Acalanatha in Soto Zen?

I had an interesting and odd conversation following Aikido last night. One of my fellow students had heard that I was a Buddhist and wanted to chat with me a little about it. (This was a casual thing as we were doing clean up and happened to be working in the same area.)

It turns out that he had been a Soto Zen monk for a few years (it sounded like three or four at least) in Ottawa, Ontario. This was back in the early 1990’s from 1989 through to 1996 or so but he mentioned he wasn’t a monk the entire time. This, in and of itself, was interesting. It is always cool to meet fellow Buddhists, especially former monks in the Japanese traditions. My neighbor is one of these as well.

The really interesting bit is that when he asked me about my practice and I mentioned Tendai, he not only had heard of it but knew a little about it and its role in Buddhism in Japan. This is a first for me. As conversation continued, it became clear that his Zen teacher had incorporated aspects of Tendai practice into their school. I was told that the teacher had stopped using the traditional Soto Zen precepts for their monks and had, instead, switched to the Tendai ones because he felt that they were better or more in tune with the world in some way (it wasn’t clear why specifically). There number of vows they took for Jukai was greater (15?) and the total number were 48 for their monastery.

My acquaintance also mentioned that some methods of Tantric practice had been incorporated by his teacher including working with Acalanatha in some fashion. My acquaintance was not aware of the role of Acalanatha in Tendai or Shingon practice and mentioned Acalanatha on his own.

Because of time issues, since we were both cleaning up and then changing after class, I did not get to press him for details but it is still interesting to know that there are Zen teachers out there doing this sort of thing.