After graduation l had practiced with Uchiyama Roshi at Antaii-ji until
1975 when he retired. There our practice was focused on sitting. We sat
nine Periods daily for more than a year. We had a five-day sesshin each
month except February and August. During sesshin we sat fourteen
periods a day for five days. We had no ceremony, no chanting, and no
lecture. We just sat.
In 1975 I went to Massachusetts [to build Valley Zendo, a new practice center in the woods
with two other Japanese monks from Antaiji]. … We sat four periods daily. We had a
one-day sesshin every Sunday and a five-day sesshin each month.We cut
trees, pulled out stumps,and made a green garden, all with hand tools.
We dug a well with shovels. We used a huge amount of firewood for
cooking and heating. ... After five years, I had pain in
my neck, shoulders, elbows, and knees from the hard physical labor. I
couldn't work, and sitting sesshin was very difficult. I had no health
insurance or money for medical treatment. I had to return to Japan.
When l got back l was completely alone. My body was half broken.
I had no money, no job,and no place to live or practice. I stayed at my brother’s
apartment in Osaka for several months while he traveled in
the United states. Then l moved to Seitai-an, a small temple in Kyoto
where I lived as a caretaker for three years. Seitai-an is near Antaiji’s
original site. There l had a monthly five-day sesshin with one of my
Dharma brothers and cotranslator, Rev. Daitsu Tom Wright, and a few
other people. I couldn't practice as l had before because of my physical
condition. This was the first time l had lived and practiced alone after
ten years at Antaiji and Valley Zendo. I had to give up medical treat-
ments. Initially l did takuhatsu (begging) to raise money for them.
But during takuhatsu, we hang a zudabukuro (a bag) from our necks.
This aggravted my neck injury and my chiropractor said it wouldn't
get better if l continued to do takuhatsu. It was a vicious circle. Finally
I gave up both takuhatsu and the treatments. I did takuhatsu only a
few times a month to survive. When l had extra income l spent it on
I had a hard time for several months while l was staying at my broth-
ers apartment before moving to Seitai-an. I was bewildered and didn't
know what to do. My biggest problem was that l couldn't practice as
I had for the last ten years because of my physical condition. In my
twenties l had committed my entire life-energy to practice. Nothing
else had seemed important to me. I didn't know how to live outside
that way of Practice.
While in this situation, I read a Japanese translation of Buddha-carita,
a biography of the Buddha written by the famous lndian Buddhist Poet
Asvaghosa. When describing the Buddha’s experience of seeing the old,
sick and dead outside the gates of his Palace, the author refers to the
“arrogance of youth and health.” This expression hit me. I realized that
my belief that practice was the best and most meaningful waγ of life
was nothing more than the "arrogance of youth and health." That’s why
I was at a loss when l could no longer practice that way because of my
health. My previous practice had been an attempt to satisfy a need for
status and benefit. I wanted to live a better life than ordinary people.
Ever since l read Uchiyama Roshi’s book as a high school student and
began practicing according to Dogen Zenji’s teachings, I knew that I
should not practice zazen for gain. Sawaki Roshi, Uchiyama Roshi’s
teacher, said that zazen is good for nothing. Dogen Zenji says that we
should practice Buddha Dharma only for the sake of Buddha Dharma,
with no expectations. That is shikantaza, or just sitting. I knew all of
this and thought l had been practicing with the correct attitude.
Now, when I found myself unable to continue that practice, I was
perplexed and depressed. I didn’t know what to do. I discovered that
I had relied on practice that was possible only for the young and healthy.
I used the teachings of the Buddha, Dogen Zenji, Sawaki
Roshi, and Uchiyama Roshi to fulfill my own desires. This discovery
completely broke my "arrogance of youth and health” I saw cleary that
my practice had not been for the sake of Buddha Dharma but for
my own self-satisfaction. I knew l couldn't continue to practice with this
attitude. Nor could l stop practicing and go back to an ordinary life.
I was stuck in this situation for some time.
One day something made me sit on a cushion. I had no desire, no rea-
son, no need to sit, but found myself sitting at the apartment by myself. It
was very peaceful. I didn't sit because of the Buddha’s teachings. I
didn't need a reason to sit; I just sat. There was no need to compete
with others or with myself. Thereafter, I did not need to sit as often as I
had before. I could sit just as much as my physical condition allowed.
Finally, I felt free of my understanding of the Buddhas teachings and
my desire to be a good monk. I felt free to be myself and nothing more.
I was still a deluded, ordinary human being with ignorance and desires.
But when l just sat and let go of thoughts, I was ― or more precisely, my
zazen was ― free of ignorance and selfish desires.