Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Today, I went with a group of 5 to Hamasaka. 

Tomorrow is the start of our 5 day sesshin. No talking; no shower; no internet!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

This week at Antaiji work has continued on the barn,

Moritz and Falk have been making furniture: outdoor shelves for rubber boots, and a seat for the area outside the soto shokudo where we have our tea break when it's sunny.

The rice seedlings have been moved from the greenhouse to the pond by the kitchen where they will sit while we sit in sesshin. 

I helped to plant the rice in seed trays a few weeks ago - the day after I arrived. It is wonderful to see how the rice has grown. And it really is this green! There was concern about some of the seedlings being a little shorter than others, but Eko san observed that the shorter ones may even be better: 'Just like Japanese people; short but strong!'

Antoni and Eko san preparing the vegetable fields. Eko san is using a motorised plough which reminds me of an old donkey the way it splutters and farts and refuses to budge.

This week I have also been working in the vegetable fields - planting vegetable and fruit seeds in pots (eggplant, green and red pepper, tomato, oriental melon, cucumber) as well as lettuce seeds directly into the ground. I do not have any experience growing vegetables. At home I buy all my vegetables at the greengrocers. As I planted and watered the seeds I became aware of our dependence on these seeds. If they don't grow we will have no eggplant, pepper, tomato, melon, cucumber or lettuce to eat!


While we wait for the cultivated vegetables to grow, we have been collecting and eating wild vegetables that grow in abundance around the buildings. Here Jinen san is collecting asatsuki (chives). We ate asatsuki with our pasta for lunch today.

This is a kind of fern called warabi. It has to be picked while it is still young, before the fronds have uncurled.

Another wild vegetable: Yomogi (mugwort).


Yesterday I spent many hours collecting Yomogi. It is boiled into a paste and then used to make small cakes called moshi.

Morning tea break with Eko san's moshi. It is deep green in colour, packed with warabi.  People made a sauce out of shoyu and sugar. I tried this but decided I liked the moshi much better by itself. I'm looking forward to more moshi made from the warabi I picked yesterday.

Tea break (indoors).


Tea break (outdoors).


After morning tea sometimes the seats need to be wiped clean.

I found this dead bee while cleaning a couple of days ago. We don't have such large fluffy bees in Australia. Kind of a perfect pet on my window sill at the moment.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Hosan today. After the discipline of sesshin yesterday, it felt very relaxed; everyone in an easygoing mood. Before a late breakfast at 7, Jinen arranged fresh flowers in vases. These flowers are for the altars in the hondo, the kitchen, the bathroom and the toilet. And there may be more altars that I haven't found yet.

This is the altar just outside the toilet door. As Falk is demonstrating, we gassho before entering the toilet and also on our way out.

Although it is a free day, there is still work that must be done. Here Tsukan is making tofu and Jisui is cooking lunch.

Sebastien and Sogaku sort out the bad rice from the good.

Lluis worked on his notebook. Here is a page from the notebook illustrating the residents of Antaiji eating a formal meal in the hiroma. You can see more of his work here: Two new arrivals came today and more will come next week. There must be over 20 of us by now.

The following 4 photos are of no particular significance. Just studies of light and shadow in the blue shed.




This afternoon I walked up to a ridge that overlooks Antaiji.

I walked along the ridge for a while to the highest point and then decided to turn back. There are lots of little paths up there that cross one another and disappear in the undergrowth, appearing again some way further along (if you are lucky enough to find them).  It was only when the ridge path began to look very different from the path I remembered that I realised I had gone too far - that I had missed the turn-off down the hill. Belatedly I recalled the first rule of bushwalking: always tell someone where you are going! What if I didn't make it back before dinner? What if I had to spend the night in the mountains! I might be lost for weeks and people at Antaiji would think I had run away!

Then, down a steep slope to my right, I saw a road. I thought it must be the road to Antaiji. Once down there I could easily walk back. But when I reached the road I didn't recognise it. For one thing it sloped downward instead of up. Nor did I recognise the interesting rock formation of the cliff face above me.

I walked along the road a bit, just to make sure it wasn't the right one. I came upon this Bodhisattva and I knew I had never seen him before. So I said hello to him, then thought about what I should do. I decided to backtrack until I returned to the place where I had last seen Antaiji. From that position I would then be able to navigate my way back home. And I did get back. And I feel I know this place better now, having got lost and then finding my way again! And I look forward to more explorations.

When I returned to Antaiji I showed Eko san the photo of the Bodhisattva. She said it was Jizo san. According to Wikipedia, Jizo san is the protector of children, particularly deceased children, and travellers.

Friday, 25 April 2014

The sesshin today seemed a little more tolerable than last time - though I still feel a lot of sadness in the aftermath. I think the sadness arises from my wish to return to Antaiji after this stint for another few months, maybe later in the year or next year; however, given that I've barely tolerated the 1 day sesshin, with the 5 day sesshin looming I feel that further training is beyond me. (Although I do realise it is foolish to anticipate a difficulty when there may be no difficulty at all!)

I spoke to one of the other new people afterwards whose day sounded much more challenging than mine. Throughout the sesshin he was asking himself, 'Why am I putting myself through this torture?' A valid question, especially considering that no one is forcing us to stay here.

On the evening before each sesshin, one of the residents gives a talk in response to a couple of chapters from Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki. It was Tsukan's turn last night. His talk was very entertaining and he made a 13th century text intelligible and relevant to contemporary problems. A couple of points struck me in particular (and I hope I don't misrepresent him). He reminded us of Uchiyama Roshi's patience with his students in the 70s. Apparently they were very noisy when using their oryoki bowls at meal times. Rather than bluntly correcting them Uchiyama trusted that, through the practice of zazen, the students would gradually develop a sensitivity to the noise they were making and naturally become more careful. Tsukan takes this patient approach to his own issues, for instance, the sleepiness he experiences in zazen. Given time (he hopes) the issue will resolve itself. A further point from Tsukan's talk: perhaps it is the people with stronger than average desires and aversions (rather than the naturally mellow people) who are desperate enough to want to study zen and train at Antaiji.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The following two pictures are for all of Lluis' friends in Spain... 

They show Jinen and Lluis building an electric fence to keep the wild pigs out of the vegetable gardens.

Moritz's job this week has been to fix broken tools.

Building a new barn. Yudai on the ladder attaching a plumb line to the top of the pole. The holes housing the poles are two metres deep and the poles, once vertical, are stabilised with broken rocks.


When it's time for a morning break we take off our work boots and put on plastic slippers to wear in the indoor concreted areas: the kitchen and the soto shokudo. If we need to go further into the living quarters, where there are wooden floors and tatami matting, we leave the slippers behind and walk in bare feet or socks. When we take off the slippers we make sure they are arranged neatly and ready for the next person.


Morning tea is served by the tenzo. The only choice we have is the hot drink - although often the tenzo will make a sweetened herbal tea. Sometimes there is food, sometimes not. To my joy, on Tuesday there were oranges!

Konrad and Callum enjoying a tea break after barn-building.


My work this week was perhaps not as heroic as barn-building... I have been continuing to repair zafus and zabutons, following Ellie's method. There are 19 or 20 of us here at the moment so they can afford to have some people do repair work. It hasn't felt like work at all. The last couple of days have been much warmer, so I have been sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.

While looking for a bandaid in the first aid shelves we found something for every kind of emergency. 

Now that we have been trained to use the oryoki bowls, we use them for our breakfast and dinner. Breakfast is the most formal meal of the day and is accompanied by extensive chanting. We are expected to learn these chants by the beginning of May (!) These are my beautiful bowls (well, mine for a few months thanks to Seikan). Gusho san says we must try to make a good arrangement with our bowls. In fact, my bowls are supposed to be in line with Konrad's opposite. As Gusho san says, 'Beautiful is best.' Mmmm, I think the arrangement could be a little straighter.

Konrad cleaning his rice bowl in hot water.


After lunch and dinner, everyone helps to wash and dry the dishes. 

The chopsticks are dried in a tea towel and then arranged to allow for air-drying.

Most evenings we have a tea meeting. It is fairly formal. We sit on our knees Japanese style while work leaders, in turn, give a report on the activities of the day. They also announce or discuss what needs to be done the following day. Sometimes tea meetings can take 15 to 20 minutes and the newcomers, not used to sitting on their knees, experience a mute agony. As soon as Docho san and the tea servers leave the room and the formality breaks, the newcomers can move and recover some feeling in their legs and feet. But it takes a little time before it is possible to stand up again.