Antaiji was founded in 1921 by Oka Sotan as a place for scholars to study the Shobogenzo. At that time it was located in northern Kyoto, and many leading scholars studied there. It was vacated during World War II until Sawaki Kōdō and Uchiyama Kōshō moved there in 1949 to create a place for the pure and simple practice of sitting zazen. As Antaiji became more well known in Japan and abroad in the late sixties, practitioners started to gather there -- but the increasing number of visitors and the growth of the surrounding community made quiet practice difficult. Abbot Watanabe Kōhō decided to move Antaiji to its present location in the peaceful mountains of northern Hyogo to offer a practice experience that returned Zen to the self sufficiency of its Chinese roots.
Today, Antaiji is a temple devoted to Zen practice as a natural expression of life. The days consist of zazen, study and hard physical labor, which serves to support the practice. Zazen and work are not simply practiced as one part of life; rather, all 24 hours of daily life itself are to be the manifestation of Zen. Antaiji has no other special practices, teachings, meditation techniques, insights or spiritual guidance to offer. Nor is it a place to get in touch with the mystery of the East, have occult experiences or just have a taste of Japanese culture. It's a place where one can create one's own life as bodhisattva practice. Although longer-term practitioners stay for three years or more, living harmoniously with the others in the temple, the responsibility for practice still lies solely with oneself.
What is most important is not to use the buddha way for one's own purposes, but instead to give up one's own ideas and throw oneself completely into the practice of the way. Thus it's important be clear about the basis of practice and the motivation to be at Antaiji. Expecting anything other than what life at this precise moment has to offer will invariably result in disappointment. "Make sure you know why you want to come here – do not fool yourself or others."
At Antaiji, Zen is practiced without any additions or modifications. This means that zazen is practiced solely for the purpose of zazen. "Zazen will not get you anywhere. Zazen without gain, zazen which is one with enlightenment, is what is put into practice here."
Each single day as well as the life all year round is centered on zazen and life is simple and pure. Antaiji has no parishioners and there are minimal Buddhist services. Instead, its self-sufficient life involves a lot of work in the fields and forests. Practice is based on the Zen saying “A day without work is a day without food.” Work and food are directly related, with all actions both rooted in and aimed at the one force that keeps us alive.
Visitors are expected to perform the same activities as the monks, mainly cultivating the farmland and zazen. Agricultural work forms a substantial part of the daily routine. Antaiji possesses 50 hectares of land, on which it grows its own vegetables and rice, and the cooking is done with wood, which has to be carried from the surrounding mountains, and cut and chopped by the practitioners themselves.
The self-sufficient life must not be an ideal – a product of the brain – but a practice which is manifested in the basic attitude of one's actions in every day life. Thus Antaiji practitioners feel responsible for causing an inner revolution for themselves, covered with sweat and dirt in summer, persevering in the snow of winter. This is no form of asceticism, but the plain, original form of Zen life, which requires long years of practice. However, self sufficiency is not a goal in itself – it only serves to support the practice of zazen.
Read more about Antaiji on its website.