Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Uchiyama Kosho-roshi

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Uchiyama Kosho-roshi was the abbot of Antaiji, a Zen Temple in the hills on the north west out-skirts of Kyoto, Japan.

I lived there in 1970. When I was at Antaiji, I sometimes thought, "This place is pretty small and unimportant. Is this really a real Zen Temple?" Now, almost forty years later, I am discovering that it was important after all and that it was only by pure luck that I had been there.

Antaiji was not merely a real Zen Temple. It was the best one, at least it was for me. Antaiji is gone now. Its successor has moved to Hyogo Prefecture in the mountains beside the Sea of Japan. There they continue the practice that Sawaki Roshi and Uchiyama Roshi established many years ago. Some land developer would have paid a great many ¥en for the acres where the old Antaiji was located. Let's hope no one was corrupted by riches.

My own life has not been easy. Yet I think I am lucky to have lived the life I have lived and to have known the people I have known. I thank my friends who helped me as well as my enemies who harmed me. For, those people helped me too. I won't curse them anymore: They will have their just reward in this life, or the next. I will continue to work for good and to seek truth.

I took a few minutes recently to watch Eckhart Tolle on YouTube. His message is quite Zen-like. I won't know whether Tolle has a method to actualize the state of consciousness he describes. I'll have to wait to find out more once I have read his books.

The Buddha had a method which the Japanese call zazen and the Chinese call ch'an. But the way is not easy and not many make the journey. Most cannot make it. The Buddha sat for a legendary length of time before he entered enlightenment while sitting under the Banyan tree. Bodhidharma [1] brought Buddhism from India to China. He is credited with establishing the Shaolin Temple [2] and introducing martial arts to prevent monks from becoming sedentary. Yet zazen is not sedentary as the next part of the story indicates: The Daruma doll [3] represents Bodhidharma after his legs fell off from doing zazen. The dolls are weighted on the bottom so they bounce back to upright when pushed over. And so it is with people. You can knock them down and they will bounce right back.

I don't consider myself worthy to make any claims, but looking back I have taken a lot of abuse, and I am better now than I was before. I may live another sixty years. Maybe I'll get to start a family when I am one hundred. Who knows? I can say that my time at Antaiji cured me of any defeatism and it prepared me for what would happen to me when I came home to Regina: Here I would endure lots and lots of abuse.

Soto Zen was brought to Japan by Dogen Zenji [4]. Antaiji was established to bring Zen back to its essence which is zazen. Uchiyama Roshi said that "Most Zen monks are afraid of zazen. They would rather fill their days with empty rituals than do zazen." The monks at Antaiji were like Samurai swords: forged in fire and on the anvil, hardened to take a sharp cutting edge and softer inside so they will be strong. [5] Yet they were like Uchiyama: humble, like the dirt.

The way is not easy. Uchiyama Roshi sat a 49 day sesshien to commemorate the life and death of his master Sawaki Roshi. That is not a legend. That happened in 1965. It happened at the old Antaiji in Kyoto. The monks at Antaiji all found zazen painful and difficult. "If you just want to feel good, you can smoke opium," Uchiyama Roshi would say.

Finding Antaiji was complete luck for me. I really had no idea what to look for when I stepped off the bullet train in Kyoto. I was helped by a beautiful tall Japanese girl from California whom I met in the station. Her name was Aia-san. She knew of a place that accepted foreigners. On the evening of my second day in Kyoto, she drew a map that took me there on the third day. It was all luck. Dumb luck. I never saw Aia-san again.

Maybe it was fate.

- Morley


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This is Arthur Braverman from the Bronx. Read his books

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