how ridiculous I was. That’s what led me to feel that I owed something to Miyaura. I never felt the same gratitude to the guys in Tofukuji because I maybe felt sometimes that they got a sadistic pleasure out of treating me the way they did. Even though, fortunately, it helped me in the end. But it could have also have broken and traumatised me.

At Antaiji, I never had the feeling that people took pleasure in making me feel miserable. I actually felt that in these two years, they did a lot to help me without myself even realising that.