Tave was by no means the hardest or most unpleasant samu assignment. It also differed from other samu because the whole monastery (minus the Tenso) was involved – even Docho-san’s children participated for awhile. This was to ensure that all of one rice field got planted in one day.
How easily the rice planting goes depends on the condition of the field. Basically the planters have to be able to see intersecting grid lines, about a foot apart, that are marked onto the mud’s surface a day or two before. During planting 3-5 rice seedlings are carefully stuffed into each spot where the lines cross. If the field isn’t level or there’s too much water due to rain, the grid lines disappear under the water. This year the first field we planted was about a third under water.
On the morning of Tave there was no zazen and no cleaning of the monastery. Instead, we pulled on our work clothes, slugged down a cup of tea or instant coffee and met by the kitchen entrance a bit before 5 am. There was a bit of nervousness and joking around as everyone gathered in anticipation of the big day. As far as clothing, there was some discussion on the evening prior about footwear. You could either go barefoot or tightly strap on your otherwise loose-fitting rubber boots with duct tape (or string or both) so the boots wouldn’t get pulled off as you made your way through the mud. (If you were ‘in the know’ there are special boots made for planting you may have purchased, like the ones modeled below.) It was also suggested we grab a plastic bag to carry extra seedlings in, since it was going to be difficult to turn around mid-field, avoid messing up the grid, and not step on planted seedlings to get more.
|Boots specially made for planting rice (modeled by Koho)|
After awhile our work got evaluated: The lines we had planted were not straight enough. It was explained again that we had to match the grid to facilitate weeding etc later. Not entirely our fault given that the lines were partially under water. But some were better at eyeballing the grid than others. And, of course, abilities also depended on the success of neighboring workers. People started getting frustrated and irritated with themselves, with their neighbors, with the grid, with the ways that had been devised to try to figure out where the grid was. And this wasn’t just any group of people, supposedly we were practiced in ‘pausing before reacting’ to the circumstances..
At some point after breakfast, I remember thinking that everyone had the best of intentions, was trying their hardest to do a good job and/or to get the field properly planted. People had different perspectives on how this would be best accomplished. People had different perspectives on success. People literally had different perspectives of the field itself. Different people had different strengths and short-comings. But, I think it is accurate to say that at least for this group of people, everyone was trying their best. This realization didn’t make the situation any less serious, but most of the time I was able to stay grounded (more or less, given the mud) and less affected by the reactivity of others.
We took breaks for breakfast, midmorning ‘tea’ and lunch. What a scraggly, mud-covered motley crew we were! The field did get finished that day. At the end of the day we all got to take hot baths to soak off the mud so we could admire our bug bites. The next day we were told, however, that the field was a disaster and for several days folks tried to straighten out the lines. It was a bit of a disappointment. Some continued to speculate for days on how to make grid lines more reliably..
Antaiji has two rice fields, so only two days while I was there were spent doing Tave. The condition of the second rice field was pretty perfect. The difference in the planting experience, in terms of speed, non-frustration, and success, was incredible. We finished near lunch time and went to a nearby hot spring to celebrate…
|The Antaiji rice field in spring|
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Organic Rice!: Antaiji is probably one of the few places in Japan where the rice is manually planted. Most rice paddies these days are planted using a machine. (Driving by those paddies was kind of depressing after I could compare, they look so beautiful and lush compared to ours – at least this year.) The places that use a machine, however, rely on pesticides and herbicides to keep their crops weed and insect free. Antaiji’s rice crop is chemical-free. The planting machines’ rows are too narrow to allow for manual weeding of the Antaiji rice crop… hence, manual planting.
Food!: Antaiji is largely a self-sustaining monastery and its major crop is rice. That rice goes to feed residents their requisite 1/2 cup per meal (I think Dogen suggests 1 cup, but times have changed), typically along with soup, often a miso, and a couple of side dishes. We also sort the rice grains we eat before it gets cooked, pulling out the few rice hulls, pebbles, bugs that have stayed or found their way into the rice stores.
Harvest!: This year's rice crop should be due for harvesting soon. I wonder how it turned out... I wonder what harvesting is like...