Muho: You want to have that good relationship. But part of Miyaura’s character was that he kept a distance from everyone. That was part of the disappointment that all of us realised when we left Antaiji, you couldn’t have that relationship. You couldn’t stay at his house. You couldn’t be his buddy.
Perhaps that was a necessary realisation that I later tried to rationalise for myself. Like when Watanabe and Miyaura had this falling out, half a year or so before I left. Watanabe came here and called this team meeting in person. He sat in the top spot and my teacher and ourselves were sitting there in two lines. There was some small discussion and then at the end of the discussion, Watanabe told Miyaura that he would disown him as his dharma heir, which you cannot do officially in Soto-shu. He said that at the team meeting and left.
That shocked everyone there. As far as we knew, the lineage was Sawaki, Uchiyama, Watanabe and Miyaura. And we hoped to be a part of that chain.
It was said that Watanabe would return as the abbot. When I heard that I said, ok I will go to Osaka to live in the park. Watanabe wasn’t happy with that. If you don’t want to be here with me, he said, then you become the abbot. I’m not going to do it. So he didn’t do it. And in March 2002, it was decided that I would be the next abbot. In February they had said Watanabe but at the end of March, they said Muho.
But Watanabe, a year later, wasn’t happy with the situation. He still had the opinion that I as the abbot would be his student. While I made it clear in the newsletters that I am not the student of Watanabe. He wasn’t very happy about that either and, after I was abbot for one or two years, he called me to his home, as well as his first student, a dharma brother of my techer, whom he trusted the most.
He also had a conflict with his first student at that time. One thing that he told him at that meeting, which somehow impressed me, was: “you’re not even worth being disowned!”. For me that meant, and maybe I’m rationalising it too much, this process of being disowned is actually a necessary step of practice. This realisation that you cannot stay at your teacher’s house.
That proclamation, now it is time to leave my house, is the disownment. You’re not my dharma heir anymore.
It is disappointing when you realise you cannot have that close relation with the teacher. But it is not the fault of the teacher or the student. It can actually be quite dangerous and not productive for the practice. It doesn’t help them to grow.
Edward: How did Watanabe go about organising this team meeting?
Muho: There were some short-term guests and a mother with her three-year-old. Miyaura’s wife was looking after the kid, and Watanabe just made me get Reiko and tell her to leave the kid with the guest.
At the meeting, Watanabe was telling the whole story of how he got betrayed by Miyaura; how Reiko was interfering with the sangha and how he had to get involved to straighten it out; letters that Miyaura didn’t respond to in the proper way; how Miyaura didn’t visit him in Wakayama. Stuff like that.
Edward: Was that the time he asked you to wait at the entrance in front of the whole sangha?
Muho: Exactly. He went to the genkan and called me. He pointed at the floor and said, you stay here. That was when I knew I had to leave. Otherwise, it was going to be very uncomfortable not only for myself but Miyaura as well. I knew we could not be together anymore.
Edward: When did you leave?
Muho: In July. Those months afterwards were uncomfortable but we just carried on with the schedule. We never spoke about it. And after that, nothing happened for a while. There were letters exchanged with Watanabe but he didn’t appear anymore so it seemed like a ceasefire. People probably thought things would be ok. But then, the year after, Miyaura had his accident.
Edward: Did the way Watanabe start this conflict change your opinion of him?
Muho: There was always this idea at the back of the head that maybe he was doing it for the dharma. Maybe there was some deeper reason behind it all. It can’t be that he’s just thirsty for power or the drama. After all, he’s Watanabe, the teacher of my teacher, and the student of Uchiyama.
So afterwards, I still exchanged letters with him. He came to visit me a couple of times in Osaka. I never thought of telling him that I wouldn’t want to have any contact anymore, that I thought it was bad and he’s just trying to use me.
I was just looking for the dharma value in there but, whatever it was, I couldn’t grasp it. Now, I’m not so sure anymore.
Edward: After he died, did your appreciation for Miyaura grow – as it did at Tofukuji?
Muho: Well, I expected that would happen. But it was the other way around. Especially for the first five years or so when I was abbot. I realised that a lot of the things I thought he was doing for the dharma were not.
Like if he was drunk in the morning, it couldn’t be that he was just an alcoholic. There must be some teaching. Like when Nansen cut the cat, it wasn’t just that he was angry. He had a point to make. When my teacher would withdraw into his house, I thought that was a koan too.
But when I was in his shoes, I started to see where that stuff came from. I wouldn’t say I did much better than he did but I often realised when there was the temptation to do the same.
I thought that after he died, my gratitude would deepen. But the opposite was the case because, while I felt the temptation to also withdraw from my responsibilities, put the blame on others, take refuge in alcohol, I knew it wasn’t the dharma. I tried to see that my teacher was somehow teaching something. That he was perhaps trying to destroy our view of how a teacher should be by behaving deliberately in a deluded way. But I realised that stuff was just plain delusion. There was no performance.
I was surprised how let down I felt during those first five years as abbot. Because all these delusions were real. Like with the way Watanabe behaved. It’s like the way a son might try and rationalise his father’s terrible behaviour.
This was hard for me. Because even though I had a distant relationship with my teacher, I was still idealising so many things. I didn’t realise that he was just falling into all these traps, which I wasn’t stepping into.
This revelation I had in Tofukuji didn’t happen when he died.