The Antaiji style or Uchiyama style of practice is special or unique even within the Japanese Soto school. The Soto school has 15,000 temples and it's one of the largest Buddhist schools in Japan, with 800 years of history. However, the practice style that Uchiyama Roshi learned from his teacher Sawaki Roshi was unique in that up to that point, zazen was practiced only within the monastery by training monks as part of their practice to become good priests for their local temples. Not many laypeople practiced, although a small number were interested in Zen and visited the monasteries and practiced with the training monks. When those monks went to their temples, they didn't practice and they didn't encourage laypeople to practice.
Sawaki Kodo Roshi didn't have his own temple or monastery but traveled all over Japan. He was a professor at Komazawa University but he didn't have a monastery. He visited many places, including monasteries, temples and laypeople's houses. He practiced Zen with many laypeople and so he called his activities a "moving monastery" and he was called Homeless Kodo because he didn't have his own home temple. He was always traveling and teaching mainly laypeople, so thousands of laypeople started to practice zazen. That was the uniqueness of Sawaki Kodo Roshi's activities.
Uchiyama Roshi practiced only with Sawaki Roshi. He didn't practice at official Soto Zen monasteries, so he didn't practice any other part of Soto Zen training. Sawaki Roshi focused on sitting, so Uchiyama Roshi also focused on just sitting or zazen practice. Sawaki Roshi borrowed a temple called Antaiji which was very small and without any lay members, so there was no regular income. While Sawaki Roshi continued travelling all over Japan, Uchiyama Roshi lived at Antaiji, just sitting and studying Dogen's teachings and supporting his practice by begging or takuhatsu. At official Soto Zen monasteries, zazen is part of the training along with learning how to do different kinds of ceremonies for laypeople Formal practice is a major part of monastic life, but Uchiyama Roshi didn't practice that way; he really focused on sitting. We didn't have morning service or any kind of ceremonies except those for ordination. That was his unique style of practice even in Japan.
When we came to this country, we continued to do that style of practice. We sat four periods a day and we had no ceremonies or any services. What we did was just sitting and working. Suzuki Roshi, Katagiri Roshi and Maezumi Roshi established places in California and Minnesota and tried to transplant authentic traditional Soto Zen monastic practice and establish big Japanese monasteries like Tassajara, Hokyoji or Mountain Center. Uchiyama Roshi didn't ask us to establish such a big place but just to continue sitting. He also asked us not to try to collect money or people but just keep practicing zazen, and if some people came to sit with us we were to take care of those people and practice with them. I think our approach is a little different from those Japanese roshis who established big Zen centers.
Next: A Special Style, part 2: The Lure of the Midwest