Tuesday 13 May 2014


One of my jobs last week was to pickle takenoko (bamboo shoots). Konrad tells me that takenoko means child of bamboo. Well, this is is the season for bamboo children, before they grow too large and fibrous. When you find them in the forest they are quite biomorphic, like claws reaching up through the soil. At the moment we eat them fresh, but if we pickle them they are available to eat throughout the year.

Konrad and others collected many baskets full of them. The soil is soft so the takenoko is not too difficult to dig out of the ground.

It was my job to slice the claws in half lengthways and to ease the soft centre out of the furry/scaly outer layer. I lined a wooden pickling bucket with plastic and arranged the takenoko in layers, with handfuls of salt between each layer to act as a preservative. Finally I sealed the takenoko inside the plastic bag, then fitted a lid inside the bucket with a heavy weight on top. They should be ready in a few months, compressed and soft. I hope they will be okay to eat.

 Perhaps the most important job last week was to plant the rice seedlings in the first rice field. Except for those who were building the barn, the whole sangha took part. It was meticulous work that took the whole day. It was important to plant the seedlings in a strict grid pattern - the lines as straight as we could make them - so that later in the season the hand-operated weeding machines can be pushed between the rows without damaging the rice. The other challenge was the mud... very difficult to walk through at speed. The depth of the mud went up to our knees. Most of us wore high rubber boots and the suction tended to pull the boots from our feet. It was easier (apparently) to go barefoot, but I was scared of the cold!

See how fertile and lush it all looks? When I first arrived at Antaiji in early April the surrounding hills were grey. Now that the leaves have grown on the trees, the forests are dense and and green.

After the day of rice planting there were still plenty of things to be done, so instead of a sesshin we had a work morning and then free time in the afternoon. During free time many people relax, but the people with ongoing responsibilities tend to catch up on work they have not managed to complete. Here Tobi sits on the head of the bulldozer doing something dangerous with the electrical wiring.

Lluis used his free time to redesign the gravel in the southern zen garden. He created a pattern that reminded me of waves on the shoreline.

Moritz and Artur took advantage of the balmy weather to air their bedding. 

And me? What did I do on Hosan?
Well, now is the time to reveal the truth behind this post...


I am writing this from 'down under' (!)

On Hosan I packed my bags. On Monday morning I left Antaiji and arrived in Melbourne via Cairns early yesterday afternoon.

When I first arrived at Antaiji I was determined to stick it out, to stay for 80 days no matter what. Well, that resolve didn't last! In the end I stayed for one month.

One of the reasons that I came to Antaiji was to see if I might return on a regular basis for further monastic training. I have decided that I don't feel able to do this, or I don't have the courage for it or, more simply, I don't want to. My lack of courage relates to the pain I experienced during the 5 day sesshin and have felt since. While it seems that I am not strong enough for life at Antaiji, I'm aware that other people experience physical and psychological stress and yet choose to remain there. So maybe something else is missing, but I don't know what it is.

I really appreciated the life at Antaiji and the community of residents, both the long-term residents and those who are staying for a short time. Although I missed home very much, there was always someone to chat with over coffee or mint tea. I enjoyed sitting with, eating with and working with the community - a respite from thinking about myself all the time. It will be interesting to see what life is like in the urban setting after this. A lot of free choice - I can help myself to something nice to eat whenever I feel like it! - but not necessarily any more satisfaction.

Back in Oz (Cairns domestic airport).

Tuesday 6 May 2014

This morning before breakfast Jinen san showed me how to collect and arrange the flowers for all the altars around the place. There are 4 in the hondo (I think), one in the bathroom, one in the toilet, one in the kitchen and one I've only just discovered in the formal entrance (which we never use). The flowers are changed every 5 days. The photo shows the altar in the kitchen. The flowers pictured grow wild. They resemble an iris but are far more delicate.

After an intense sesshin Lluis and Konrad perform reconstructive surgery on their cushions.

I also mended and tidied up a couple of zafus - but this is one I won't be touching. It belongs to Yudai. It is so carefully done and, besides, he tells me that the stitching has historical significance.


Zafus in the hondo... everyone has different requirements.


Takeo plateing up 15 minutes before 12. Bread is a rare treat. I was so hungry!


Futons airing in the sun. We have been told to air them every 5 days to prevent mould and keep them well fluffed.

Monday 5 May 2014

Today we completed our 5 day sesshin and it is Hosan tomorrow (no scheduled zazen). So this little guy will be keeping my zafu warm for me. His/her posture needs a little correction I think. It looks a little like my posture in the afternoons when I was trying to avoid the pain spreading across my back. An upright posture is fundamental to zazen (we sit with the body, not with the mind) but there were quite a few times during the sesshin when I drooped.

Pain or, more particularly, fear of pain was the biggest issue for me, and I'm guessing for many of us who have not sat a sesshin of this length before. People can also experience boredom, sleepiness, anxiety, hunger, nausea... what else? General overwhelming distress (I certainly did!), anger, itchiness, being too cold, too hot. So why would any sane person engage with this practice? Well there were pleasant things too: birdsong, frogs, sunlight, sound of rain, a different sense of time... but learning to accommodate things I normally avoid is an important part of this practice, and seeing my reactions to these things. (Why? Maybe I'll explain another time.) So, anyway, while I experienced more pain than I have before during zazen, there was plenty of time to observe how it moves, changes and responds to fear. 

Toward the end of the sesshin the fear decreased and the pain became less of a problem (that was the general pattern anyway). Perhaps I felt the end was not too far off. Perhaps I was just exhausted. In any case, I found that keeping a straight posture (instead of cringeing) was the best way to accommodate the pain, as well as other challenges - impatience for the sound of the kaishaku before mealtimes, for instance.

Today is Kodomo no Hi (children's day in Japan). Outside my window last week the carp kites were flying in preparation - although today they probably got a little wet and droopy.

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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lluismolina/sets. 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.