Muho: There’s these papers that hang on the billboard in the hiroma, where Uchiyama says you have to choose the right teacher but, because the teacher isn’t perfect, you have to become a perfect student and learn in a perfect way from an imperfect teacher.
Before you decide, you need to take a good look. You can only see so much from your perspective at that point. There’s always these scandals going on in the world. You need to know when it’s not practice. Things that were considered normal in a Zen context before are now seen as power harassment. But if you think only about getting to the question of your own life, to that point, then perhaps it doesn’t really matter.
It’s like at Tofukuji. You either escape over the wall at night or accept your suffering. So many people put up with abuse from the teacher because they are there to solve the answer to their life. And they think that whatever he is doing is just to bring them to the edge. One of the most recent scandals was Joshu Sasaki in California, who was abusing his female students. People were scared to say anything and thought he was still important.
Sometimes, you just have to challenge the teacher.
Edward: With Miyaura, the main things were that he started to drink heavily and shut himself off?
Muho: Yeah there was no abuse. But he was running around with a gun shooting crows, so maybe people questioned him as a Buddhist.
Edward: But you felt he also neglected his position?
Muho: Yes. I just think that situation was too much for him. Maybe his wife supported him but it was not enough. I had the advantage of having a family. Tomomi and the kids give me a lot of stability in my life. Also, because I am a foreigner, there is a certain interest from the media, there’s book deals, and I’m invited to talks. He was a shy person but I felt comfortable. I was lucky as the blue-eyed Zen master in Japan. I had it much easier than he had.
Now there is the question who will be the next abbot. The only option is Eko. She doesn’t know how she will perform in that role. There is always the hope that it will trigger a positive change. But it is a heavy burden. Who knows who will stay. Or if new people will even come. She is a woman, so people could look down on her.
Edward: Is there something about the setup of Antaiji that can crush you? Or is it up to the individual to create this situation?
Muho: It is up to you. You don’t have to allow yourself to be crushed. I lived in a tent before so I felt that if I had to, I could just do that again. I don’t feel that these buildings need to stay standing for another 150 years from now.
But if you think that you failed this place and the legacy, then yeah, it might crush you. But there is no reason that Antaiji must exist here forever. If you look back at the early times of the Buddha, they had nothing.
Crushed? I felt crushed by people coming here with severe mental health problems. I am not a trained psychologist. I would love to give them the care, if I had the knowledge. But I don’t. What crushes me is this feeling that people expect more than I can give.
Some people are desperate and suicidal. I know of four cases of people that committed suicide after leaving Antaiji. One was before I was abbot. And three was when I was the abbot. Their parents told me and said their child spoke highly of Antaiji and thought of going back but then killed themselves. Do you have any explanations, they asked me. I said, no I’m sorry.
Edward: That must have weighed heavily on your conscience.
Muho: Yes, it crushed me being the last straw that people clung onto.