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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
buddhadharma| 35 |spring 2006 I felt so wretched. Going out on takuhatsu from Antaiji was not like selling some famous brand name or reputation. I was often treated more like an ordinary beggar than a religious mendicant. One thing people out on takuhatsu cannot abide are all the other people plying the trade. Among the beneficiaries of begging are, first of all, those monks and nuns from the “brand name” monas- teries. Then there are monks wearing picturesque pointy hats and carrying a staff with metal rings on top that jingle as they walk around, or the Nichiren monks pounding their drums. And then there are the goeika Buddhist hymn singers walking around. I mustn’t leave out the mendicants of the Zen Fuke sect, playing the shakuhachi (traditional bamboo flute) as they go around wearing the special straw hat that covers their head and face completely, plus the yamabushi, the itinerant mountain her- mits. And, last but not least, there is the ordinary garden-variety beggar. I once heard from one of the shop owners that on average five groups a day passed by looking for a handout. It follows that the first ones who come will get the best donations. That means the first fellow might get twenty yen, the second, five yen, and by the last one, it’s down to one yen – if he or she is lucky – or perhaps noth- ing more than a “Get lost!” Just in terms of human emotions, this is understandable behavior. One day I went to yamashina for takuhatsu. I used what little money I had to get there on the electric train. When I got off the train, I took the side streets first, saving the best street for last. But just as I turned the corner to start down Plum Street, lo and behold, a mendicant playing the shakuhachi came toward me from the opposite direction. He had obviously just finished making a stupendous haul! I felt just awful. To rub salt in the wound, the monk stopped in front of me and, with the utmost composure, said, “Pardon me for going first,” and continued on his way. Inside, I wanted to shout, “you rat, I’ve been saving this street for last!” But I took one look at his proud, smirking face and the whole situation suddenly seemed so absurdly funny to me that I gave him a forced smile and bowed back. I suppose you could call that a sort of unwritten etiquette among mendicants. TAKUHATSU NeUROSIS I had some experience of takuhatsu before I moved to Antaiji, when I lived in temples out in the coun- tryside. There were several of us going out together just once or twice a month, so the atmosphere was more like going on an outing; and besides, it wasn’t as if our lives depended on it. In Kyoto, my situation was totally different. Antaiji had absolutely no other income, and it was a burden to set out alone, knowing that I had to bring back a certain amount, and on top of that, knowing that the amount was not really much. I had to go out every day that it didn’t rain, so it didn’t take long before everyone in town seemed to know my face. Once my face became familiar, shopkeepers would give me an “Oh, God, here he comes again” look. And I would show a “Hi, well, here I am again” look. After a while, I started becoming not only depressed, but also totally intimidated. Just before going out for the day, I would imag- ine the street I was about to go down, and very clearly in my mind, I would picture the tobacco- nist on the corner and the barbershop next door, then the sweet cake shop, and the hardware store, and beyond that the fishmonger. I would imag- ine everyone giving me the “Oh no, not that guy again” look, and I would start feeling truly dark and gloomy. Once I reached the street, without stopping to think about it, I would start walking and muttering under my breath, “Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu, Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu” – “I take refuge in you, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.” At last I would arrive at the intended street, and, sure enough, the street was laid out just as I had pictured it in my mind, and, sure enough, I would begin to feel depressed. I found myself standing in front of the first house, intoning the takuhatsu greeting, “Ho~~~” in the most timid of voices. And, sure enough, the woman would come out of her house and give me that disgusted look I knew she would, and blurt out, “Move along, there, you’re blocking the way.” I’d get more depressed and shuffle along to the next door. Just as I expected, the man there shouted at me without any mercy, “Hit the road, buster!” My voice would get even tinier as I stepped up to the next shop. Another lady would come out and, with a disgusted air, toss a measly one-yen bill into my bowl as though she didn’t really want to but felt obligated. I began to almost cower in front of every house, and after tak- ing a quick glance at the owner, I’d move on to the next place without looking back or even intoning the usual takuhatsu greeting. So there I was, faced with a dilemma of having to go out every day because I had to bring in so much money just to survive, while at the same time I was walking through the streets of the city with virtually no money coming in. So, while going out every day and walking my feet off from morning till night, I really began to develop a neurosis. Three years after I came to Kyoto and began going out on takuhatsu on a daily basis, I reached this impasse. It took three years to become a thoroughly familiar face. And then, though I received grudging recognition as a monk, people still seemed to see me as “that guy in the begging business.” At any rate, I had convinced myself that people were looking at me in that way. And there I was, just going through the motions with almost ProPerTYofMarYgrIggSbUrKe,PhoTo:brUceSchWarTZ