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 doin