Thursday, April 15, 2010

yesterday i left antaiji - after only 8 days. yeah, thats much sooner than my initial plan of staying three months! let me tell you what happened. a few days after i got to japan my knees got blue and swelled up real big, and i had trouble walking for a few days. it got better again after a few days, so i didnt think too much of it at the time...

ill tell you, antaiji was great. i really enjoyed working on the land - planting potatoes, moving trees and firewood, collecting rocks, sifting soil, polishing brass ornaments for the zen hall. i felt the work making me really strong. also getting up at 330 to do zazen (zen "meditation") wasnt so bad. it reminded me of when i lived with my chinese teacher wang in california - it wasnt much different from that.

the first sitting period was a little daunting at first - 60 minutes of continuous sitting before kinhin (walking meditation) - but it got 'easier' with time. after a while you kinda just lose track of time, because nothing really changes. there's just you and the blank wall. no sound, no sights, nothing. so you just sit there, and then sixty minutes doesnt feel all that different from thirty-five. i also enjoyed the group cleaning and taking formal meals, even though im usually quite clumsy with these things. i felt like i got a little better at them during my short stay, and hope to take some of it back into 'normal life'. but what is every single day but your normal life, anyway?

at antaiji they eat three full meals a day. breakfast and dinner consists of homegrown sticky japanese white rice, soup and 2 side dishes (usually something with potatoes, as they had a lot from last year's harvest still) - and lunch is noodles with some fried rice or leftovers for a sidedish. this is a whole lot more than i usually eat, and as some of you may know, i rarely eat most of these things because im not very good at digesting them. so you can imagine what happened eating them three times a day! my knees kept swelling up and became quite blue as an allergic reaction the the type and quantity of food, which in turn prevented me from sitting in a proper posture during zazen. no matter how i'd sit, it would put pressure on my knees, causing them to swell up and get inflamed even more. also, i started having frequent stomach cramps and stopped having proper bowel movements, so it quickly became quite problematic.

(as im typing this from an internet cafe in osaka, my bowels have returned to normal - but my knees are hurting more than ever. we'll see how it goes!)

at the same time, it felt great just being at antaiji, following the schedule along with all the other folks. they all really were such nice people. in the picture i put up along with these entry you can see two of the ordained monks living there. a russian guy named kuho and a japanese named daisen (大仙 - meaning "great hermit"). both were great friends to me and it was a pleasure working and hanging out with them. we had lengthy talks about practice, life, buddhism and work. things that stands out, for example, is playing beatles songs together with daisen by the campfire on a free day. or racing down the mountain with kuho-san in a beat up 4WD van with me behind the wheel, picking up logs for firewood! so making the decision to leave definitly wasnt easy. those 8 days felt like a month... maybe because we'd did a months worth of work/zazen!

the night before i decided to leave i had a great talk with the abott, the german monk muho. we talked about many things. i told him that what i liked about antaiji, is that it felt no different from my normal life at all. the things we did, were things i would do if i were living in holland right now. grow vegetables, do zazen. what i realised is that, atleast for me, its not so much doing A LOT of zazen that is important, its doing it EVERY DAY. that way it stops being some thing up in your head, or even something you do, but it starts to penetrate your entire being - becomes part of who your are. so this made me look at the pros and cons of staying at antaiji. and i saw that my knees werent getting any better, in fact worse - preventing me from being able to do the thing i came to antaiji for in the first place: zazen! so that very night i made the resolve to leave, and i announced it the next morning after lunch. people were quite shocked, and asked if everything was okay. i smiled and assured them everything was fine - i really was feeling good. so thank you alex, daisen, muho, koho, davide, oliver, gizela, ole, brigitte, jido and gabor! (i hope i didnt forget anyone there...!)

im glad thing happened the way they did. a big part of the reason of me coming to asia was to explore the possibility of becoming a monk. after leaving the bros i felt a little dissilusioned with touring and playing music, and wanted to live a simpler life. i went to sri lanka, but it didnt feel quite right to become a monk there. i went to india, but the same happened there. so then i felt drawn to japan, as i spoke the language and had a lot of affinity with the culture. but around the time i was about to leave india i started to realise i'd been fooling myself all along. what was i looking for? this is IT, this is my life. just right here, right now! there's nothing more than this! so all these questions of "what if?" just dissapeared. become a monk? what does that mean, anyway? does that mean wearing some sort of fancy robe and shaving your head, or does that mean fully living life right here, right now, without your personal bullshit - without fooling yourself!?

as soon as i realised this it became obvious that the only reason for me to stay at antaiji would because of pride - or fear of shame, actually. "what would people say if they found out i left after only 8 days? would they consider me weak? a loser? not strong enough to handle the tough life at antaiji?". but that all became irrelevant - who cares what other people might say? when i realised i could do what i was doing at antaiji - practicing zazen, fully living life - anywhere else in the world, i just couldnt help but keep smiling! i also started to see the work to be done. when your own doubts dissapear a new questions appears. "ok, so what do i do now?".

thats when it stops being about "you" and it starts becoming more like "ok, now how can i benifit other people most?" - "what do i do best, and how do i share that?". needless to say, music is one of the things that immediatly comes to mind. but whatever it will be, im no longer afraid to put in the work. i feel like i have to give back what i got. that sense of empowerment i got from people like brant bjork, all the DIY econo punk rockers. all the ancient zen masters of the past, for that matters. bodhidharma is a punk rocker in my book! and thats about all i have to say about that!