How many people were there when Watanabe moved Antaiji?

Muho: In the beginning there were 30. But I never saw a picture with 30 people. Probably at the time when Uchiyama retired there were 30 people or more. During sesshin there could have been 50 or 60.

I heard from Watanabe that it was a pain in the ass to have to deal with Uchiyama’s students. Age-wise, a good number of them were older than him. Watanabe was around 32 when he became the abbot in 1975. He was six years older than Miyaura.

So when Watanabe became the abbot, Uchiyama’s students didn’t think of him as their teacher. They thought of him as a dharma brother. They all had their own opinions about how Antaiji should be run and how it should look like once it moves up there.

But Watanabe was this strong character and this Trump-like personality that doesn’t tolerate other opinions. He wants people that follow his orders and do what he expects them to do. I can imagine that Watanabe treasured those people that didn’t have a strong connection with Uchiyama. Miyaura was one of the few of those. But then there were also the monks who had already spent a number of years with Uchiyama in Kyoto but then went to continue to practice at the new Antaiji here.

In the beginning, there were quite a lot of people who didn’t look up to Watanabe as abbot but still had Uchiyama as the teacher in their minds. Whenever Watanabe would say or do things that wouldn’t accord with their idea of what Uchiyama would have said or done, then they would resist. Which made it difficult for Watanabe at the beginning.

Edward: How long was he in Kyoto?

Muho: Two years. He became abbot in early 1975. And they started moving in the autumn of 1976.

Was the sangha that moved here mostly Japanese?

Muho: I think so. If you look into the yearbooks, there’s only two or three foreigners that wrote articles in there at the time.

After a few years these foreigners had all left, but then three Italians came here with their girlfriends. The first of them came at the end of the 1970s and stayed for six months. Then he went back to Italy to bring all his friends, then they all came here in 1980.

Edward: You said that Watanabe got into arguments easily. Were there many strong characters at the beginning? Was such a thing possible under someone like Watanabe?

Muho: There were some strong characters and there were others who needed a person like Watanabe – a strong father figure. They enjoyed the attention they got and the expectations that were put upon them.

Like I imagine now, with the Trump administration, there’s some people around who probably need this figure there. While other more confrontational figures leave. It was the same with Watanabe. During the first few years, quite a few people left.

If there were 30 people in the beginning, at least half left after not so long. You can check the names in the yearbooks, the names start to disappear.

I heard they left because some of them were quite similar to Watanabe. They had strong opinions, were strong characters, and had a very low capability to make compromises. So, when it came to a clash, they had to leave.

Edward: Was he pushing people out?

Muho: That also happened.

Edward: What happened with the property at Kyoto?

Muho: Most of it was sold but there’s a small piece that is about 120sqm or something. You could build a little house on there. It’s a memorial piece but a pain in the ass because you have to weed it from time to time, otherwise the neighbours complain.

One could sell it. Or for the future, build something there like a zendo. At one point, I was thinking of doing that but I have forgotten about it. I won’t be the one who will do it.

Edward: Did many people stay in Kyoto, instead of move with Antaij?

Muho: I guess most of the hippies stayed in Kyoto. A lot of them were in relationships and had teaching jobs. They loved to come to the sesshins but they also enjoyed the life in the city, I guess.

But the Japanese, most of them at first, came to Hyogo. But a few found other temples. There is for example a temple that used to be connected to Antaiji in Saitama, not too far from Tokyo, called Kannondo. In the beginning, people were coming and going from there. One student of Uchiyama’s took responsibility of that. Of course, some people stopped being monks altogether, other people just became ordinary temple priests.

I know about one strong character who had a clash with Watanabe and he stripped him of his status as a monk four years after they moved to Hyogo.

Edward: Is that even possible?

Muho: Technically, it’s not. If you want to quit being a monk, you need your teacher’s seal but also your own seal, plus the seal of a relative. So it’s impossible for a teacher to disrobe a student without his consent (and that of another relative) and it is also impossible for a student to formally disrobe without the consent of the teacher. Actually, it is harder to leave the monkhood than to enter it, because for ordination you only need to have your own seal and that of your teacher, you do not need the permission of a relative. Anyway, what Watanabe did was forge the two signatures and seals of the monk himself and a relative – an older brother that was already deceased.

When that monk finally left Antaiji, he didn’t know he had been stripped of his monkhood. He found a temple where they were looking for a priest and said, if it’s ok with you I can do the job. They said, fine, and contacted the Soto-shu who said, what are you talking about, this guy is not officially a monk anymore. So he asked the Soto-shu to show him the papers and he saw these forged signatures. He had to find a new teacher and re-ordain. He finally became a temple priest a bit later on.