Traces of Kobun

He was a masterful teacher and calligrapher who touched the hearts and minds of those he met. We mark the tenth anniversary of Kobun Chino Roshi’s tragic death with a selection his teachings.
Calligraphies by Kobun Chino roshi

48

buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly

fall 2012

five hundred years of Buddhist theories. So whatever is experienced or observed can become the source of teaching.” What kind of eye. ( t h i s pa g e ) p h o t o g r a p h e r u n k n o w n (Opposite) Kobun Chino Roshi with his son Alyosha at Felsentor. One must disappear in the sitting. You go to the other side of nothing. Switzerland. I have had more time than that with this effort. We could imagine the image: a bird flying in the clouds. Shikan means for itself. not just your position. “Ho” means phoenix. everything chopped down and thrown away. what kind of mind. certainly not to be captured or contained by any preconception of what a Zen teacher was. and falling. With an advanced practitioner. but all you know now is that the arrow is moving all right. Shikantaza means “sitting. he and his daughter Maya drowned at a nearby swimming pond. which brings you to the other side of nothing. language. just a wing-tip. You share the same breath. Whatever comes to the mind.” This “no” is more exactly called “no no zero. One reason is there is too much to talk about. arising. and “un” is mystery. Your breath and the breath of the universe are the same. Heart Sutra.” Ta is hit. but everything related. comes to your meditation. can receive this insight of emptiness? The eye that sees the relationship of all dharmas. that is the only way. He was often more than inscrutable. or seem absurd—you cannot allow yourself so easily to say “I’m okay. inner recognition may even seem to be a regressed state. cloud. No eyes. is nothing but your portion of this relationship. Nagarjuna. fall 2012 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 49 . I hit the floor—that action is ta. The teachings below are some traces of his flight. too deep. a bit of the tail. on July 25. wisdom eye. The Breath of the Universe The ideal of sitting is to forget the breath. and you are held by the hand of the absolute. to extend the dharma—fitting for someone bringing Zen to America.” to extend culture. My feeling is that each breath is an independent thing. You cannot say to someone else. You cannot even speak of “no-self” within that absolute. everything.” but sitting for itself causes all of them to sit with you. When you flip to the other side of nothing. mystical. 2005. To say “I am not Kobun”—now I am in trouble! And yet…form is emptiness. and yet you sense it is running well. Joshu. His dharma name was Ho-un Kobun. said that after thirty years of practice. It has left your realm. all existences in this relative world. teaching in many places. Sitting and breathing in stillness is like a person who just shot an arrow.he name Kobun means “to extend the way. you are a closed system. Yet in his presence you felt you encountered someone complete. or on another p h o t o s ( fa c i n g pa g e ) v a n j a p a l m e r s . all put under “no. no nose. It is very important to experience the complete negation of yourself. comes to your being. although everyone is there and helping you. interrelated. Before this.” To say “I am Kobun” is understandable. You recognize yourself as the absolute. although the body’s eye may see only someone sitting still on the cushion. always coming and going. and often the talking doesn’t help with practice. is called igen. of yourself. Although they may be moving in another place. is waiting for you there. The wisdom eye observes the relationship of all beings. The following day. “Please sit for me. He carried the forms elegantly and formlessly. —Shoho Michael Newhall T “No No Zero” A famous Zen teacher. no ears. nothing but itself or only for itself. firebird. Za is sitting. so actually you are pounding the sitting. fleetingly visible for a moment and then not—it’s so fitting from a student’s perspective. so naturally there is no more insistence of a self. A moment later the result will be there. the word. He traveled extensively. and yet still I am hesitant to talk. you discover everyone. you may start to speak about it.

instead of being frightened by the appearance of it. and it has nothing to do with your legs. your birth. Sitting still feels like disappearing from this world. Blow the pain away with your breath. you discover you’re still alive! The problem is not pain in the body. in an alpine village in Switzerland. eyeglasses begin to sit. K route. Better to look at it. 50 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2012 Nicolas Schossleitner . at what it is. then Kannon-do. He began to raise a family and taught at Haiku Zendo. obun Chino Otokawa Roshi. one that apparently was unique even in his native Japan. that lifting something is this way. connected but not too entangled and able to move—that is the issue. but the pain of undissolved suffering in your mind. complete and perfected enlightenment. or an urge to be with someone. Beginner’s Mind came to be. Otherwise. was born to an esteemed temple family in the mountainous snow country of Japan. Santa Cruz Zen Center emerged. We have come together as this condensed form. daughter. It happens. upon finishing monastic training at Eihei-ji Monastery. This year.Kobun Chino in Puregg. He also spoke English. had advanced degrees in Buddhist studies. practiced kyudo. the archiving of his teaching and calligraphy. In 1967. and Hokoji in New Mexico. As students began to gather. Puregg and Felsentor. Sokukoji. art. with one’s total self—the total self-acceptance of where you are. the world. whatever you wear. teacher. sit properly. so in this situation just sit upright and align yourself with gravity. When you put eyeglasses on. Two European practice centers. the whole thing. So let your breath sit with you. so on. it is very strenuous. poetic style. In the end. taught calligraphy. and following Tassajara he lived south of San Francisco. spacious. ca 1994 My Teacher’s Legacy Kobun Chino came to America in 1967 at the request of Suzuki Roshi and spent the next thirty-five years helping spread the dharma in the West. Their transition from quiet monastic settings brought them to a location very close to Haight-Ashbury in its wild prime. Something sits. For some. The Pain Is Not Yours Once you go in and start to stretch yourself in this particular condition called practice. the tenth anniversary of his death. transmitted an oryoki practice. was famously adept at calligraphy. Additionally. He was a gifted young man. Let your garment. the whole universe is aching. you cannot sit. In the summer of 2002. and the development of various publications. and yet that is what you’ve got. and at the time of his death held the World Wisdom Chair at Naropa University. his legacy is being commemorated with ceremonies. and taught the dharma. When you lift something from here to there. You gather them. Removed from it. Jikoji. practiced with Koto Sawaki in Kyoto. but you cannot have it. People moving outside all sit with you. This pain is a feeling of something missing. Kobun died in a drowning accident along with his daughter Maya. Let your eyeglasses sit with you. That is why it has to be done for itself. where Suzuki Roshi’s book Zen Mind. helping your sitting. For both of them it must have been a culture shock. Shikantaza in its purest form is identical to anuttara samyak sambodhi. father. that is nearby. Shoho Michael Newhall recalls his teacher’s life. were established by dharma heir Vanja Palmer. student. something is sitting. because everything is lifted with it. like searching for a lost child. Hakubai. Floating Zendo. it’s all a matter of degrees. so let it go. It is the separation from something that you are meant to be. even for one minute. You can feel pain. into the thick wall. Katagiri Roshi also came from Japan to San Francisco Zen Center at that time. Kobun was a teacher to the Shambhala sangha. in the Austrian Alps. music. How to sustain the relationship. Everyday Dharma Zen Center. So there is practice. You go into the rock. still they are participating with you. and feel as if you are disappearing as a human being. Kobun was about to return to ordinary temple life in Japan when he answered a request from Suzuki Roshi to come to California to help with American Zen students. albeit with a soft. Let the house sit with you. There is another pain that shows up as soon as you practice. who is often referred to simply as Kobun. where he introduced Shibata Sensei’s kyudo practice to the sangha. and O-An Zendo are also part of Kobun’s lineage. like forgetting an important item while holding so many packages. with space between. but it is you taking the sitting posture. It is not yours. celebrations. The only special technique is total self-acceptance. Spring Mountain. you feel the pull toward it. When you turn around and get up. Kobun then went to help establish monastic practice at Suzuki Roshi’s newly formed Tassajara monastery.

Mudra means “identity.Sore Ho o miru wa Soku Waga mi o miru Seeing Dharma in itself is Seeing one’s own self. Where are we going on this flight? Why are we practitioners? To sit together without talking. past and future. In the mudra of anjali (in Japanese called gassho) with palms together. parent and child. at the same moment. all kinds of dualism—man and woman. same place—we are like those migratory birds. and shape along with your recognition of a flower or candle together makes an identity. like many small airplanes landing and taking off together. color. still the migrating bird can fly. teacher and student—they all come fall 2012 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 51 . —attributed to the Buddha Gassho A sangha person is like a migratory bird. Even in stormy weather.” The appearance of form.

The body is warm and something is burning. you feel. I see it in others. there is light coming. it shines! Sensing the light within you is the same as expecting a new day tomorrow. or could be being recognized by it. and with it all language. My feeling is that nothing is made by me. otherwise such identical opposites could not exist. as you sit.” as if from a blind state. Determination Anybody can sit when they’re ready to sit. A gassho is like that. When I pull it out. it is a cheek. from that moment. Though I do not see it in myself. is a very. I am here. My deep wish is that it can be adapted to any religion. both. When you look for it. The hands fit together perfectly. Touch means one glance of Christ could save Mary Magdalene who had lost the hope of life. so they must have been one before. so I hope this sitting does not have too much structure around it. a potential is there. inside and outside. touch each other. Being recognized by someone. recognizing someone without destroying the other. the organ of taste. In such a lost state. But formal sitting.Zan Kan Sei Zan Sitting looking at the blue mountain together in front of you as you bow. anytime. and it feels good. Life—connected life—gives meaning. eyes don’t show light. touching is very important. It could be recognition of something. should be polished by each person. everything belongs to the world. This is both an intimate and independent practice. When one drop of father and one drop of mother came together. By being separated you cannot feel the beginning place. very important subject. all that was transmitted to us from very long ago to this experience now. A gassho you instinctively feel is not just a Buddhist activity. If there is a future. “Yes. there is a light. The Light Inside Light comes out of people. It is always mutual. But once in a while a forgotten jewel is in there. like a firefly. or ill. and at some point this is very inconvenient. especially the very center of my being. When full of hope. but one. vitality. eyes shine. so they can feel each other. this life. but I do not belong to me. and when discouraged. so the hands separate in coming to be. feels like a fermented junkyard or something. Eyes are a window. Sometimes sitting is utterly dark. and it is a hand. When you touch your cheek. Teacher and student are not different entities. It is not always constant because the support of innumerable others sustains an individual life. it is before and beyond. We say man and woman were one before. and at the same time one’s existence must return the same amount of energy to all. The urge or interest in sitting can occur to anybody. light is generated inside. . eyes that are not destroyed by the intensity of seeing.

it exploded and turned to blossoms landing on the ground. and you feel fulfilled.Kobun Chino Roshi doing a brush calligraphy photographer unknown It is a very powerful and joyful action when you come to the point. a similar thing happened. so to see and feel the conditions is very important. See clearly. what should remain and what should be cut off. Desire is the process of Desire Somehow our existence is conditioned. The more you go the same way. When it’s working. But the desire for apple has not ended. The direction that this whole universe is moving is the direction of your deepening zazen. internally. in his mind. At that point you don’t look around for somebody. When Buddha had a vision of lightning in the sky. Everybody was exhausted and sleeping. it’s within you. begin to work on what is missing. You want to eat an apple. I always think of Christ. and you eat it. It is not a personal feeling. Your mind is dependent on knowledge to function. and about yourself. but they stop in space and fall away. the instrument is in tune and it can become wisdom. Washing rice to make pizza is not a good idea! You have to do something that is possible and is related to your purpose. admit what is there. conquering evil. It is the direction your existence is supposed to go. We call it an attack of Mara. It is the question of life or death. so it is a natural thing you are doing. See reality. and he went away from his people and talked with God. This is merit. When Buddha sat on his seat. It is not Mara attacking you from somewhere else. what has to be connected with. Desires have objects. You have to remember this. added. poisoned arrows coming at you. It feels like your destination is reached. It doesn’t end. kept. but you feel that. “Unattainable” is the recognition of the richness of attaining. The desire for apples begins after fulfillment. It is beginning. Do not be disappointed. everything is nonsense. The end of desire is the appearance of wisdom. give up your practice. so if mind is not working. so you need a strong sense of determination. you just feel very confident about what you are doing. your search. your search is ended. These images symbolize the changes that can happen in finding the way. right before he was captured. It is like arrows of hatred. the more you feel there is no end to this way. fall 2012 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 53 . whether you continue to live or you end your life.

sometime painful. If you try to hold it by knowing it. sometimes impatient. so you cannot tell if it is wisdom or not. “You are drifting away. Also. Your sitting. Because form is also the process of cessation. This action relates with all existences. checking your sitting. even if you cannot know it. For people who deny the existence of power. You are the boss. you shrink existence. compassion. in this big world. An artist. From samadhi to samadhi you move. You have to be aware. At this level it is just a concept. A transcending advance means the denied stuff and the one who denies are finished. Your entire life is different varieties of samadhi. you always go behind it. Your body stands up. sometimes it feels like an emergency! The little policeman can be a helper. Your action should be effortless. If you presume a selfauthorized power. The storm is where we live. your body is action. In the same way we could deny holiness. there is no power. or holding something. posture of body and mind. and with that tainted concept. there is no holiness. Immediately. Movement comes out of one samadhi into another samadhi. If we begin to feel power.” Kobun Chino during a break at Puregg Zendo in Austria. with intuitive understanding. so you say it is samadhi too. rather encourage yourself to reach the present. you always go behind it. very fast. If you try to hold it by knowing it. but even so the horizontal way is still the conduct and business of your whole life. way back of it. but it exists in each samadhi. but each thing doesn’t have power. Shinno shinjo is its name. pleasure or suffering. already expresses the intuition. and cannot reach it. If you do not presume power. Our life is very fast. and shinjo is the realm of the king. It’s like a sailor sailing a boat in the storm. but it can be felt. so nothing appears from it. 1994 forming something. not just an idea. Existence. Actually zazen is not samadhi. holding a paintbrush. so only by being with it is there a chance to know it. power cannot be possessed. know why the storm is there. you can never stand up from the sitting meditation. Like zazen. so only by being with it is there a chance to know it. it is impossible to sail. we see that everyone has 54 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2012 Nicolas Schossleitner . The Samadhi of No Samadhi Meditation is action.Our life is very fast. the horizontal concerns of life do not advance. and zazen samadhi is the samadhi that can penetrate all Power The power of meditation and wisdom together is called joriki. saying. Unlike a trancending advance. come back. and wisdom. power can fill existence. and how the boat stays on the surface of the waves. is power itself. Jo is samadhi. but also be aware that the storm is also yourself. yet you cannot get rid of samadhi. and ki is spiritual energy. samadhis. I think. The samadhi of “no samadhi” is zazen! The Storm Is Where We Live In practice sometimes there is a feeling of a kind of policeman inside you. you can never leave it. or facing the clay. is like a little ship. you don’t need to have an idea about how it should be done—just do it. the world of phenomena. but it is important not to judge your effort. Sometimes easy and peaceful. Shinno is mind-king. If you resist the storm.

1994 fall 2012 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 55 . Existence shows its depths by recognition of itself. It exists for its own sake. you are nothing. you’re actually nothing. You are like dust on the earth. Within an inhalation and an exhalation you may have a feeling of it. even when body and this earth drop off. you disappear. what brought this existence to be like this. Nicolas Schossleitner Kobun Chino leads a calligraphy seminar at Puregg Zendo. Actually. The direction that this whole universe is moving is the direction of your deepening zazen. Joriki is like a tree standing straight in the winter and making strong rings. It is an interesting. will appear as very personal. it forms rings. Like an electric current. depending on the change of seasons. without any reason you find you are here. Existence deepens by recognition.power. a particular existence and you feel everything. someone else touches it. when you really feel your bow. and now we come back to know it. Power is experienced when you meditate because your meditation is the action of denial of your personal power. completely relating to each other. yet from these efforts a source of wisdom grows. When you stand up. one’s recognition of the dharma. That is the real age of the person. water. Breath. beyond imagining. So you become the center of the power. At that time you are ready to walk. and sunshine. We cannot know. recognition appears the same. It is the direction your existence is supposed to go. it hurts equally. you stand up as a person. That strength is important to feel. but dharma itself is universal truth? When you touch it and another person touches it. everything has power. In the very beginning we had something that we miss. and meditation makes that ring in human existence. We have the same action the tree has. concentration. Dharma Exists for Its Own Sake Why is it that one’s certain knowledge. there is no such existence. Life is energy itself. but you do not have power. strange feeling. This energy and power is generously dispersed into all things. when I touch it. still goes on. When bowing. so it is a natural thing you are doing. It goes endlessly. but that is just how we think about things. it hurts. you do not have anything. Existence is made of power. It is like the experience of bowing. We don’t know what brought us here. It is not a personal feeling. The experience of samadhi. Things exist as they are.

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