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乙川弘文 Otokawa Kōbun (1938-2002)
乙川知野 Otogawa Chino, 法雲弘文 Hōun Kōbun,
Kobun Chino Otogawa
Kobun was born on February 1, 1938 in the small town of Kamo, Niigata Prefecture, in northwestern Japan, to a family from a long line of Soto Zen priests. The youngest of six children, he spent his childhood at the family temple, Jokoji. When he was eight years old his father died of cancer. It was
during a time when Japan had been devastated by the Second World War, and there were continuing food shortages. His mother somehow fed her family, sometimes cooking stems of pumpkin when the pumpkins were gone, and using plants foraged in the woods. Ordained at age thirteen, Kobun was adoopted at fourteen by Hozan Koei Chino, Roshi, whose temple, Kotaiji, was about a mile from Kobun's family temple. Chino Roshi, without heirs, trained Kobun so that, in the Japanese tradition, Kobun would inherit the abbacy of Kotaiji. Chino Roshi had a deep, resonant voice, and chanting, not zazen, was his main
practice. Kobun's training often took place as he followed his teacher through the fields as they walked to households in need of their ceremonies and prayers, chanting as they went. He received Dharma transmission from Koei Chino Roshi in Kamo in l962.
Kobun attended Komazawa University from 1957 to 1961 in Kyoto. From there he went on to Kyoto University from 1961 to 1965 for a degree in Mahayana Buddhism, where his masters thesis subject was a study of Mahayanasmgraha. In part he chose to study in Kyoto to be close to Kodo Sawaki Roshi, with whom he had sat sesshin since high school days. Sawaki Roshi strongly advocated revitalization of zazen
as the central practice of Soto Zen, a subject of particular interest to Kobun. During his years in Kyoto Kobun also trained in Kyudo with the archery master, Kanjuro Shibata Sensei. Also, from an early age, he was an intuitive and skilled calligrapher.
After university Kobun trained at Eiheiji monastery, for three years from 1965-1967. Toward the end of this time, he was asked to train incoming novices. He broke tradition by getting permission to put aside the kyosaku, the practice stick which had sometimes been misused as a tool for cruelly hazing young monks.
In 1967, while at Eiheiji, Kobun received a letter from Suzuki Roshi, who had been teaching in San Francisco since 1958, where he founded the San Francisco Zen Center. The letter was an invitation for Kobun to come to California to help establish Tassjara, the first Zen monastery in America. Kobun later said this was a dream come true for him. But when he asked his master's permission, Chino Roshi three times said "No." Ignoring ancient tradition, which required him to accept a third denial, Kobun took ship for San Francisco. This was 1967. He brought gifts from Eiheiji for the new monastery: A huge drum, a bell, and a mokugyo. (In the Tassajara fire of 1978 these gifts were destroyed. All that was left of the bell was a puddle of bronze.) He contributed many of the forms still in use today at Tassajara and San Francisco Zen Center, among them the sounding of the han, the drum, the bells, and the taking of meals in formal oryoki style. He was a resident priest at Tassajara until 1969. "I don't think people realize how important he was in establishing Tassajara Zen Center," says Bob Watkins, who studied with Kobun for thirty-five years. "There were only a handful of us there at the time, sitting on army blankets in the old building we used as a zendo. "In the beginning Kobun taught us everything: How to put the zendo together, breathing, posture, how to do oryoki meals in Navy surplus bowls."
Haiku Zendo, a suburban offshoot of San Francisco Zen Center, was created in Los Altos, California, in 1966. Suzuki Roshi, and later Katagiri Roshi, traveled the 30 miles from San Francisco to lecture and teach there. In 1967 this sangha raised the funds for Kobun's journey to America, with the idea that he would become their resident teacher. Suzuki Roshi, however, first needed Kobun at Tassajara, so it wasn't until 1970 that Kobun became the resident teacher at Haiku Zendo. This small zendo was a remodeled garage with seventeen seats. Located at the home of Marion Derby, who later moved to Tassajara, it was then purchased and maintained by Les Kaye and his family. Kobun and his new wife Harriet soon moved into a house one block away. The interior of the zendo had an authentic, Japanese feeling, having been constructed with carefully chosen materials and designed with a raised sitting platform. It was eventually too small for the sangha which grew rapidly under Kobun's guidance.
His style was informal. He preferred to be called Kobun, not "Sensei," and never "Roshi," and he encouraged his students to think of him as their friend rather than their master. His unpredictable and subtle style resonated with the times as he emphasized life-in-the-world, encouraging his students to marry and have children. During those early days he was almost always available to his students, night and day, even after his two children were born, Taido in October, 1971, Yoshiko in May, 1973.
Kobun gave workshops and courses through Stanford University, Foothill College, and U. C. Santa Cruz. The course Kobun taught at Stanford, offered through an extended education program open to the entire community, was called The Roots of Zen, and focused on Indian Madhyamika and Yogachara philosopies. He was also, after Suzuki Roshi's death in 1971, on call to San Francisco Zen Center, helping Baker Roshi with teaching the forms of Zen, including instructions for ceremonies, translations of chants and sutras, funerals, and ordinations. Kobun also did the calligraphy on Zen Center rakusus and on stupas marking ashes burial sites.
During this time, too, Kobun became a close personal friend of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who had made a pact with Suzuki Roshi to establish a Buddhist university in the United States. After Suzuki Roshi passed away, Trungpa Rinpoche asked for Kobun's help in establishing his vision in Colorado. He needed Kobun to help instruct his students in zazen, drumming, bowing, oryoki, and calligraphy. Kobun introduced Rinpoche to Shibata Sensei, and that relationship became the source of kyudo practice in the Shambala tradition, still led by Shibata Sensei today. Kobun taught at the inaugural summer sesshion of Naropa in 1974 and returned to what is now Shambala Mountain Center and Naropa University every year to teach and lead sesshins.
The Santa Cruz Zen Center was founded in 1971 by Kobun and local students, with Jim Goodhue as the first director. Kobun led sitting practice and lectured every week in Santa Cruz for over ten years. He also helped found Spring Mountain in Mendocino County north of San Francisco in the early 1970s. A small residential community, it underwent several transformations in the Ukiah area, until practice there came to an end in the 1980's.
Trout Black, Stephan Bodian, Buff Bradley, Elmer Caruso (who headed the Spring Mountain effort), Jerry Halpern, and Phil Olsen were among the first monks ordained by Kobun, in the early 1970s. Four seven-day sesshins a year and many weekend and one day sittings were held in a youth hostel a few miles from Haiku zendo on the Duveneck ranch, Hidden Villa, in Los Altos Hills. After a few years of hauling cushions, food, mats, tan and pots back and forth, the sangha decided to look for a permanent place to practice. The sangha was incorporated in the State of California as Bodhi. At Kobun's suggestion, it was stated in the bylaws that all beings are members of this sangha. Funds were raised while several practice sites were being considered. Eventually the sangha decided to buy both an urban city property and one in the Santa Cruz mountains. The city center, Kannon-do, was established in Mountain View with Keido Les Kaye as chief priest, who was recognized in 1986 as a Zen teacher and dharma heir in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki.
Kobun named the site in the mountains Jikoji, meaning Compassion Light Temple. His elder brother, Keibun, abbot of the family temple in Japan, came to America to inaugurate the new temple with a Dai Segaki, a Hungry Ghost Ceremony, in 1982.
Kobun and his wife, Harriet, separated in the late 1970's and finally divorced in the 1980's. Kobun helpled Harriet move with the children to Little Rock, Arkansas where she had family roots and could continue her graduate education in nursing. Missing them greatly, he wanted to be within at least one day's driving distance of his children. Taos, New Mexico, in the American Southwest, met the requirement, so he settled there, and his children visited him on school vacations. At that time, Kobun's student, Bob Watkins, was looking for land on which to create a small monastery. A property was found under the brow of El Salto mountain, at an elevation of 8,000 feet, in the Sangre de Christo mountains near Taos. It included a small adobe house and a garage that could be converted into a small zendo. Kobun named it Hokoji, founded in 1983. He translated the name as Phoenix Light Temple. Hokoji can also be translated as Wisdom Light Temple. For the past 10 years, Stanley White has been holding the position of Osho or head priest. Here, Zazen pratice on a daily basis and regular sesshins have been going on for over 25 years by now. In 1984 Kobun himself bought a piece of property down the road from the zendo, and began to build a house in the forest, a coiling dragon of embedded colored stones encircling its foundation. Meanwhile he rented a house in Taos, which he named Saiho-in, after the dharma name of his close friend and companion, Stephanie Sirgo. Kobun returned often from Taos to California to lead sesshins at Jikoji.
Kobun began to be known as a traveling teacher as he divided his time among Jikoji, Hokoji, and Shambala sanghas in the United States. Late in the 1980s he began visiting Europe to help friend and former student from Tassajara, Vanja Palmers, who was leading groups of Zen students in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Over the course of 15 years, Kobun helped Vanja lead sesshins and they taught and ordained many students together. With his help and encouragement, Vanja and his European Zen friends established several new centers, particularly Felsentor and Puregg. In 1991 Vanja received Dharma Transmission from Kobun. During this time Kobun also met his future wife, Katrin, at Puregg.
Because Kobun's former master, Chino Roshi, had realized that Kobun would never return to Kotaiji, Chinos temple in Japan, he formally separated from Kobun. Kobun was then re-adopted into the Otogawa lineage and took his original family name. Consequently his first two children have the surname Chino, while his second family has the name Otogawa. In the 1990s, long since reconciled with his master, Kobun met the monk whom Chino Roshi had adopted to inherit the temple in his place. He said, "Now I have a little Dharma brother in Japan who is taking care of my master. It feels very good... Togo is his name. Togo means satori."
Kobun and Katrin moved to Santa Cruz in the 1990's where they lived with their three children, Maya, Tatsuko, and Alyosha in a home Kobun named Raigho-in. It was a centuries-old style Japanese farmhouse newly built and owned by Ken Wing and Hollis DeLancy. They had helped support Jikoji and Kobun for many years, and had hosted him on trips to Japan, India, and elsewhere.
After his divorce from Harriet, Kobun, while he continued to sit zazen with his students, considered himself in retreat from formal teaching. But after the birth of Alyosha, his third child with Katrin, he came out of retreat to teach again. This motivated a move to Colorado, where he was offered a position on the Naropa faculty. The family lived at Shambala and Kobun commuted to his classes at Naropa. In 2000 he was appointed to the World Wisdom Chair.
Martin Mosko, a landscape architect and garden designer based in Boulder was a long time student and friend of Kobun. Martin also trained with Kobun's brother, Hojosama Keibun Otogawa, abbot of the family
temple, and received dharma transmission from him. In 2001 Kobun consecrated a Zen center and garden Martin had created as Hakubai Temple. Martin Hakubai Mosko was installed as abbot in a Mountain Seat Ceremony in the Spring of 2004.
By 2000, Kobun had given the precepts to over one hundred students. Most of the ceremonies were Zuike Tokudo, or lay ordination. Several were Shukke Tokudo, or novice priest ordinations.
Kobun Chino, Roshi (1938-2002) with his daughter Maya.
On July 26, 2002, Kobun drowned in Vanja’s swimming pond in Switzerland while trying to rescue his five-year-old daughter Maya, who also drowned. Following Kobun's death, Vanja Palmers, as his most senior heir, completed transmission for Angie Boissevain, Caroline Atkinson, Jean Leyshon, Bob Watkins, and later, Michael Newhall, the current Resident Teacher at Jikoji. He also transmitted the dharma to Ian Forsberg in Taos. Angie Boissevain had served as Director of Jikoji under Kobun for almost two decades, and began teaching with his encouragement. She now leads the Floating Zendo in San Jose. Carolyn Atkinson founded and leads the Everyday Dharma Zen Center in Santa Cruz. Both Ian and Jean are active at Hokoji, each leading at least one yearly sesshin, and also traveling to lead sesshins at other centers.
Jerry Halpern, wrote, "Possibly Kobun's finest quality as a teacher was that he required his students to live their own lives, and he encouraged them to become free to do so."
This 'autobiography' is a work of love and dedication by Angie Boissevain. Over the years, she taped and transcribed many talks Kobun gave and now, upon request and especially for this web-site, she searched for passages where he talks about himself and put together this fascinationg patchwork 'autobiography'.
When I think, “Why am I here?” it’s really unthinkable to find a reason why. It feels like being pushed by some force to keep up my presence, no matter where it is. Pushed from the past, that is one feeling. Another is always a powerful longing which comes up from inside me, with a wish to create something which I would be able to do. For this reason, my second elder brother definitely named me Dreamer. “My youngest brother is a big dreamer,” he says. Maybe so. He is sort of a realistic realist, like the second son of Karamazov brother. Incredibly intellectual and cynical and humorous. He can chop up everything he wants to. And yet, everyone calls him a holy man, or a saint. His nickname has been “Stainless,” or “Saint.” Saint Keibun is his nickname from Junior High School. He keeps up all relationships; from the time he was a very small child he has kept proper communication. When someone writes a letter, within one day he writes back, which is a miracle to me. I never write back! And every time he lectures me, “See, you are the Dreamer. I am the Saint,” he says.
I am unable to define myself, what I actually am. A lot of new things happen every day, it amazes me how many new things come in new days. On the other hand, how strange it is, old things always follow right to the new days, all of them.
My father passed away at the age of sixty three. I was about seven years old. I still have memories that he took me to ofuro (baths) and tap my hips and pull my something and say, “Grow big!” I even hear his voice. When I was about three and a half years old, his three boys got instruction on how to sit. It was a summer evening. Many fireflies were appearing from the temple’s lotus pond. We were enjoying the wide temple corridor, cooling ourselves. Then big bother, middle brother and littlest one, myself, all faced the garden and start to sit, and father came around to correct our posture.
I remember, that same night we saw ...it went “Shuuu...: Northern lights? No, no, we say spirit of the dead. We figured later that it was an owl carrying sulfur fire around his body. The temple has a burial ground, and on warm summer nights, once in a while the sulfur of the buried starts to burn in the heat. We thought it was a holy ghost flying around.
I wasn’t taught what shikan taza is, I haven’t had formal koan training. From childhood, whatever I was interested in, I could study, so I started with biology, and all kinds of necessary things, as usual with children in Japan. Calligraphy. Japanese language, to speak, write, think, which relates with the very symbolic form of nature and things. By seeing each character, you can reproduce each thing in nature. I was very involved in learning language in elementary school. My name, given to me by my natural father, was a big problem to me. All family members had “bun” in their name. Father’s name was Bunryu. Bun means question mark. And ryu is dragon...
It’s also a question to me what kind of animal this ryu is..So, my father is, to me, a very big question. His master, who adopted my father when he was six years old, gave him this name. So, his, grandmaster’s name is Bunzan. Bun is another question. Eldest brother was given the same name as father’s adoptive father, so the grandfather’s name came to the eldest brother, but the sound is Bunzo. It’s the same character, but we get confused, the pronunciation was different. The same character: Bunzo, which sounds like: three. That is still a big question, number three.
Second brother was Keibun. Kei is “respect,” which he pronounced himself, he was very proud. “Everyone respects me!” And he said, “This little one, everyone loves him, but everyone respects me.” ...It is supposed to be that he respect everybody, that is why the name was given to him. I wish he was here. Third one, this one, is called Kobun. Forgotten! I have never worn new clothes because everyone’s clothes ended up on me. Even now my elder brother’s and my natural father’s clothes fit me. Very strange. Ko is structured from the archery bow, which coincidentally, I picked as my exercise when I was in Kyoto. That part I understand now, why my father gave this part of my name, ko. The other side is “mu.” Mu is like the koan Muji, a very big subject. It means :”nothing”. Especially for American students, mu is a very hard concept to experience, and is still, for me, a big question, because I haven’t been checked by great Zen master about the koan Muji! Some day I want to figure it out!
One day a very vigorous man asked me, among many people, making me very embarrassed, “I heard you are a Zen master. Have you ever experienced great enlightenment?” I was so embarrassed! I had to say, “No! I haven’t experienced such crunchy stuff!”
For some reason this name of my whole family has been a very big question. Until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to where it came from and who gave this kind of name generation after generation. I found out that it is a name picked up from Manjusri. And Bunzan is also in a koan. Manjusri’s koan, which you probably know , about the three places Manjusri stayed in outside of Shakyamuni Buddha’s training period. Mahakashyapa was very upset because he was the head practicer and as soon as the training period started, Manjusri Bodhisattva disappeared from the congregation and no one knew where he went. On the last day of the practice period, Manjusri came back and Mahakashyapa was very mad at him. “It’s against the rule of the monastery!” He asked Shakyamuni Buddha for a discussion and was ready to hit the gong to gather everybody in a special court. But as he lifted his knocker, he had strange visions of very very sincere practicers as Manjusri’s activity for the three months, like a movie. In Mahakashyapa’s vision, Manjusri was, during one month, staying with many children, like a nursery school. Another month he was staying in a place like San Francisco downtown, like a topless bar, or massage parlor, or something like that. Another month, he was drifting around doing whatever he wanted to do. Mahakashyapa was so astounded by this scene that he quit his proposed discussion.
I was thirteen years old. I said, “I will keep, sustain, ‘No Killing Life.’ Fu sessho kai. I didn’t know what I was saying, but my ordination master was sitting way up, like a seat about same height as Buddha’s seat. I was sitting there surrounded by shaved monks and nuns, trying not to run away! They were sitting there in zazen, so I grabbed their energy, and in my high-pitched voice said, “I will.” Thirteen. Forty years later, I appreciate that that happened. I didn’t appreciate it at that time. Feeling was alright, although the next day the village boys came as usual. “Shall we go?” “Yes, let’s go.” And we were off on bicycles, with fishing tackle and lunch box. At two or three o’clock we started for the irrigation ditch in a rice field. Some ditches were very big, like a little river. You get in the reeds and fish and come back with tons of fish. The day before I had been saying “I will not kill life!”
Among various studies I have experienced in my life, I feel very appreciative to have received the Precepts. The older I become, the more I appreciate them. I was very lucky, being born as a child of a Zen priest . And growing up in the atmosphere of temple life...again, deep appreciation. At the same time, I feel that if I were born in a different family, where would I be?
When I went back to Japan, I saw a neighbor who has also about the same amount of white hair, and we looked at our heads and said, “My goodness, you have become very old!” We talked about how bad we were in elementary school, with the sort of rhythm and texture of mind that is the very same as before...This man is always famous as the bad boy in the town, and I loved to be with this bad man. No one understood me. “How can he go with this violent man?” The only thing he couldn’t stand was electric shock. I grasped that weak point in him and always mentioned it. “Don’t talk about it!”Everyone was frightened of this man. One day we went to swim in a mountain stream, and he was drowning, and I saved his life, and we promised not to talk about it. It was that kind of relationship. He asked me, “Are there beautiful people in America?” I said, “Yes.” He was so curious about you...
I was born as a child of a priest. Without giving birth to a monk’s mind, I was already caught, and shaved my head! And, like children studying the Suzuki method of violin, in an unconscious state I already memorized so many sutras! Without knowing the meaning of any of it...My whole life has been protesting the monkhood! I still cannot get out of the pickle jar!
I lost my natural father when I was eight, but to me he has never died. I remember his smooth, silk-like cold feet. That’s all, the last image of father. Long, very long toe nails, toes, and round tips, I remember. Huge. My hand was about that big. Eight years old, very small hand. His feet were huge!
After someone has died you have this feeling that there is no body any more, but there is still the force of that person being there and catching up to our life, letting us notice that their life is still going on. An example is my father. Today I again thought of my father . The recent occasion which particularly happened this year was originated--appeared in phenomena-- by my father. I was so surprised! He passed away the year the Second World War was over, but it still reminds me that his influence is on people. It’s very surprising, all those people who were with my father still remember what he wished to see now. It’s very interesting. It’s the same for people who passed away in this country since I came here.
My experience about love, expression of love, was this year’s biggest present to me, my elder brother’s visit. He is so tricky! I cannot believe it! The purpose of his visit to this country...no one knows! To me, it’s simply that he wants to be a very demanding elder brother, showing what elder brother means to me. It’s a fantastic visit to me. We didn’t meet for very long, only probably three hours. He spent five minutes praising my effort, and two hours and fifty five minutes lecturing. Lecturing continuously, and always saying, “This is my last advice!” and then went on and on! And he said, “It’s not me speaking, it’s your father speaking through me!” I was very happy that he could meet many of you. But he said, “I am going to come to visit you every year!” Immediately, I got a headache! He can come, but I’ll go to sesshin!
I don’t remember the exact day and time, but my professor in Kyoto University, Keiji Nishitani, through his lectures and seminars I studied about your past. Western philosophies, religions. A very excellent teacher, he’s almost eighty years now...About seventeen years ago I was his student. One of the papers I wrote was “God concept of Modern Man.” I get all sweaty when I remember my discussion about it. He said, “Your report was excellent!”
I was interested in carving out the historical Buddha’s life. I wanted to know what kind of life he lived, so my study was focussed toward historical material, so I ended up in Kyoto University where the best library is. In its many stories, and in the basement, I was like a bookworm crawling there. I’m still not clear what kind of person Gautama Buddha was. To think about him makes me feel I immediately go back home where I started. I was very proud of what I studied, too proud, I think.
My young mind drove me to find out what was Buddha’s enlightenment. Most of my early years were spent only on this point, which drove me to various places. Years and years of practice with doubt, with thirst for knowledge. Forgetting reality, my face turned around, and I went way into the past. So you can imagine how far I lost myself. Head was first, so that my head went into the books and traveled in books. All kinds of Buddhist literature. I feel now it was a nightmare! At that time I was so excited...my body was like this (hunched, headfirst), and I didn’t understand anything! I became a very big, smart ass-hole. And I reached the point of the theory of the very close process of the enlightened state of practice--how that knowledge turns to shiny wisdom. It was very very hard. Oh, certainly I was completely head-oriented.
My two teachers, Soko Eto [?}, the professor, and Kodo Sawaki Roshi, were enshrined in Kosho Uchiyama Roshi’s temple, Antaiji. I brought incense and flowers every month for four years, and whenever Kosho Uchiyama Roshi saw my face in his temple, he would say, “Oh, hi, Kobun-san. O-cha, dozo!” “How about a cup of tea?” And he would say, “Quit school and come here and sit with us.” Every time. And for some reason, I didn’t quite feel comfortable about joining. I was Kodo Sawaki Roshi’s very young student, from high school time, so it was very very hard, and I stayed as a bookie type, and every month went back.
And then Gajin Nagao, my professor, at the end of my Master’s thesis, said, “Don’t you want to stay here and continue to study?” I was very much suffering at that time, in various ways. Completely confused! And I had reached the point of understanding that after endless practice, the vows are accomplished in concrete form as a Bodhisattva for many lifetimes, still, endlessly Bodhisattva’s practice continues. In my sight at that time, everybody’s face looked like Bodhisattva except my own. So I begged Professor Nagao, “Please, let me go to the monastery. I need to sit again!”
I recall my first impression of Eiheiji. I wasn’t entering Eiheiji as a monk then. Before that, I went to visit the temple. The monks’ practice quarters were hidden from the pilgrims, from tourists and sightseers, and yet, in the evening, in the gold light of sunset, about seventy monks carrying oryoki, were traveling from the monks’ hall to the kitchen through the long corridor passing through the Buddha Hall. All carried oryoki with both hands, like this, and their heads were shaved, and they wore the same kind of robes. Every one of them was kind of transparent, their skin whiteish and their eyes not moving, looking at the floor as they went. Like looking at ganko, wild geese, flying together. “Oh, my goodness! I have never seen such a thing in my life. I’ve got to come here!” And I went back to Kyoto to continue to study. This ganko, monks’ work, was very impressive to me. “What’s in their mind?” I knew what it was. But, “What’s in their mind?” I thought there must be some big thing going on with them. Then I went to my Dharma master, who had watched me from birth to adulthood, and told him, I am going to stop school and go to a monastery. Please let me go to head monastery where the spirit of Dogen Zenji must still be alive. I want to experience actual practice day and night. If I continue to study in academic field of Buddhist literature, my brain might burst into pieces. Too much already, please let me go to the monastery.
I was not just getting fed up with study, there was my youth demanding that I must do something more urgent than just intellectual study. At that time as a student under Professor Gajin Nagao and several other professors, five to seven students would gather in one room and, like a seminar, you present your opinion and other people criticize and argue. Most of the time it ends up in argument on mostly late Mahayana Buddhist thought, like the Vijnana Vardin commentary on Nagarjuna, and Chandrakirti’s on Madhyamaka, on those kinds of intellectually stimulating subjects. “Yes,” my master said, “that’s ok, you can go to the monastery. But come back in three days,” he said. He meant I could escape from the monastery. He knew how hard it is. It was my birthday so, the next day, February second, I went. I was the second student, the deep snow blowing, in straw shoes and all new, top to bottom, dressed in new monks costume. Razor blades in my little bag, new oryoki. Certainly a cold head, newly shaved. Before,I had been growing hair so long it covered almost all my face. Fukui has the deepest snow in Japan. It’s coldest in the middle of the winter, big snowflakes. I went in the big, very big Mountain Gate. Above this Mountain Gate are statues of five hundred arhats, famous, immediate disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. They were carved maybe three time as tall as this ceiling, and above that is the big hall where arhats are sitting, and you make many bows to this, under the shrine of the Mountain Gate, and then you enter into so-called tangario.
In tangaryo you sit all day from early morning, 3:30, to 9:15 in the evening. You cannot go into the main sitting part, but stay in the entrance room and pay attention to what you are getting into. You listen. You cannot walk around freely, but just sit there and listen. Where it is. Temple is big, very big, with many buildings...Instead of three days, I ended up staying two and a half years there, until right before I came to the United States. Tangaryo is like an entrance examination which tests whether you are able to stay and live in the monastery or not. Most students take about ten days to two weeks in this examination period. Ego is so big, so you have a very big problem. Not that ego is big, but people are forced to be independent and individual, not relying on other people or the support of a system. You get up on your own feet and are responsible for whatever you do. I was trained in Japanese society, just as all of you here, as very self-responsible, so I didn’t realize until later how big my ego was and how deeply rooted in body and mind.
Elder monks visit in this room where you are sitting. They come, walking swiftly, soundlessly with a big stick hiding in their sleeve. Their heads were all blue. Our heads were white, “tofu head,” we called it, new-shaved, so you can tell which is new and which is old. They came swiftly, soundlessly, and stood behind you and you start to shake. I was trained to argue properly at school, so I could argue with those trained monks logically, but monastery is certainly illogical place. When you respond, the answer is the huge kyosakustick, whack! whack! and each time your eyes pop out and stars go like that, sweat and cold, all at once.
Those kyosaku, today, I appreciate what it did to me. It’s like hammering the ego, crushing the ego. I was too proud... Their question was, why are you here? Zen talk, we called it. “Where did you come from? Why are you here? You could be anywhere else, why are you here? There are many other good teachers in Japan, why did you choose this?” Finally a little monk screams, “This is Dogen Zenji’s temple. I want to stay here!” You beg for training. Hearing that, they finally say, “You can stay.” By that time my ego has melted and is splashed everywhere on the walls. That was my first experience of brainwashing.
Schooling in Japan is extremely competitive and intellectual, but the monastery is opposite, quite physical. It’s like joining the Army. If you’re a fool or wise, it doesn’t matter. You have to be strong and ready on time. You cannot mess up the order with your own ideas. So, be on time, exact time, not too fast and not too slow, and ready to do anything. Serving elders. Kind to newcomers. Kind means very strict...
False pride was with me when I went to first dokusan, sitting like this, and my whole body was trembling. I didn’t know what to, how to talk, so I prostrated several times and sat in front of him. It is rare to sit face to face with somebody, so I directly faced him and looked into his eyes, and all of a sudden, something broke within me and tears came like a waterfall, and I couldn’t stop. Immediately Godo Roshi started to chant in a very low voice from the six hundred volumes of Maha Prajna Paramita Sutra,. He started from the very beginnning, chanting in front of me, and kept going and going and going. I knew the beginning of it, but I didn’t remember so much of it. He was chanting while I was crying, and finally he said, “It’s ok, go back to sesshin, go back and sit.” He didn’t ask why I cried.
I don’t know if they are crazy or what. Once in a while is fine, but sometimes an aged abbot would ask the head instructor to bring his stick, carved, inlayed, beautiful. The instructor appeared in zendo and start to hit everybody. “This is from abbot. This is from Zenji sama! Everybody has to get Pan! Pan! Pan!” (sound of hitting) That’s an encouragement from the abbot to you, even as a very beginner, so you say,, “Thank you very much! Thank you very much!” Very strong touch from your abbot. Monastery has its own very good nature from which I suffered so much at first. Why did I have to put hundreds of silk beddings on the floor in the big tatami room and make complete beds for about five hundred, sometimes one thousand laymen who came to stay in the monastery? Eiheiji is a monumental pilgrimage temple and Japanese lay families look forward to visiting it at least once or twice in a lifetime, to feel where their original temple is. So young monks are quite busy, getting food and beds ready on time. Besides sitting practice, there is a lot of chanting, a lot of cleaning, even there’s straightening the young cedar trees bent by the snow. All kinds of jobs we had. So physically, you have to be very strong, or become strong. The monastery is a wonderful place to think about before and after. When you are in the monastery, no thinking is best, just do it.
I was scolded at Eiheiji after the first meal. About three or four of us.. “You, you, you, you: don’t eat like pig!” About eighty people, young monks, their heads very soft and razor cuts showing that they are very beginners, are holding oryoki high like this, and between their arms, the old monk’s face comes up and he says, “You eat too much!” After every meal this old monk walks around and notices everything, and among all those people, I get all sweaty. It’s a kind of funny situation. Before I went to the monastery, I was feeling I was first class. At the monastery I was forced to realize that I am the worst kind! So when I came out from the monastery, my only one confidence was that everything is possible. That was my understanding. Everything is possible! Just take time, work on it for a long time, that was my learning in the monastery. Still lots of things to learn, especially because students here are very honest, you know.
There is no bullshit. I cannot be some sort of Zen Master, because as soon as I feel that way, a student comes and knocks me down on the floor! There are no trips. I appreciate it. X [student] is that kind of person to knock me down often.
My first formal sesshin was at Eiheiji. I’d sat many sesshins before, but they were with Sawaki Roshi, whom I admired very very much. I remember it was extremely hard, the constant patrol behind me was really bothering me. They carried quite a long stick, and when you start to move: Whack,like a wind comes and whack! You are hurt on the cushion! And during tangaryo, the entrance examination at Eiheiji monastery, I got very many kyosaku. [Student]:Why didn’t you go home?
Kobun: I felt very much at home there, so...it was good I stayed. They all beat my brains, scraped them, chopped them up. They are well-trained to treat head-oriented people. Use kyosaku very wisely on that ego. They beat me to death! They asked a question, and I was trained to answer every question, so I would start to answer, but before I finished, they started beating me. It wasn’t brain wash, it was beating a dirty rug, or something. They beat me until I was clean! That’s why I’m pretty strange. I never want to go back!
[Student]: Isn’t it true that when you were in charge of the young monks at Eiheiji, that you did not beat them. Kobun: I didn’t beat them. Out of respect to zazen, I couldn’t hit them. They are coming to practice at Eiheiji, so strong, and longing to meet with Dogen Zenji, the founder. So how to treat them properly was my basic subject. I went to abbot and explained that I had this job and is it alright to receive them? About eighty young monks came, their heads all shaved and cut everywhere because they haven’t shaved before. [Student]: So what did the abbot say? Kobun: “Fine. Fine. Try!” Out of eighty, I hit three students. And those were impossible! With encouragement, their shoulders are like football or soccer player! You could break a lot of kyosakus on them!
Second year of monastery, my master in Kamo, Niigata prefecture, telegraphed me and I rushed back to spend one month with him at his temple. I was his only disciple at that time, and he showed me very strange things. “Draw these, copy these in your handwriting.” Three materials on seven foot long pieces of silk, two feet wide, and you copy his material on to new silk. It shows where you stand in inner practice. Confirmation of the essence of your practice in action determines whether your own name is on this chart or not. Laymen can receive this also. If a layman has the potential for teaching people, by his teacher’s confirmation, permission, he starts to teach. Even if you have permission, if you do not want to teach in ordinary way, you don’t need to do so...After one month he said, “Now you can go back to the monastery or whatever you want.” So he kicked me out from his influence and I ended up living in this country. Still, every day I think of him, and about what was his intention to do this particular ceremony with me.
The title to my master is called Buddhabuchi. Shak kakushi butsu buddhabuchi. In Sanskrit you say Buddha bhumi. Bhumi is earth, great earth. Buddha land is what this means. My name was written on this circular chart and then connected to original Shakyamuni Buddha, so it’s a whole circle of names, but the name I have is not Buddha buchi, instead it is called “new Kobun.” A strange name! “New Kobun” “Shin Kobun.” What this means is, until you have successor you don’t receive this Buddhabuchi. Until you have a child, you are not called father, so to speak. So it’s a very big responsibility whether growing child truly becomes mature and able to conduct and accomplish their practice every day. It is this question I direct toward myself, and toward whoever I take care of.
Buddhabuchi. Look into your own view of the world and check whether it is seen as Buddhabuchi, and also, vice versa, when you look at your own inner world... and see the Buddha land within you or not. Since there is no inside or outside, even while there is inside, outside. Still, this equality of sameness inside world, outside world, has to be checked. Personally speaking, I don’t feel comfortable. I mean, I don’t fuss about my life, must for some reason, when people kill each other in front of my eyes, I feel my practice isn’t accomplished. If I take the place of that person who has to fight, I’ll be doing exactly the same thing as him or her. When the situation is like that, I get very confused. Confusion keeps my practice going. So the problem seems to be becoming bigger and more serious to me, while I am getting old and have less strength. I still see lots of problems.
Middle of winter, sesshin letter was piled up on the cushion. After morning service you go back to the zendo, the monks’ hall, and on your black cushion, piles of letters from the week. One of them was one of those red and blue international airmail letters. Who wrote this airmail to me? I knew nobody from another country. It was a letter from Suzuki Roshi inviting me to the United States to help with his new project. Tassajara began half a year after I received this letter. He needed somebody who knew Eiheiji, so I was picked.
Abbot, Taizen Kumazawa Zenji, was ninety six years old, and vice abbot was my favorite master, he was my master’s teacher. So this vice abbot is actually the one who said “okay” to Suzuki Roshi. This abbot, Taishun Sato Zenji, was old and blind, but whoever came to his room, even before they opened the shoji door, he knew who was coming and called the name. “Kobun-san, desuka?” “Yes, sir! Hai!” Cold sweat everywhere when I go. He could walk without an attendant everywhere in Eiheiji, which has thousands of steps. Sometimes a close attendant would trip, and he would laugh at him. “Very inconvenient to have open eyes,” he said.
....Did I tell you my sort of,I thought it was a kensho experience at Eiheiji. Oh! It was February? I sat so many sesshins there! Which?... It was snow. New snow came to the mountain, first snow. Rohatsu. Second year at Eiheiji. The first snow came, and about eight o’clock in the morning the sun hit the mountain and the snow started to melt very fast. You can see from the monk’s hall, which has a similar feeling to this room. It is maybe half the size of this one, and two huge hibachi were sitting there, and I came down to go to the bathroom and stopped in the shuryo, the monks’ hall. Before I went back to join the sitting again, I sat there, and through the window, about the same size as these windows, I could see snow, white snow on the deep green, huge, hundreds of years old cedar trees. Many many of them. And from drips of melting there were hundreds of millions of lights reflecting, and it was an incredible view. It was finished in five minutes or so. I was sitting there, and forgot to go back to sit!
It lasted about three months. I was kind of strange person to people. And you may feel that was kensho, but it is way before kensho. Many things, small things like that, happen one after another, and each time I thought, “Maybe thisis it. Oh, no,his couldn’t be it!”
Student: Kobun, when you thought you had your kensho experience, did you ask you meditation teacher about it? Oh, yes! Oh, yes! At that time he was one of the chief instructors at Eiheiji. Now he is Vice Abbot there. Very wonderful teacher. Ekiho Miyazaki roshi [?].
Of course, he still talks about it to my master’s wife, and to my mother, how cute I was! What a cute boy I was. Of course, I was the one who first jumped off the tan and ran into this instructor’s room. “What was it?” “It wasn’t it!”he said. “That’s wonderful. Just forget it. It’s gone!” So I obeyed. I forgot it. Of course, every one of you has had such outstanding experiences. You don’t know if you are upside down, or running, or stopping. Some very big thing takes place of you and you find out what it is.
So I ended up staying in Eiheiji for two years, and I became one of those wild geese! And one day Suzuki Roshi came. I didn’t know he came. He came like a wind, and went. Later on I found out that he had visited. About three months later I had that very experience I told you about, at the end of Rohatsu sesshin when I found twenty letters on my cushion. On the last morning of Rohatsu you don’t sit on your cushion anymore, so each monk had many letters on his zafu. There it was, Suzuki Roshi’s letter: Par Avion, and the stripe of red, green, white. Framed, sitting on those letters. That was my fate.
I don’t understand what has been going on. I don’t even try to understand why. Some kind of tension of connection, mind connection....It was supposed to happen and effortlessly it happened, as if by accident. Do you have this kind of experience? You must. No one planned it, you didn’t plan it, no one seems to have planned it, but certain things happen, and you feel, “Yes, it was supposed to happen.”Student: Were you excited about coming here?
Without letting me know, actually a lot of people were preparing to bring me here. Later on I found out what was happening. I did a small kindness to American students who were utterly stuck in the monastery. Suzuki Roshi had sent them, and they were having enormous difficulty. It’s beyond imagination. Literally, aliens had landed in the monastery! One was a regular member of Stanford’s football team. Huge. Muscles. When he stands, he really stands out. Small Japanese people.... He walked like a dinosaur! Another person was an English gentleman, taller than him, like a crane flying with those wild geese. Their knees hurt so much, and they wanted to eat chocolate, and they wanted to go to the dentist, and everything! So I ended up looking after them and protecting them from hardship. In Eiheiji monastery there is no freedom allowed! The only personal time is the fourth and ninth day. So every fifth day, after having been shaved by each other, your head newly shaved, and obviously many cuts everywhere, bleeding everywhere. How awful it is! 3:30 AM you wake up. Awful place to go. I want to encourage you to go!.... No, this is better.
They could speak no Japanese. I could only speak a little bit of English, but could listen to them carefully to hear what the actual problem was. Everyone thought they were lying, that they wanted to go to the hospital in order to take a break from practice. I ended up taking them to a doctor to check on their knees, and to a good dentist to fix their teeth. I didn’t know that was all reported to Suzuki Roshi, and Suzuki Roshi came to look at me in the zendo one day, though I didn’t know it.
In the second year in America, after Tassajara was about ready. To me it was going smoothly after two years, regulation was pretty good, everybody was serious, so I said, “The promised time has come. I have to go back to meet with my master. They are waiting for my return.” Suzuki Roshi said, “You can go, but you are the kind of person who should live in this country.” He gently said that, and didn’t explain why. Trudy Dixon, who suffered with breast cancer, was about to pass away, but was still coming to Tassajara to practice. A wonderful lady she was! One night I visited her room. She was lying down. Her body had blue light, an aura, her whole body covered with it. She said, “I have to go, but I very much appreciate that you are here to help us.” Those are the words that encouraged me to return.
So I went back to be an attendant to my master, and while I was there, there was a big storm, and my town was covered by a flood. Big water rushed out from the mountains and many houses were washed away. I ended up staying half a year in Japan to help clean up. There was my father’s temple by the Kamo River bank, and my master’s temple, which has a similar feeling to this place. There is a steep slope of hill coming down behind the temple. Rain washed away all the ditches, and a chunk of bamboo forest slid down. I had to work very hard to put them both back together!
Half a year later I went to my master and we sat face to face, quietly. He made green tea, and I drank. He said, “Are you going?” and I said, “Yes, yes, I am going again.” I won’t forget his face at that time. He said, “Suitable ability should be at the suitable place.” That’s all he said to me. My master was still in good shape, but getting old. His wife is getting a little softer. She was like my master’s master! Pushy and energetic and very sharp-tongued. You will be dead if she starts to criticize you! She said, “This temple doesn’t need two masters. You go somewhere!” I said, “Thank you!”
So I came back! He made me escape from Japan. Japan didn’t need my kind of person, I think.
But my master’s wife is getting soft, and my master’s eyebrows are getting really white, everything white, like his master. When I first saw him this time, on the way back from Sikkhim, he was using a bamboo cane for the first time. When he looked at me my first impression was that his eyes had turned to blue, and I was very surprised. Twinkling blue color. He looked very happy to see me. That was enough, and I spent some time with him, then came back here. It felt very good, just one glance.
He said he doesn’t need a second disciple. That’s what he told me, with a very intense feeling. “I don’t need anybody else as my student.” Since I came to America the congregation had been very disappointed in me and encouraged my master to take another disciple. They appealed to him for many many years. Finally, he said, “Okay,” so now I have a little Dharma brother in Japan who is taking care of my master. It feels very good. He is tall! Volleyball teacher. And he skis excellently.
Some day he is going to come and ski with me, he says. Togo is his name, meaning
East. Satori is in the East. To means East. That’s his name. He’s very handsome, and village girls are in love with him, he’s not married yet! Very happy situation! The year before, he visited Lhasa and told me about his visit. Very adventurous, very interesting person. I want to know him more.
Physical presence is final expression, that’s what I believe. But how to be so is a really big subject, so I am always very puzzled and very very careful to receive people who come to my house, and there are incredible scenes. I receive them all as my master’s visit, and my wife doesn’t understand that and treats people in a very harsh way, and I start to wonder, “Who is this woman? Is this the master acting like that?” She doesn’t receive, he doesn’t receive a second thing, do you say “second thing?” My master is a very very hard person to relate to! I will tell you, I love him so much, so I’ll tell it: When you go, be just as you are, and just as you are you should be. There is nothing that is necessary. Be just as you are. My wife is exactly like my master, it’s a favorable way to relate, so it looks like I have no way to go away from my master. She says, “It’s nice to have you at home,once in a while. Now it’s time you go to sesshin.” Always she says so, and kicks me out of the house.
While my master is alive, I wish you can all have time to see him. That’s partly why I’m here, to be a bridge for you. I may not go with you, but you can just walk on my back and find where he is. A very excellent man. I don’t know if he is a monk or priest or teacher or just country man. I cannot believe such a man exists. A monster, is the best way to say it! A very magically monstrous person. He had nothing to do with zazen, nothing to do with Soto or Rinzai. He didn’t speak about practice. And his wife is a very excellent lady, so women should go and see my master’s wife, too. Very good.
Going to see Master Chino, my Dharma master, is a great joy, but I cannot stay too long. I have to pull myself from his world as quickly as possible, otherwise sorrow remains. I want to stay with him and look after him until his passing. That is my job as his disciple. But he doesn’t like it, he wants me to do what he wanted to do himself, so I have to pull myself back and go in sorrow, and wander around in strange places. Departure is very very hard.
When I go back to Japan for a week I feel very shocked every day, and then slowly start to become Japanese, and before I feel I have become Japanese again, I have to pull myself out. Otherwise I wold have to say goodby to you! It’s a very very strong pull!
I have spent some long period in retreat, and after some experience of being alone, becoming kind of familiar with myself, it took a long time to come back to people and start to recover old relationships. Still working on it! I had a powerful admiration for people of knowledge. When I went to school to study, some people appeared like the ocean or the sky. It wasn’t artistic devotion and wish to serve that person, but an amazing longing to know things from the person whose experience after many many years had developed almost unreachable polished knowledge. That drew me. But I don’t encourage students to devote themselves to me, I don’t want to have any students! Too busy! I am a student still. After I become ninety years old, then you can start to hold my hand when I walk!
Most of of time my sitting is utterly dark, and very warm, and it feels like a fermented junkyard, or something. But once in a while a forgotten jewel is in there, so I treasure them. When I pull it out, it shines. Often I feel that the action of zazen itself saves me from so much heaviness of life. It brings me back to where I started. After about five or six sittings, my body feels very energized. To sit with you is a very wonderful excuse, actually. If I sit alone, zazen flips me away, throws me away. “You are no good!” Breaking many Precepts, one after another, I gave up zazen, and it was very foolish to do that. I mean, I thought I’m not worthy to do zazen. For this reason, I thank you very much that you pulled me out of the dark and let me sit with you! It is wonderful to sit seven days, even though I know what will happen, and what’s going on, still, it’s nice to have some slight new discovery, always.
One purpose of my life is, no military on this earth. No fighting, no creating weapons is my aim. Such gigantic energy, economy, spending...to make something else instead of making weapons. How to make it a concrete effort is a very big subject for me. Our mind is very powerful this way. When we lose a teacher, it is very shocking, it has a very powerful effect. When a student dies or goes away, it takes a long time to approve yourself. Trust and dependence is so tightly interrelated that it is very difficult to fill the empty gap. In twenty years of life, I fear we’ve lost many fellow practicers, unreturned friends. Even just thinking of it, you re-experience your anxiety again and again, as well as the great joy you shared together.
A temple is where your ashes are brought. You end there when you pass away. Your personal, individual life ends and you ask someone to bring them somewhere. That somewhere is the temple. So it has been from long ago, that this place [Jikoji] was a burial place before the first people from Europe came. I say “this place,” meaning this long strip of land, “Long Ridge,” you call it. For the benefit of living things here we could plan many things. Student : Do you think it’s your baby? I don’t know! You think so, I never thought so! I know, the other day people asked me about Kannon Do, “What are you going to do with your baby?” And the date of when this place could legally operate as a temple is the same day as Kannon do. And somebody tricked me, it was my birthday present, it was my birthday. “Oh no! I’m trapped!”
Student: So this wasn’t your idea? It happened! And of course I cannot do it alone. People who want to visit this place, do things here, should gather regularly. Continuing this place is secondary. Who comes here is most important to me. If I am here, I must limit people or I might make some kind of trip on others.If you put me in the teacher’s position, I am responsible as a last resort to stop this place, and to ask people to leave. But so far, I have never asked people to leave...But that is a negative kind of responsibility, an emergency case. So I want to know more about what you want to do on this land. Most residents here are caucasian. I’m kind of alien, so I mustn’t be your boss, that’s my feeling. It’s a kind of cultural problem, and I want to be very smart about this.
PDF: Kobun resume, June 1992
Who Is Your Teacher?
The real purpose of practice is to discover the wisdom which you have always been keeping with you. To discover yourself is to discover wisdom; without discovering yourself you can never communicate with anybody. In everyday life, we can pick up some glimpse of wisdom, as the polished tool of the carpenter expresses that there is wisdom in the arm of the carpenter. It is invisible; you cannot draw it and show it.
Wisdom doesn't come from anywhere; it is always there as the exact contents of awakening—it is always there and everywhere. What you can do is to uncover it, like going to the origin of a river. Have you been to the source of a river? It is a very mystic place. You get dizzy when you stay for a while. An especially big river has several sources, and the real source, the farthest point which turns to the major stream, is moist and misty, with some kind of ancient smell, and you feel cold.
You feel, "This isn't the place to go in." There is no springing water, so you don't know where the source is. Actually, such a place exists in everyone; the center of us is like that. From this place, the ancient call appears, "Why don't you know me? Living so many years with me, why can't you call my real name?" Unfortunately, we cannot travel into such place with this body and mind, but we feel there is such an origin, and from there everything starts. From that place you have come, actually, and whatever you do is returning to that spot. In one lifetime you can meet with other people, at least one other beside yourself. So, in other words, two of you discover. This is why you are continuing to live so hard.
The way to discover your origin is to listen to the one with whom you feel, "This is it!" It looks like you can do it by yourself, without others, but actually, by yourself alone you cannot discover that origin. Reaching that point, you never believe, "This is it." But pointing to another's origin directly and saying, "That's my origin," at that moment another finger appears, pointing at you, and says, "No, that's my origin." And you get dizzy. "Wait a minute, are you my teacher or are you my student?" And both say, "No, it doesn't matter. I can be your student; I'll be an ancient Buddha for you." The student says this to the teacher. Without throwing your whole life and body into others you can never reach to your own true nature. The more your understanding of life becomes clearer, and more exact, and painfully joyful, the more you feel, "I'm so bad." The one who appears and says, "No, you are not bad at all, that is the way to go," that is your teacher. Don't misunderstand—this teacher is not always a person. It can embrace you like morning dew in a field, and you get a strange feeling, "Oh, this is it, my teacher is this field."
How to go with your true self is to deeply bow to yourself and ask, "Please, let me know about myself." Because we cannot do it alone, we have to do it with someone who is able to accept our vow. Letting such an occasion occur is what supreme awakening is. It is not your creation. You just admire the place where you are and be with it, and that place is the place to meet with your teacher. It doesn't need to be some special kind of place. When you are a little bit mindful about yourself you can create such an opportunity…between your children and yourself, between your parents and yourself.
Depending on each person, there is an inner image of what breathing in sitting is. As you notice, there is also a physical element of sitting and an invisible element of sitting, which we call mind. We do mind-sitting, body-sitting, and we let the breath sit. Three aspects to sitting exist because we can observe our sitting from three angles. We breathe naturally and appreciate our breath and really understand what the breath does to our body and mind. To really connect the three—body, mind, and breath—is the point.
During sitting, your breath should be very regular, very smooth, with almost no effort, not noticing that the air is gone, or has come in. Breath has an incredible range of volume, strength and speed. There are hundreds of techniques you can use, depending on your health and emotional condition. Like playing an instrument, singing, or drawing, you breathe; there are many ways. The basic point is not to push or pull, but to let it go.
The ancient Sanskrit word for breath was prana. This is translated as chi in Chinese or ki in Japanese—ki, as in aikido. Ki is vitality. Sometimes it is called seiki: life-vitality. And this soft part where our intestines are is called hara in Japanese. Hara is also called ikai: the ocean of ki. Our vitals are here. When you have no strength in the hara you feel very weak. When you are full of energy this part is full of energy.
When you chant you let your voice come out from this center of your stomach. Basically ki comes out and informs the shape of your mind. The contents of your mind is that voice. The ideal in sitting is to forget the breath. You may breathe as you like; there is an incredible variety in the speed of breathing, and even the emotion of breathing. So if you want to observe your breathing, you should do it for months and months without trying to control it.
My feeling is that each breath is an independent thing. It arises and goes and some thoughts go with it. You cannot bring them back. That's it. It's the same as your heartbeat—your whole body is needing it. So if you can forget the breath then you are having perfect breath. I suggest that you keep your posture straight, upright—good posture, that naturally takes care of the breath. From deep breath, which carries your awareness with it, to very shallow breath, which also carries your awareness, you have to choose the best breath between them.
You can be aware of the texture of your breath, from rocky breath to silk-like breath, and finally to transparent breath, like a transparent string of breath. You can feel which is the best breath for your sitting. Try to sit and pay attention to how your breath goes. Each time you sit, your body condition is different, so each time you must try to find your best breath and stay with that. Get really familiar with it. I always feel breathing is like drawing a circle.
The Other Side of Nothing
We don't do this practice expecting to obtain something by doing it. This is a very different kind of action. In one sense, it's quitting human business and going to the other side of the human realm. Have you noticed your face changing, moment after moment, when you are facing the wall? When you pay attention to exactly how you feel, you feel how it changes. It is such a slight change that no one would notice if someone observed you. It's like one flame of fire is sitting on the cushion. Every moment the texture of the flame is different. You experience this from morning zazen to night zazen. In every sitting there's a very different feeling. Each breath, all is different.
We experience some kind of dying in sitting, which relates with what's true and what's not true. What's not true dies, so we suffer. We wish to hang on to the self which we believe exists. The contents of what “I” means, or the pieces of the idea of the self, are consistent, but when you sit you observe no substance in those pieces of self.
If we try to achieve some awakening or enlightenment, it doesn't succeed. We hear that sitting is to clarify the true nature of the self, but it seems nothing is clarified, nothing happens. You just spend the time and have lots of pain and a stumbling mind. If you sit all day you have a good sitting once or twice, but when you compare the good sitting with the rest, you have a very regretful mind. "What was I doing? Drowsy, powerless sitting.”
Doubt arises in this. What is it? Is this alright? Are you okay? Your mind is in a different place than sitting. I wish you would sit alone sometime for several days. If you sit alone, although there are many dangerous situations to fall into, you feel you can clarify your right intention, your strict attitude about taking care of yourself. If we sit together like this you think, "Because other people sit, this might be alright! This must be the way!" If something more important than your concern about yourself occurs, of course you quit sitting and plunge into taking care of that. Actually, for each of us, the opportunity of sitting is the same as sitting alone.
Student: For years I always preferred to sit by myself, and every time I had to sit with a group, it was always more difficult. I had problems I didn't have by myself.
Kobun Chino Roshi: The difficulty wasn't sitting together; the difficulty was yourself! Wanting to be alone is impossible. When you become really alone you notice you are not alone. In other words, we stop our vigorous efforts towards ideal purity. Purity is just a process. After purity, dry simplicity comes, where almost no more life is there, and your sensation is that you are not existing anymore. Still, you are existing there. You flip into the other side of nothing, where you discover everybody is waiting for you. Before that, you are living together like that—day, sun, moon, stars and food, everything is helping you—but you are all blocked off, a closed system. You just see things from inside toward the outside, and act with incredible, systematic, logical dynamics, and you think everything is alright. When noise, or chaotic situations come, you want to leave that situation to be alone. But there is no such aloneness!
It is very important to experience the complete negation of yourself, which brings you to the other side of nothing. People experience that in many ways. You go to the other side of nothing, and you are held by the hand of the absolute. You see yourself as part of the absolute, so you have no more insistence of self as yourself. You can speak of self as no-self upon the absolute. Only real existence is absolute.
Aspects of Sitting
I'd like to reveal the natural nature of sitting fully as it is. If I put some concept on this, and make you understand what I think is an ideal way to sit, I would be a kind of special gardener who fixes boxes and lets you go through to become square bamboo. Or I would be an automatic newspaper man who runs a newspaper—whoever comes, I would just put you in the machine and make you flat, and you would come out a squished being, or something like this!
Too much talk about zazen, or shikantaza is not so good for you. It's impossible to teach the meaning of sitting. Until you really experience and confirm it by yourself, you cannot believe it. It has tremendous depth, and year after year this gorgeous world of shikantaza appears. It's up to you to cultivate it. Because you are buddhas yourselves, you can sit. Dogen named this sitting "Great Gate of Peace and Joy." Simply, it is peaceful—eternally peaceful, pleasurable and joyful. Shikantaza doesn't have the name of any religion, but it is, in its quality, a very true religious way to live.
Year after year our physical posture becomes polished. By repeated sitting our muscles become very refined, not pulling one way. When your muscles become very balanced you are able to feel almost nothing is there. Your intestines, your bones—all are in the same balance. When your body is able to take the right posture, when you sit as if no one is sitting there, you feel yourself. The way to find your best posture is to focus your attention on the feeling of your body. It's hard to say what it is, an inner eye, an inner sensation that is able to observe every part of your body.
When you are awake, you feel every part of your body—its surface, a little bit inside, deep inside, all parts. When you take the best posture you can possibly reach, at that time you are weightless and you aren't aware of your effort to keep that posture. The point is to have a stretched spine, with your neck straight along the spine. When you lean slightly right, or left, or backward, you can find which point is your straight posture. This is related to the incredible pull of gravity. A thousand million lines of gravity pull you down. You swing your body from left to right and finally you come to one point.
It doesn't continue that way. We again crumble down, so we have to build it up again. Maybe every twenty minutes or so we have to re-do it. It is a very natural position, but we have incredible habits that are hard to correct. Every time we correct our sitting position we always fall back into a more comfortable posture.
To have the foot soles facing upward is very important. To have your soles going upward, with your feet pressing down on your thighs, is not an accidental discovery but a polished discovery. They should be like that because then there is a very grounded sensation of being on the earth, not flowing, or flying purposelessly in the air.
The eyes should be kept open, and hopefully they'll see through everything, because your seeing is not "your" seeing—you should see through. It is very easy to mess up your posture just by rolling your eyeballs around. You don't have to stare. If you come back to keeping your eyes still then something opens up. All our sense organs are finely constructed awakenings. As you notice, all information from the sense organs comes together moment after moment, and the mind-eye is always functioning. Everyone has mind-eye; it does not newly open. Your sitting still is like a person who just shot an arrow: a moment later the result is there. What you know is the sense that the arrow is moving alright. It has left your realm but you sense it's running well. Stillness is like that.
In the stillness you see intuitions are going alright; you sense every kind of intuition.
The form of the human body is a continuity of karmic force. Without parents you would not exist here; without you, your children and all future generations could not exist. So in this sense, to have a body on this earth has a very karmic reason and result. Without this karmic condition you cannot exist as the expression of ultimate force.
You can say there is a "right posture" for sitting. Many times during sesshin you hit that "right posture" and then swing away from it, then go back to it. You understand what right posture is for you. You can see it, perceive it—it relates with your mind-state at that time. Right posture in sitting creates the contents of sitting from all that you have been experiencing up to now. It requires detachment from your desire to do it; you let it happen by itself. So right posture is not that you are doing sitting; right posture itself is the sitting, and the system of your whole body is going into that posture.
The period of sitting is not your own sitting. Physically you feel that it is your sitting that you do. The inner view of one's sitting, which is utterly an external view too, includes your personal existence. It includes everything, from which your mind is continuously working. The arising memories of whatever you've experienced are always there; no matter whether you deny them or accept them, they are there.
Not only that, as time passes the contents change. So posture is how to keep going. As you notice, this physical condition of existence is a very dynamic thing, which you cannot stop. It goes by itself. Maybe all things go by themselves; you are that, and you are able to experience and feel it.
Sitting is always pointless, you know. When we touch sitting with this body, it feels like putting a thumb on paper: "This is it!" Touching time/space, or creating matter in time/space. That's how I feel when I sit. The more sitting becomes still, almost stopping, the more it feels like time stops and there is no more distinction between this body and all other things. Things feel as if they are extensions of the body. It's not a frozen kind of realization, but a very powerful presence of the sensation that you are really there, as what you are, what things are, without naming each thing that's there. Even not-what-you-are is also there. I mean, the thing which holds the phenomenal, the experiential phenomenon that is your own body, is also yourself. Phenomenon and noumenon are there together.
A slight move of mind causes lots of insights out of past experience and out of images that you have been making toward the future. This causes imaginings about the relationship of all people and situations in the present time, with no distinction between past, present, and future. Just the enormous dynamic of where you live, what's there, all existing as yourself.
This body is a very fine thing at such a time, continuously pressing this sitting spot. If your mudra is perfect yet you sit slanted, this is strange. It is the same as sitting while you imagine that you are dancing somewhere. No one can see it; only you yourself can feel it. But dance is dance and sitting is sitting, so when you sit you must sit, instead of thinking of some fantastic thing. But it is not necessary to develop consciousness of the self alone. You have to release that conscious self about yourself. Otherwise "sitting very well" will catch you.
The time of sitting is timeless actually. When you take the right position, you have nothing to think about anymore, nothing to bring up from any place, past or future. That which can be called the present moment (where you are and what you are) actually is there, and the physical posture you take in sitting is a part of whole posture, where it actually is. So when you meditate, many, many things are meditating because, essentially, everything meditates in that space.
I have many things to think about and to discuss about how to live a really useful life in this new age. We'd like to look into and welcome the next century. Dogen Zenji said, "To master the Buddha's way is to master, to clarify, your own self. Through that, you can clarify the own-selves of all others." So he mentioned that the focus is to clarify your own life-and-death matter, birth-and-death matter: living this subject.
The subject is so close, pointing to yourself like this. If you point outside, we can study pretty well, but when you start pointing to yourself it is almost impossible. A fresh eye is opened toward outside, so the same eye cannot be used to see the interior realm of yourselves. We turn around and make our interior world an external object, and analyze what's happening, which is usually called psychology, or religious studies. But that kind of study, with objectified self, is not what we are. So a very important point is to be with the self who rejects analysis of any aspect.
Gary Snyder spoke of this same kind of situation as trying to grab an avocado seed. It slips...you cannot grab it! He got this American version from the famous painting, Chasing the Slippery Catfish with Gourd. Have you seen that picture? A young man, a bushy, hippy-like person, is chasing the catfish with a gourd, which has a very teeny entrance! Impossible to catch that fish! Japanese catfish have huge heads and long, long whiskers, and a tail-part that goes very teeny. The whole body is so gooey and slippery. The teeth very, very sharp, like a saw. The catfish usually lives in the pond. We call it "Master of the Pond." When you try to catch it, this causes an earthquake! Leave it alone! If you seek the truth, this causes an earthquake! That's how, some biographers say, many powerful people appear. When they finish their tasks and pass away, always earthquakes appear. It's not earthquakes, though; it's people's sleeping minds.
Blossoms—season of blossoms—not the regular season of blossoms, but off-season blossoms, bloom when such people appear and disappear, and that which is the (earthquake) sensation of people's minds, see that kind of blossom; they are the mind-blossoms of people who appear. We call those blossoms-of-mind "Udumbara." They bloom every 500-year period like that.
These teachings by Kobun Chino Roshi appeared in the newsletter of Jikoji Zen Retreat Center in Los Gatos, California.
Anecdotes from Stephan Bodian
Kobun was like an elder brother to me, as well as a teacher. When I left for Tassajara, he gave me warm woolen underwear he had worn at Eiheiji. When I returned on winter break between training periods, I stayed at his house, though I’m sure Harriet wasn’t happy about it.
As we all know, Kobun was unconventional and did things in his own unique and spontaneous way. When he ordained me a priest in 1974, he didn’t order new robes from Japan, as was customary. Instead, he gave me his own koromo (outer robe), okesa (ceremonial robe draped over the left shoulder), and an ancient silk rakusu he had received from his master. The rakusu was brown, a color generally reserved for those who had received transmission, but Kobun didn’t seem to care.
Later he said to me, “When you wear this robe, you’re invisible.”
When it came time to shave my head in preparation for the ordination, a task generally delegated to one of the other monks, Kobun offered to do it himself and then forgot to leave the small patch of hair (called shura) that was to be shaved off during the ordination itself. The head shaving was a very intimate prelude to the ordination. I felt like I was being stripped down to bare essentials.
* * *
Kobun was a good friend of Chogyam Trungpa, and the two would often spend time together when Trungpa visited the Bay Area. One day the two met in Sonja Margulies’s living room to drink tea and do calligraphy, with several of us in attendance. As one teacher looked on, the other would spread out a large piece of paper, kneel down, gracefully stroke some words of spiritual wisdom (Trungpa in Tibetan, Kobun in Japanese), and then translate what he had written. After a pause the other teacher would do the same. Before long the exchange became a kind of playful Dharma combat, with each man responding to what the other had written.
At one point Trungpa, who was dressed in his customary suit and tie, leaned over and inscribed the phrase “Mindfulness is the way of all the Buddhas.” Kobun, with the billowy sleeves of his monk’s robes tucked under his arms, picked up a large brush, saturated it with black ink, paused, and then wrote with a mischievous flourish: “Great no mind.” Everyone in the room broke out in uproarious laughter.
Anecdotes by Joan Halifax Roshi
"The more you sense the rareness and value of your own life, the more you realize that how you use it, how you manifest it, is all your responsibility. We face such a big task, so naturally we sit down for a while."
Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi (1938-2002)
• Kobun Chino lived for some years in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, near his zendo and overlooking Taos. One day he was alone in a house, kindly offered to him by an old Zennie named Jonathon Altman, when a knock came on the door. Kobun answered it and there was a young man who said that he came for help because his life was a mess. Kobun said that his life was a mess too and that he didn't think he could be of help. The young man pleaded for Kobun to talk to him so Kobun let him in. Once inside he told the fellow to take a seat and excused himself for a moment to go to the bathroom. The man waited and waited but Kobun did not return, so finally he went across the room and knocked on the door that Kobun had entered. There was no answer so, still calling Kobun's name, he opened the door slowly. The door wide open, the young man looked inside to see an empty bathroom with an open window. Kobun was nowhere to be found.
• Once my previous Zen teacher, Tim McCarthy, was with his teacher Kobun Chino while Kobun was giving a talk about Zen. Someone asked Kobun about flying saucers. Kobun told him, "You should ask Tim about that. He reads comic books!"
• Kobun Chino asked: When all the teachers are gone, who will be your teacher?
The student replied: Everything
Kobun, paused, then said: No, you…….
• During a shosan (a formal public question-and-answer session) Angie Boissevain came before Kobun Chino Roshi with a question that had been burning within her all morning. But after she made the customary three bows and knelt before him she found her mind utterly blank, the question gone. She sat before him in silence for a long time before finally saying:
"Where have all the words gone?" "Back where they came from," replied her teacher.
• Shortly after September 11, 2001, Kobun was the honored guest at the weekly meeting of the sangha which would become Everyday Dharma Zen Center. After meditation, Kobun asked for questions. A visibly distraught young woman asked, "How can I deal with the enormous fear and anger that I feel about what happened?" Kobun replied, "Do one kind thing for someone every day."
• As a master of Zen archery, Kobun was asked to teach a course at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The target was set up on a beautiful grassy area on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Kobun took his bow, notched the arrow, took careful aim, and shot. The arrow sailed high over the target, went past the railing, beyond the cliff, only to plunge into the ocean far below. Kobun looked happily at the shocked students and shouted, "Bull's eye!!"
Anecdotes by Cita Ortega
About this time to which I'm referring, Kobun had developed a round, US $quarter-sized skin problem on the back of his neck, about 1 inch (sorry don't know metric yet) below his hair-line in the center. He would frequently touch & "worry" this. I'd had lots of karma w/ a prominent guy on the Taos Pueblo, a classic shaman, a former governor of the Pueblo, a healer, seer & kiva man. I suggested to Kobun we go see him, so one day we did, with him driving. Once on the road in the Pueblo, we saw an old grandmother walking & gave her a ride to the central part of the pueblo, near where my friend (Joe) lived. The grandmother ("Recita") sat in front, passenger side. Kobun showed her his bad neck spot & he kept touching it. Recita finally slapped his hand quite energetically & told him to leave it alone! We arrive at Joe's (& his wife, Francis') home & Kobun bows & presents to Joe a big box of fine incense of the sort used @ Eiheiji. Francis is in another room, & I feel like I'm with two brothers who rather look alike, mumble alike & have the same quiet yet spacious energy. Though they've never met, there seems to be an immediate fondness between the two, a recognition. Joe has Francis mix up a thick paste to apply to the neck. I ask about the contents, but Joe won't tell me. He gives Kobun instructions, gratitude is voiced, & we're ready to leave. Then Kobun notices a bow & set of arrows hanging on the wall. He walks over and bows deeply to them. Off we go.
Once, during that time period, Kobun & I were at his little "camp", a place to which he would retire not infrequenly. It was a clever little 'primitive' area which had a fire pit atop which was a grill with a pot for heating water. We were sitting on the ground before this fire pit with water heated for tea (powdered, green), & when it came time to stir the brew, he casually reached down, barely looking, came up with a ponderosa pine cluster & stirred botyh of our cups with its long needles. (I recall no more elegant moment in my entire 58 years!) I asked him about Venus enlightening the buddha. Without looking up, he said, "Oh yes, many generations, this." Period. Sometime later, after a 3-day sesshin, as we sat in the house where Bob Watkins lived next to the zendo, Kobun gave a short talk. At one point, he referred to buddha's enlightenment, about his looking up @ Venus (usually called the 'morning', but sometimes the 'evening' star). Kobun said: "He looked up at that star, and it took him. "
I realize this is not exactly 'definitive', but you know how it was with him:
a taste was offered, a hint. One often had to wait for more.
Anecdotes by James Hardy
Upon learning of Kobun's passing, it was with a heavy heart that I remembered a sesshin which I sat with Kobun at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center in the summer of l978. During this practice session (seven days, I believe) , two remarkable events occurred. During my interview, Kobun expressed, through posture and, more importantly, through his eyes, perhaps the most compelling and moving expression of empathy- sadness with friendship and understanding- I have ever experienced. His willingness to acknowledge pain, suffering and friendship with me and others, continues to touch me. Also, during the practice session, he chose to speak on the theme of the Greek heroic figure ORPHEUS, his journey to the underworld to retrieve his heart/love EURYDICE.
To retrieve her from the underworld, and death, Orpheus had to obey one condition set by Hades, the ruler of the underworld: not to look be hind him, towards her, until she was safely back under the light of the sun. This, Orpheus failed to do, and lost her forever. This story clearly moved Kobun, who saw it as a model or guide to practice and the path. During our journey, faith was essential, to retrieve our spirit, our bodhi, our true heart. Imagine my shock when I learned that Kobun was not only unable to retrieve his daughter, but lost his life as well. This stunning enigma has haunted me since learning of Kobun's passing. He was truly a wonderful, beautiful spirit and friend.
Anecdotes by Mark Foote
One more memory of Kobun I'd like to offer, for the collection. I remember attending a lecture he gave at the San Francisco Zen Center, must have been in the early 80's, as part of the regular Saturday morning public dharma talks. He closed the lecture by saying, "you know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around!"
I had that experience in 1975, but I spent years afterward waiting for zazen to get up and walk around, to turn and walk across the street, to lift the fork from the plate to my mouth. I finally decided that if zazen walked through the door of my job on a given day, it was ok for me to work without trying to find zazen in every moment; fortunate for me, I suppose, as the bosses really don't like to see anyone stock still at the job.
Couldn't go to the monastery, couldn't sit in posture all that well, couldn't even stand up straight most of the time. By the time I heard Kobun say those words, I was reconciled with not making zazen get up and walk around just because I could, or at least that's how I understood it.
I realized in the late eighties and nineties that I would have to come to a Western understanding of what practice was all about, to reconcile zazen in my life. I learned to encourage zazen to compose sentences, and to throw away anything and everything constantly until the words stayed in spite of me. I'm afraid I created a lot of half-there descriptions of zazen, for quite a while.
With a lot of help from the writings of Moshe Feldenkrais and John Upledger, I think I'm doing better now. I have a webpage at www.zenmudra.com , and I find I can actually communicate most of my experience with people using the vocabulary I develop there. Since everyone has the same kind of experience whether they have found words for it or not, people give back to me in the most amazing way.
Hope you're back from Japan in one piece and all is well;
regards, Mark Foote
Anecdote by Carolyn Atkinson
“[Kobun] came to sit with our meditation group about six weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center. One of our members, a young woman, raised her hand and asked him an anguished question, “How can we deal with our anger and fear and pain and confusion around this terrible attack?” Kobun thought about it, he swayed back and forth as he often did, and then he said simply: “Do one kind thing for someone every day.” That was his answer. It seemed to me that this was a perfect expression of living zen, of loving life, and of the willingness to be with this tender suffering world in which we all live. We still talk about his one sentence teaching in our zendo.”
Concluding Teaching from Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi
We sit to make life meaningful.
The significance of our life is not experienced in striving to create some perfect thing.
We must simply start with accepting ourselves.
Sitting brings us back to actually who and where we are.
This can be very painful.
Self-acceptance is the hardest thing to do.
If we can't accept ourselves, we are living in ignorance, this darkest night.
We may still be awake, but we don't know where we are. We cannot see.
The mind has no light.
Practice is this candle in our very darkest room.
Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi as Remembered by Carolyn Atkinson
the final chapter in her book A Light in the Mind: Living Your Life Just As It Is
© 2010 by Carolyn Atkinson. All rights reserved.
We’ve been talking at Everyday Dharma about the question raised by the Dalai Lama after he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Even as he was being feted by the whole world, he found himself wondering if his efforts truly had been enough. When we slow down, when we stop and pay attention, it’s possible to feel the wish arise that somehow we might do more, or do better. Perhaps it seems we should be doing something else, something other than this life we find ourselves experiencing. Are we getting it right? Most of us want to feel accomplished, to seem worthy in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. And it’s easy to long for life to have transcendent meaning always. Couldn’t we just be certain that what we’re doing is enough, or is the right thing? The feelings are often just a quiet moment or two away from consciousness.
We could say that, in its most general form, it’s a desire for our lives to be extraordinary somehow. So, here at our Zen Center, we’ve been considering what it might mean for each of us truly to accept and to allow ourselves to be something else—to be ordinary. What if we’re not really special at all? What if we’re quite ordinary? For some of us, this can bring a sense of deep relief, because there’s no need to strive so hard, to feel always dissatisfied and fearful of criticism; it’s actually all right to just be ourselves. For others, being ordinary can feel really disappointing; the words that come to mind are boring, dull, uninteresting. We look around at others in the world, and it can seem that, here and there, some people truly are different—larger than life, we might say. So why can’t we also be one of those very extraordinary people?
I remember the many years I felt a deep longing to be special, to be extraordinary. Growing up in post-World War II America, I, along with many of my generation who came of age in the sixties and seventies, wanted to be anything but ordinary. Looking back on my life, I’m sure that this was involved in my desire to practice Zen Buddhism. It looked so special—there were mysterious ways of talking and sitting, and the monks all had striking black robes to wear. The retreats were heroic, with very little sleep, cold feet and brutal conditions. Surely if we undertook all these special practices, we could be extraordinary, even luminous perhaps? Couldn’t we then reach an ideal, transcendent state of mind?
When I first met my teacher, Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi, it seemed that all my wishes to find transcendence came together in his very presence. He appeared to be absolutely extraordinary. This slight Japanese man was, for us, the perfect expression of mystery. He moved silently, except for his rustling robes; he chanted in ancient languages; he gazed at us with large, luminous eyes; and it felt to me as if, merely by looking at me, he could penetrate into my very heart and mind. He was incredibly exotic; he wore white tabi socks and carried a teaching stick. He’d grown up in a Zen temple family in Japan, and we knew he’d begun to meditate when he was less than six years old. I think I believed that simply being in his presence would somehow help me transform my life into something extraordinary. I suspect most of us who were his students felt this way in the beginning.
Fortunately for us, Kobun was an amazingly kind person. He didn’t take advantage of our adoration; he was very accepting of us at our little zendo in Santa Cruz. We were a motley gathering of hippies, graduate students, short-order cooks and carpenters, and, nevertheless, he was willing to be completely present with us in our ordinary lives. He gave us the great gift of living his life in our midst. We who were his students spent time with him when he was glorious and inspirational, and we felt inspired simply by being around him. In looking back on this time, I think that we felt touched by his reflected glory.
But there was this also: because he was willing to stay connected with us, slowly, gradually, by paying close attention, we could also begin to see not just the glory in his presence, but also sometimes the sadness in his eyes. Occasionally, he seemed isolated, even in the midst of many people. We began to notice that his life didn’t always work out so perfectly; he too sometimes seemed to fall apart. He couldn’t hold everything in his complicated world together all of the time. Apparently, life for him was also what we might call “ordinary.” It could be painful and difficult for him, too.
I experienced Kobun as being incredibly present and accepting of us, an amazingly kind man. I also realized gradually over the years, that he was, just like all of us, a very ordinary, flawed human being. He made mistakes. He suffered. His life story looked quite different from ours in the details—more glamorous to us perhaps—but it was the same in effect. We are, each of us, ordinary human beings. We all carry the weight of our family and our personal stories. We all make mistakes, and we all suffer. This seems to be built into being alive.
I think this was his greatest gift to me, actually. Finally, I understood that there was no other, more perfect life to reach, beyond this ordinary embodied experience. If Kobun couldn’t do it—if he couldn’t attain a blissed-out state of permanent wisdom and serenity that would protect him from pain in his life—then it was very unlikely that I would find such a place myself! When I recognized this, I saw that there was nothing else to wait for: this life is it. Right here and right now. This is what there is. Rain on the roof. Newspaper soaked and muddy. Unopened mail, unfinished lives. This is what we have—birth and death and everything that lies between. The nature of this life is that it is flawed, it is modest, it is often unsatisfactory. And, also, this life is of enormous value. Nothing is special. And yet everything is unique. This is what we have in these very ordinary, embodied lives. I learned this, in being with Kobun.
Knowing what we have—all we have—are these ordinary lives, I feel now how important it is to not take what we have for granted. Let’s not think that everything will always be the way it is when life feels good. No one person, no particular thing, no place of practice will always be waiting for us. When Kobun died, I was incredibly shocked. I had thought that he would always be there for me. I must confess that when i learned of his death, my first thought was horror that he had died; and my second thought was, “But what about me?” I realized, as I sat with his death, that I had taken him very much for granted. Having learned this painfully with Kobun, I want to say, let’s try not to do that. Don’t think that everything will always be the way it is now, that we can always count on life being the way we want it to be. This is the only time we have, and this is the only life we have, so let’s not take anything for granted.
Now, say we really don’t want to wait to live our lives, and we truly have the intention not to take things for granted, the the question is, how exactly can we do this? If we look at our ordinary lives, what might this mean? Certainly I have asked this question for years. How do we do this thing of being alive? What are we doing? In fact, I would say that, as a group of students around Kobun, we asked that question of him more frequently than we did any other. We phrased it in many different ways, but it came down to something like this: “Kobun, why do we sit? Why do we do this practice? Why do we meditate?” Over and over, for thirty years or more, we returned to this most basic question.
In looking back through the many years that I knew him, I can see that Kobun’s answers grew and deepened over time, just as his life changed and transformed. When he arrived here in America, he was a single, young Japanese man who had grown up in a traditional Asian temple world and had undertaken Buddhist training and studies. His spoken English seemed to be largely scholarly, and his conceptual framework was fairly abstract. I must confess that I found him very difficult to understand in the early years. Here is a portion of a talk he gave that illustrates this time period. As usual, we were asking, “Why do we do this? Why do we sit?” He replied, “The stage of purity go endlessly and so-called ‘Nirvana’ comes very end of it. Nirvana is literally ‘death,’ perfect death is what Nirvana is, and we accomplish it before this body reach to end—still functioning remain we reach to that end of the purity.” I really didn’t understand what he was saying! I had trouble retaining the words. I noticed instead that, for me, the real importance of what Kobun taught was in the way he lived with us; still, I longed to “understand” what he was saying. When, occasionally, he would utter words that i could actually absorb, I felt how precious they were. I suspect it was that way for most of us who were his students. We hoarded the few words we understood.
In retrospect, I realize that, over the years of his teaching, his English became much clearer, and his expressions were increasingly less abstract and more grounded in his experience. Here is the way he answered this same question, “Why do we sit” in the middle years of his teaching: “The main subject of Denko-e [a particular retreat period] is how to become a transmitter of actual light. Life light. Practice takes place to shape your whole ability to reflect the light coming through you and to generate, to re-generate your system so the light increases its power.” Now, that was much clearer for me than his earlier statement! It was an image that I could really understand and remember.
There are two aspects to this description that I’d like to mention. One is the emphasis on light—this was a very important, recurring image for Kobun. He used the word frequently in his dharma talks, and also in conferring names. Ko is the Japanese sound for “light,” and he named his two practice places Hokoji and Jikoji. My dharma name also has the word Ko in it, as well—Eiko Joshin. The possibility of light was very important to Kobun. Transforming and enhancing light was his goal.
The second aspect is the feeling of power and strength he conveyed when he spoke about “generating, re-generating [our] system so the light increases its power.” He spoke about this in the prime years of his teaching; he was strong and pursuing a life of doing it all. He was committed to having a family and, at the same time, being an available and connected teacher. He traveled from place to place; he took care of his children; and he ministered to his large sangha. He believed—we all probably believed at that time—that it was possible to do everything we set out to do. In fact, Kobun seemed actively to embody this principle for many of us. When he said, in effect, practice is about taking the light that shines into us and making the light even stronger, it felt as if he were actually casting a bright light of inspiration directly upon us, his students. We each drew comfort and clarity from him; he truly seemed to lighten the world around him.
We’re told that the Buddha, in his final teaching words, used a similar image. Sometimes it’s translated as, “Be a refuge unto yourself.” But often his words are rendered in this way, “Be a light unto yourself. Make of yourself a light.” Maybe we can understand it as this: make a greater brightness in the world—find your own way.
I’ve mentioned that when we asked Kobun how to do something, how to do a ceremony for example, he would reply,”You figure it out. We’re making it all up as we go along.” And, if we really understand that, then of course we have no choice but to find our own way in this life. We must find the light within ourselves. We must be our own light. Kobun liked to say that our effort to find our own way, to create a greater brightness in the world, was a natural impulse. In this same teaching about being a transmitter of light, he said, “We face such a big task, so naturally we sit down for a while.” We were constantly asking him, “Kobun, why do we sit? Why do we practice?” His answer was that, facing such a big task as living our lives, naturally, we sit down for a while.
So, here is this practice that we do, this deceptively simple activity: we sit down; we slow down; we reduce the stimulation in our lives; and, for this period of time, we give up distraction and entertainment. We simply sit still, making the effort, over and over, to just be here, in this present moment. As you know, this is amazingly difficult. I think that’s why, for so many years, we all kept asking Kobun again and again, “Why do we do this?” We might have been saying, “Why on earth should we do this, at all?” It’s certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, finding the willingness, over and over, to sit down again, to be present in my life, just as it is. Actually, we could also say, just as we are.
And when we just sit down, this is what happens: we experience the pain that we’ve been suppressing, the grief we haven’t had time for, the anger we’ve hidden away, the fear that constantly shadows us. We discover that our minds do their absolute best to escape being here; and we also realize that we—whoever “we” are—are not in charge at all. Over time, we begin to notice also how much we can actually love others and perhaps finally ourselves. We begin to see that we can turn directly into our pain; we can feel it fully and, even so, we can still survive. When we walk toward our fear we discover that we are no longer controlled by our fear. The fact is that however much we are able to be present—exactly that much is what we are able to bear. Even the death of a most beloved teacher is finally bearable. This was exactly what I found with Kobun after his death. Sitting down—practicing—gave me a way to hold all the feelings so they didn’t destroy me, and I didn’t have to run away. With practice, we can begin to see our lives more clearly, and to live these lives with greater freedom because we are learning to be present. This is truly a revolutionary secret.
In “The Buddha’s Last Instruction,” Mary Oliver describes the final teaching from the Buddha: “‘Make of yourself a light,’ / said the Buddha, / before he died…. / An old man, he lay down / between two sala trees, / and he might have said anything, / knowing it was his final hour.” The teaching of a lifetime comes down to this one suggestion: “Make of yourself a light. Be a light unto yourself.” Find your own way, we might say. Mary Oliver concludes her poem by speaking in her own voice: “clearly I’m not needed, / yet i feel myself turning / into something of inexplicable value.” In fact, although clearly none of us are needed, amazingly enough, as we quiet our minds and open our hearts, we can truly feel ourselves turning into something of inexplicable value. Kobun pointed us, his students, in this direction. He said that practice is about receiving the light that comes into us, and increasing the power of this light. “Make of yourself a light,” the Buddha said. “Be a light unto yourself.” Be of value.
In the 1980s, Kobun moved away from northern California, from us, his students in the Bay Area, but he would sometimes come back, perhaps once a year, for a sesshin, a retreat. Most of us carefully kept our calendars clear for his return, and carved out the time to go to see him. I certainly did that. I found that I might have the opportunity to talk with him perhaps for one hour a year during that time when he was gone. That was all. I treasured that one precious hour so much; I would remember for months afterward what he had said to me.
Then, in the late 1990s, something amazing happened. He actually moved back to this area, and lived quietly for several years right here in Santa Cruz, up in the small community of Bonny Doon. He settled with his new wife and second family into a traditional-style Japanese farmhouse, only about five minutes from my home. It was quite startling and wonderful to have him so close once again.
After he had been here for several months, I asked if it would be all right to get the old-timers together to sit with him occasionally; he quietly nodded his assent. There were about ten of us who had sat with him for many years, and we began to meet once a month on a Sunday afternoon at my house, just to have the opportunity to sit together again as a sangha, and to be with Kobun. I look back now and I realize how unique this time was. To use Kobun’s own words, it was “a rare and precious opportunity.” We did this as a group for maybe a year and a half, perhaps two years, until Kobun and his family moved to Colorado.
Death comes unexpectedly, doesn’t it? At our last meeting with Kobun—we didn’t know it was our last meeting at the time—someone once again asked that old familiar question, “Kobun, why do we sit? Why do we do this?” Now, you’ve already heard two of his answers—the first one abstract and perhaps difficult to understand, and the second one inspiring and dynamic. At this final meeting, he gave us a third answer, the last one I heard from him. It seems to me that this response expresses his mature reflections, gathered over a lifetime of living. What he said was concrete and easy to understand; and it was, to my ears, humble and deeply touching. I don’t know if anyone else wrote down his words, but I did, as soon as I could find pencil and paper. I’d like to share his precious final response to our perennial question, “Why do we do this practice?”
“We sit,” Kobun began slowly, “to make life meaningful. The significance of our life is not experienced in striving to create some perfect thing.” He looked down at his hands as he spoke. He was quiet for a long time. Then he continued, “We must simply start with accepting ourselves. Sitting brings us back to actually who and where we are.” Again he waited, as he perhaps reflected upon his own life. “This can be very painful. Self-acceptance is the hardest thing to do.” Once again, he paused, so long at this point that I wondered if perhaps he had finished. But finally he continued, “If we can’t accept ourselves, we are living in ignorance, this darkest night. We may still be awake, but we don’t know where we are. We cannot see. The mind has no light.” He stopped and looked around at us in our small circle. He moved from face to face with his eyes, seeing deeply into each one of us, his long-time, oldest students. Finally, he nodded slightly, and concluded, “Practice is this candle in our very darkest room.”
Here it was, Kobun’s conclusion to a lifetime of practice and teaching.
“We sit to make life meaningful. The significance of our life is not experienced in striving to create some perfect thing. We must simply start with accepting ourselves. Sitting brings us back to actually who and where we are. This can be very painful. Self-acceptance is the hardest thing to do. If we can’t accept ourselves, we are living in ignorance, this darkest night. We may still be awake, but we don’t know where we are. We cannot see. The mind has no light. Practice is this candle in our very darkest room.”
It’s so simple, isn’t it? We sit to make life meaningful. Practice brings a modest light into our minds. Yes, a simple teaching. And, for me, the most profound one. I had listened to Kobun speak about Buddhist practice for thirty years, and, as I reflected at that last meeting upon his teachings, I finally saw and felt something of the sweep of his life. It seemed to me that his mind had transformed in a phenomenal way. He had moved from the traditional abstract Zen way of speaking in both content and presentation, all the way, we could say, to the practice of the tender heart. It was an amazing journey for him to take. It was a profound evolution. When I considered how far he had traveled in his experience, beginning in the very traditional Japan before World War II, I was incredibly inspired. And the fact that he would talk about it—this very private man—made it an enormous gift to us, his students.
Let’s look closely at his words, this final teaching. He begins, “We sit to make life meaningful.” We practice to understand our lives, we could say, to find a meaning or a purpose in our lives. Actually, we sit so that life has meaning. We sit in order to love our lives, to treasure this transient life. And then he goes on to say something so important: “The significance of our life is not experienced in striving to create some perfect thing.” I looked at Kobun’s quiet face, the sadness that sometimes was visible in his eyes, and I knew that the significance of Kobun’s life was clearly not in what he had created, not in some perfect thing, but was simply in who he was. He certainly didn’t create a perfect life. In many ways, it was a life of chaos. But that wasn’t what mattered. We loved him for who he was when he was with us. And this is what mattered after he died. Not some perfect thing he’d created, but simply his willingness to be with us, to love us unconditionally.
He continued by saying, “We must start with accepting ourselves,” and I knew that Kobun spoke from his own experience. There were profound ways in which he suffered in his life, and I considered it one of his greatest teachings that this man we loved so much, who held us with such great kindness, also had to struggle to accept himself. It was difficult even to see that this was what was happening. It was difficult to believe it. And, yet, it was true.
He went on to say, “Sitting brings us back to actually who and where we are.” In other words, when we sit down, when we sit still, we find out what’s really going on. We experience what’s true in our lives. Then he continued, “This can be very painful. Self-acceptance is the hardest thing to do.” He was talking about the minute-by-minute willingness to be who and where we are, without turning away, without blotting out our consciousness, without judgment and without despair. This is really challenging.
Then he came back to the image of the light, and you’ll notice that this time it was not as a great transformer; rather, it was as one small candle. “If we cannot accept ourselves, we are living in ignorance, this darkest night. We may still be awake, but we don’t know where we are. We cannot see. The mind has no light.” If we can’t accept ourselves, he was saying, we are living in darkness, a great darkness of the mind and of the heart. It is a big task, learning to accept ourselves, so, naturally, we sit down for a while. And, then, his last sentence came back to our old, perennial question: why do we sit? Why do we make this effort to sit down, to quiet the mind and observe what is happening? Because, “Practice,” he said—this meditation, this effort, this awareness and stillness—”is this candle in our very darkest room.” Practice creates the smallest light in our darkness. This effort at awareness and stillness is our single candle in the darkness of our minds and hearts. You know, when we have all the electric lights turned on, a candle doesn’t seem like very much light. But when the power goes out, have you noticed how much light a single candle brings? This is what he finally came to in the course of his life: practice brings us one small candle in the darkness of our minds and hearts.
Here’s what I would suggest: we don’t have to be huge floodlights. Let us just be small and ordinary candles. “Make of yourself a light,” the Buddha said. “Be a light unto yourself.” We sit down in the darkness of our lives, and our practice is this one small candle that helps bring us light and clarity and understanding. We sit and sit, knowing that we’re not needed—knowing how ordinary we finally are—and yet, gradually, ever so gradually, we find ourselves turning into something of inexplicable value. Ordinary, yes. And priceless too, each of us.
Kobun was my teacher of inexplicable value. With his life, he lit one candle in the great darkness in which we all sometimes found ourselves. I miss him so much. Once again we light our one ordinary candle, each of us, in our darkest rooms; every day, this day, we discover a small light within ourselves when we naturally sit down for a while. “Make of yourself a light,” the Buddha said. “Be a light unto yourself.” Let us each care for our one small candle in the darkness of our minds. This is the light of practice, the light of awareness and of stillness—one small light of inexplicable value.
Practice creates a light in the mind.
Kobun Chino Otogawa's Lecture on
INTRODUCTION TO THE ASPECTS OF SITTING
What is zazen, shikan-taza? What kind of sitting are we doing here?
There is a little misunderstanding about so-called Zen or Buddhist life;
I'd like to clear it up a little bit, and reassure your sense of basic
confidence that however you are is the way it should be. I mean daily
life, however you manage your daily life, that is how it should be.
For a long time this sitting was done only in a closed society like
a monastery. It was the traditional way of protecting the quality
of this practice. My basic intention is to really open this sitting
opportunity to everybody who is ready to do it and enjoy it. No division
between monks and nuns, young and old. I want you to understand this kind
of practice. Some people trained in a monastery or communal situation
with well set schedules and regulations may have a quite a difficult
time with almost no rules. People come and go and there is no scolding
and no one carrying a stick to beat you like an old rug or dumb man.
Many people say that's not sitting, but I believe this is the real
sitting! Whoever sits, that person's mind embraces the whole situation
, centered by that person. So each person has full responsibility
and full understanding by themselves for what sitting means to them.
The teaching is within that person. Each person's sitting includes
how they live, how they think things, where they came from. Nothing is
missed, nothing is needed to change from how you are actually living to
how it should be. There is no "should be" kind of thing. In one sense,
it's a terrible state, the hardest kind of operation. There is no crunch,
nothing to hang onto to order your mind. I say you cannot call this
Zen or Buddhism. Then what is it? People get mad a me! They ask,
"Then what are you?" To have no identification is so insecure in one
sense; people are very shaky sometimes. But as you notice, no one forces
you or orders you to do this. My great hope is for success in a real
sense, for satisfactory practice in this sitting. I'd like to reveal
the natural nature of sitting fully as it is. If I put some concept on
this and make you understand what I think is a ideal way to sit, I would
be a kind of special gardener who fixes boxes and lets you go through to
become square bamboo. Or I would be an automatic newspaper man who runs
a newspaper whoever comes, I would just put you in the machine and make
you flat and you would come out a squished being, or something like this!
In Japan there is still a strong force of tradition where monasteries
closed people out from sitting. Now it is like a secret teaching has
been brought to us from a deep secret place; no one knows how valuable
it is. People in Japan still feel strongly that sitting shouldn't be
done so easily. A sort of hoarding of teaching is going on. But even
if this treasure is brought to us, this kind of treasure is not seen
by people, so there is actually no danger. The only danger is if you
guide people the wrong way with it. In this sense, Dogen Zenji was
very right, if you want to do zazen or any kind of practice properly,
the only way to master it is to study with the right teacher. Too much
talk about zazen or shikan-taza is not so good for you. It's impossible
to teach the meaning of sitting. Until you really experience and
confirm it by yourself, you cannot believe it. It has tremendous
depth, and year after year this gorgeous world of shikan-taza appears.
It's up to you to cultivate it. Because you are Buddhas yourselves,
you can sit. Dogen named this sitting "great Gate of Peace and Joy".
Simply, it is peaceful, eternally peaceful, pleasurable and joyful.
Shikan-taza doesn't have the name of any religion, but it is, in its
quality, a very true religious way to live.
Year after year our physical posture becomes polished; by repeated sitting
our muscles become very refined, not pulling one way. When your muscles
become very balanced you are able to feel almost nothing is there. All
your intestines, your bones, are in the same balance. When our body is
able to take the right posture, when you sit as if no one is sitting
there, you feel yourself. The way to find your best posture is to
focus your attention on the feeling of your body. It's hard to say
what it is an inner eye, an inner sensation which is able to observe
every part of your body. When you are awake, you feel every part of
your body: its surface, a little bit inside, deep inside, all parts.
When you take the best posture you can possible reach, at that time you
are weightless, and you aren't aware of your effort to keep that posture.
The point is to have a stretched spine, with your neck straight along
the spine. When you slightly lean right or left or backward you can
find which point is your straight posture. This is related to the
incredible pull of gravity. A thousand million lines of gravity pull
you down. You swing your body from left to right, and finally you come
to one point. It doesn't continue that way. We again crumble down,
so we have to again build it up. Maybe every twenty minutes or so you
have to re-do it. It is a very natural position, but we have incredible
habits which are hard to correct. Every time we correct our sitting
position, we always go back to a more comfortable position. To have
the foot soles facing upward is very important. To have the soles
going upward, with your feet pressing down on your thighs, is not an
accidental discovery, but a polished discovery. They should be like that,
because then there is a very grounded sensation of being on the earth,
not flowing or flying purposelessly in the air. The eyes should be kept
open, and hopefully see through everything, because your seeing is not
"your" seeing. So you should see through. All our sense organs are
finely constructed awakenings. You don't have to stare. As you notice,
all information from the sense organs come together moment after moment
and the "mind eye" is always functioning. Everyone actually has it,
it is not newly opened. It's very easy to mess up your posture just
by rolling your eyeballs around. If you come back to keeping your eyes
still, then something opens up. Your sitting still is like a person who
just shot an arrow, and a moment later the result is there. What you
know is the sense that the arrow is moving all right. It has left your
realm, but you sense it's running well. Stillness is like that. In the
stillness you see intuitions are going all right; you sense every kind
of intuition. The form of the human body is continuity of karmic force.
Without parents, you wouldn't exist here; without you, your children,
all next generations could not exist. So in this sense, to have a body
on this earth has a very karmic reason and result. Without this karmic
condition, you cannot exist as the expression of ultimate force.
You can say there is a "right posture" for sitting. Many times during
sesshin you hit that "right posture", then swing away from it, and then
go back to it. You understand what right posture is for you. You can
see it, perceive it. It relates with your mind state at that time.
Right posture in sitting creates the contents of sitting from all that
you have been experiencing up to now. It requires detachment from your
desire to do it; you let it happen by itself. So right posture is not
that you are doing sitting; right posture itself is the sitting, and
the system of your whole body is going into that posture. The period of
sitting is not your own sitting. Physically you feel it is your sitting
you do. The inner view of one's sitting, which is utterly an external
view, too, includes your personal existence. It includes everything,
from which your mind is continuously working. The arising of memories,
whatever you have experienced, is always there. No matter whether
you deny them or accept them, they are there. Not only that, but as
time passes, the contents change. So posture is how to keep going,
how to keep the posture you have taken. As you notice, this physical
condition of existence is a very dynamic thing which you cannot stop.
It goes by itself. Maybe, all things go by themselves; you are that,
and you are able to experience and feel it. Sitting is always pointless,
you know. When we touch sitting with this body, it feels like putting a
thumb on paper: "This is it", touching time / space, or creating matter
in time / space. That's how I feel when I sit. The more sitting goes
still, almost stopping, the more it feels like time stops. At that
time there is no more distinction between this body and actual things.
Things feel as if they are extensions of the body. It's not a frozen
kind of realization, but the very powerful presence of the sensation that
you are really there as what you are, what things are, without naming
each thing that's there. Even not what you are is also there. I mean,
the thing which holds the phenomenal, experiencial phenomena as your
own body is also yourself. You may say time / space, or space / time,
or simply void, or something like that. Phenomenon / noumenon together
are there. A slight move of mind causes lots of insights out of past
experience, and out of images you have been making toward the future.
It causes imagination about the relationship of all people and situations
in the present time with no distinction between past, present and future,
just the enormous dynamic of where you live, what's there, all existing
as yourself. This body is a very fine thing at such a time, continuously
pressing this sitting spot. If you sit slanted yet your mudra is perfect,
it is strange. It is the same sitting while you imagine that you are
dancing somewhere. No one can see it; only you yourself can feel it.
But dance is dance and sitting is sitting is sitting, so when you sit
you must sit instead of thinking of some fantastic things. But it is not
necessary to develop consciousness of the self along. You have to release
that conscious self – about – yourself. Otherwise you will be caught by
"sitting very well". Those kinds of wave of mind are not necessary.
The time of sitting is timeless, actually. When you take the right
position you have nothing to think about anymore, nothing to bring up from
any place, past or future. That which can be call the present moment,
where you are and what you are, actually is there. So that the physical
posture we take in sitting is a part of whole posture, where it is,
actually. Many, many things meditate because, essentially, everything.
We complain about our sitting that sometimes we suffer with so much
pain in our legs, necks, or backs. But pain is always there. You have
just noticed it. When you walk on steep hills it shows up. It's not
something you just produced. It is there. When you stop climbing the
mountain, that pain goes away. But you know, it is still there. We call
it pain, but it is simply a force which came along with our existence.
In that force there is always pain if there is any sense able to feel it.
When I let this stick down, it touches the ground, and both feel pain.
But they don't say so. When something grows up, when something is born,
that intensity of force lets us feel that pain is there. Along with pain,
there's very incredible joy, too, like a change of color. So if you just
see the good part or pleasant part of an activity and wish to avoid the
pain of cutting cold or heat, then actually you are limiting yourself by
not letting the force swing from one end to the other. So what happens
is, your scale of sensation gets smaller and smaller; finally you feel
that you come to a painless place, a very comfortable place, not hot,
not cold, not high, not so deep. You stay about in the middle—and
discover there is incredible pain in there. Not to be able to get out
of it causes lots of pain again. Often when pain begins to control your
mind, your visions of a painful situation begin to occur because your
whole body is reacting and your breathing starts fluttering without your
noticing it. In an exciting situation deep breath will help when you
have so much pain. I call it the silver thread. It goes straight down
from the tip of your head through your spine to the tail bone. This is
very important. In breathing, the out-breath is like pouring water to
wash your pain. As it goes slowly through your body, you let it slide
out from your legs. You can see this when a woman is in labor, making a
groaning sound. That is how you go with pain. Maybe you shouldn't groan
in the zendo! But it's very natural. We all groan, as the breath goes.
Without actually making that sound, you can breathe in the same way.
CONDITIONS FOR SITTING
Protecting zazen is like raising your own child: you raise zazen.
Especially when you understand that your formal existence as a man or
woman actually is a big question. Because you have such immense energy,
such desire, you beat yourself up, you mistreat yourself. And if you are
seeking some kind of fantastic experience to straighten yourself, again
you are mistreating yourself. So the important thing in doing zazen is
to protect zazen. When you sit in the street, for example, you discover
that siting in the house is protecting zazen. If you sit naked on the
beach, tides continuously come to your body and in ten minutes you'll
understand that's not a place to sit. Direct wind where you're sitting
is not so good. Clean air is very important to sit in and breathe in.
Plants are very important for that. Mountains and woods are very good
places to sit. Fasting is not so good for a long sitting of a week
or a month; it is a kind of radical thing to do. Also not so good is
eating a big meal or taking some kind of chemical right before you sit.
Light is important for sitting. You can sit any time—midnight or daytime.
The best is indirect sunlight, not direct. You can swing from one extreme
to another to find how far you can go. Just remember the middle way.
You cannot really tell what breathing is. We are very interesting
existence. As soon as a mother gives birth to her child, a separate
body, the child starts to breathe by himself or herself. Before that,
the mother is breathing for the child. What kind of breathing you do
while you sit is an important issue: How the inside of your mouth, your
tongue, your teeth should be. You should keep no air in your mouth.
It sounds strange to say this, but can you do it? When you tighten the
upper and lower rows of your teeth, using your jaw muscles, the teeth
firmly touch and press each other. Your alertness gets very strong.
But don't force the jaw muscles as some students do. Let your tongue
touch the upper dome of your mouth. Let your breath go through your nose
and straight to your lungs. This helps especially when you become drowsy.
Naturally, saliva comes into your mouth, but you shouldn't swallow it all
at once. Little by little you should let it go down without noticing it.
If you notice it, it comes more and more and you have a problem. Saliva
is very important. If you really sense the texture of the inhalation,
when the air comes in and how you feel when the air goes out, you will
have a different feeling. If you just count the breath, you miss it
all. That's too bad. This is a very important moment you are living.
There really is no time to count. Counting is a skill you use to quiet
a restless mind, a fast mind, or a cluttered mind. It's very helpful to
finish up your breath just before you move into the zendo. "Finish up"
means to take your finest breath for sitting instead of crashing into the
room and starting to sit and beginning work on your breath. That's too
late. Kapleau Roshi's book The Three Pillars of Zen made counting the
breath a popular method of sitting in this country, because it was one of
the few readable texts years ago. But as you sit and get more familiar
with your sitting posture and the dynamics of your body and mind, counting
your breath becomes a very small part of practice. It is like knitting
a sweater during sitting. It's better not to do it. I mean, definitely,
you have to do it some time. It can be used as a crutch before you sit.
Maybe before the zendo you can start counting: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, straighten your breath, then drop counting right there,
and sink into sitting. I'm not denying the instructions you had; the
means of counting is what I'm talking about. Depending on each person,
there is an inner image of what breathing when sitting is. As you notice,
there is also a physical element of sitting, and invisible element of
sitting which we call mind. We do mind-sitting, body-sitting, and we let
the breath sit. Three aspects of sitting exist because we can observe
our sitting from three angles. We breathe naturally and appreciate our
breath and really understand what the breath does to our body and mind.
To really connect the three: body, mind, and breath, is the point, not
counting breathing. As Suzuki roshi mentioned, you should not go all he
way in exhaling. You inhale about 80%, with the sense that you could go
a little bit more. With that strength you come back. So, it is like
drawing a circle with no gap between exhaling and inhaling. With the
contracting of the diaphragm and expanding of the stomach sometimes
the whole body expands and contracts. The important point is to have
no gap between the end of exhalation and the beginning of inhalation.
It's like a hand pump. Water always goes the same direction, but the pump
handle goes almost all the way up like this, and almost all the way down.
During sitting your breath should be very regular, very smooth, with
almost no effort, not noticing that the air is gone, or has come in.
Breath has an incredible range of volume, strength, and speed. There
are hundreds of techniques you can use, depending on your health and
emotional condition. Like playing an instrument, singing, or drawing
as you breathe; there are many ways. The basic point is not to push or
pull, but to let it go. The ancient Sanskrit word for breath was prana.
This is translated ki in Japanese, or chi in Chinese. Ki, as in aikido,
ki is vitality. Sometimes it is called seiki: life-vitality. And this
soft part where the intestines are is called hara in Japanese. Hara is
also called kai: the ocean of ki. Our vitals are here. When you have
no strength in the hara you feel very week. When you are full of energy
this part is full of energy. When you chant you let your voice come
out from this part center of your stomach. Basically ki comes out and
informs the shape of your mind. The contents of your mind are that voice.
The ideal, in sitting, it to forget the breath. You may breathe as you
like; there is an incredible variety in the speed of breathing and even
the emotion of breathing. So if you want to observe your breathing,
you should do it for months and months without trying to control it.
My feeling is that each breath is an independent thing. It arises and
goes and some thoughts go with it. Your cannot bring them back; that's
it. It's the same as your heart beat; your whole body is needing it.
So if you can forget the breath, then you are having perfect breath.
I suggest that you keep your best posture: straight, upright posture—that
naturally takes care of the breath. From deep breath, which carries
your awareness with it, to very shallow breath, which also carries your
awareness, you have to choose the best breath between them. You can be
aware of the texture of your breath, from rocky breath to silk-like breath
and finally to transparent breath, like a transparent string of breath.
You can feel which is the best breath for sitting. Try to sit and pay
attention to how your breath goes. Each time you sit your body condition
is different, so each time you must try to find your best breath and
stay with that. I always feel breathing is like drawing a circle.
It is best to get really familiar with your breath.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
We don't do this practice expecting to obtain something by doing it.
This is a very different kind of action. In one sense, it's quitting
human business, and going to the other side of the human realm. Have you
noticed your face changing moment after moment when you are facing
the wall? When you pay attention to exactly how you feel, you feel how
it changes. It is such a slight change no one would notice if someone
observed you; it's like one flame of fire is sitting on the cushion.
Every moment the texture of the flames is different. You experience
this from morning zazen to night zazen. In every sitting there's a very
different feeling. Each breath, all different.
* * * *
Student: For years I always preferred to sit by myself, and every time I
had to sit with a group, it was always more difficult. I had problems I
didn't have by myself. Kobun: The difficulty wasn't sitting together;
the difficulty was yourself! Wanting to be alone is impossible.
When you become really alone you notice you are not alone. In other
words, we stop our vigorous effort towards ideal purity. Purity is just
a process. After purity, dry simplicity comes, where almost no more
life is there, and your sensation is that you are not existing any more.
Still, you are existing there. You flip into the other side of nothing
where you discover everybody is waiting for you. Before that, you are
living together like that; day, sun, moon, stars and food, everything is
helping you. But you are all blocked off, a closed system. You just
see things from inside toward the outside, and act with incredible
systematic logical dynamics, and you think everything is all right.
When noise or a chaotic situation comes, you want to leave that situation
to be alone. But there is no such aloneness! It is very important to
experience the complete negation of yourself which brings you to the
other side of nothing. People experience that in many ways. You go to
the other side of nothing, and you are held by the hand of the absolute.
You see yourself as part of the absolute, so you have no more insistence
of self as yourself. You can speak of self as no-self upon the absolute.
Real existence is only absolute.
* * * *
We experience some kind of dying in sitting, which relates with what's
true and what's not true. What's not true dies, so we suffer. We wish
to hand on to the self which we believe exists. The contents of what
"I" means, or the pieces of the idea of the self are consistent, but
when you sit you observe no substance in those pieces of self. If we
try to achieve some awakening or enlightenment, it doesn't succeed.
We hear that sitting is to clarify the true nature of the self, but it
seems nothing is clarified, nothing happens. You just spend time and
have lots of pain and a stumbling mind. If you sit all day you have a
good sitting once or twice, but when you compare the good sitting with
the rest of have a very regretful mind. "What was I doing. Drowsy.
Doubt arises in this. What is it? Is this all right? Are you ok?
Your mind is in a different place than sitting. I wish you would sit
alone sometimes for several days. If you sit alone, although there are
many dangerous situations to fall into, you feel you can clarify your
right intention, your strict attitude about taking care of yourself.
If we sit together like this you think "Because other people sit, this
might be alright! This must be the way." If something more important
than your concern about yourself occurs, of course you quit sitting and
plunge into taking care of that. Actually, for each of us the opportunity
of sitting is the same as sitting alone.
* * * *
Student: It seems like my best sitting is when I'm having a lot of
difficulty. Kobun: That's right, because lots of problems wake you up.
Student: So is it good to have problems, then? Kobun: If there is no
problems, people begin to sleep in zazen, and that state is a little
bit funny. Energy goes to the opposite direction when you are always
peaceful, there is no way to wake up. By seeing into the broad distance,
by stretching your mind to a very far place to understand what is actually
going on, there is no way to sleep in zazen. But personal exhaustion
is another subject. Some people only choose an exhausted time to sit,
and then they fall to sleep. That's isn't so good.
* * * *
Continuously I suggest to you that you have good posture. That is
because posture is a sort of proof of your mind situation, a reflection
of the invisible part of your life which penetrates your body, your
physical condition. It helps to start with good posture, and let
your mind ride on good breath, on smooth, deep, even breath coming in
and going out, which keeps you from slipping from the present moment.
As soon as you forget your breath, mind-phenomena color your breath,
and all sorts of movies go on in that breath, and your body continuously
reflects whatever goes on in those personal movies. We like to just let
these movies go and forget them, or maybe finish them, but I don't want
to say just forget them.. The one who keeps watching, who keeps letting
the whole thing happen is a very important part of yourself. It is not
necessarily the judgmental part of yourself, but just the observing part.
* * * *
Student: I've been feeling I have a zillion problems and that if I work
I'll just explode. It's hard to sit if you really have something to
work through. Then I'm afraid of sitting. Kobun: Where are you going,
doing so many things? There must be a reason to choose many things to do.
Are you going somewhere? Student: No.
Kobun: Then you can start sitting first, then do things one by one
afterwards. If you want to go somewhere and have so many things to
do, sitting is foolish. You should go and do them. Sitting is the
rediscovery of your basic strength and your clarity. When you begin
to do things, actually there are note so many choices. What you really
want to do is always one or two things.
* * * *
Student: I think I know that if we have the right attitude and good
effort, that our practice extends to everything we do. Nevertheless,
I still find myself feeling guilty at times when I don't sit when sitting
is scheduled, because the children want to do something else, or I don't
feel good. The guilt doesn't seem natural. What attitude is right
not to feel this distinction between our all-pervasive practice and our
sitting practice? Kobun: Guilt isn't actually what is involved here.
If you are sorry to you, that is all. If a sitting opportunity comes,
but you have lots of obligations which you wish to be involved with,
if you do them, you have to miss the sitting. This struggle goes on
always, actually. In other words, most of the day we feel sorry about
missing sitting. We feel like little mice running around and around.
If you didn't do that, you could do the real thing that you want to do.
So there is very deep suffering. The right attitude is to develop your
faith in the contents of zazen. You cannot get out of this zazen, even
if you jump on a jet plane to fly away from zazen. Alas, in the jet
plane jumped Buddha. Zazen mind is an enormously big thing. Getting up
and taking care of things is in that big mind. You cannot attach to
zazen while you are not doing it. Do you understand? It seems that
if you cannot do zazen it is alright. Don't do it. To enjoy what you
are doing is the most important thing. Instead of looking a zazen with
mournful eyes while washing the diapers, you enjoy what you are doing,
and when the chance comes, you sit. Often while we are sitting a call
will come from someone asking for us to relate to them. When important
things call you, this opportunity to sit is almost impossible to have.
So you are deeply involved with others, and most of the time you
don't regret not doing zazen because you are doing something else.
Zazen doesn't draw you from what you are supposed to be doing; simply,
you miss the opportunity to sit because there is so much emphasis on the
importance of communication. You often feel guilty when you take off
from your daily activities to join sitting. You feel you are doing a
personal thing, and at the same time you doubt if there is time to do it.
The best way to live is to consider the people who relate with you in
your day to day life and emphasize how they feel about your absence.
Their tremendous kindness makes you able to join this sitting practice.
Usually you don't think about your situation this deeply, since you have
such an urgency to discover your true nature. On that level the people
you are concerned with, the people who are, concerned about you, let
you go to come waste time here. And they literally say, "wasted time,"
when you come back with a shabby face!
We think we know things very well, but the things we know are still
very small. What this sitting does to the whole situation is my question
to myself and to you, too. There are advantages and at the same time
great disadvantages, too, because when we are actually sitting we cannot
do other things. Actual sitting requires our entire involvement, so
whatever we really like to do besides sitting cannot be done at the time.
That is a great disadvantage. We have to remember that, and make this
disadvantage turn to a great advantage . That is the important point.
Once is enough to sit in this life, if the sitting is a real one.
Many sittings are better. And whole life sitting is the best. But it
is rare to have such luck.
* * * *
Student: You mentioned protecting zazen the context of concentration
because when we sit we are not doing one thing; we are open to other
people, protect zazen. Is that because we are going into a situation
where it's not safe? Kobun: The context in which we protect zazen
is the force of samadhi. Samadhi is a symmetrical pattern of energy.
If you are not careful though, symmetrical energy begins to split like
broken glass, and you find unexpected results. In other words, once in a
while you begin to feel very well-centered; whatever you say, whatever you
see is perfect. At such a time, you get so high that you begin to preach
to other people. After about five minutes you discover that you are at
the wrong place, because non one understands you. Many people begin to
say that you are in a strange state. Preaching is not necessary to do
at all; you become blind about others if you begin to preach to them.
Joriki is the subject. Riki means power, like the force of wind itself.
When you grasp something, your grasping strength and the thing grasped
which pushes it back balance together. If the is not enough force,
the thing will fall off. If there is too much force, it will push
the thing. That kind of balance of force in whatever to do, whatever
you speak, whatever you think, all go into the situation. So you have
to be very careful about what kind of wish you send to other people.
This is a kind tantric teaching, though you don't have to name it that.
Thought itself, imagination itself, is a manifestation of that force.
So keep a kind spirit toward yourself and toward others, and try to
balance all things as they all should be. That is a necessary process,
in order to use that power. If your power is scattered in five things
everyday, maybe some day the five things will come together, thirty years
from now. But it is a very big job. The wisest way is to choose one,
one you really want to do. Consign every other thing to the background
and you will begin to observe that your doing in itself is completed,
not waiting for tomorrow. The jo in joriki means a stable strength.
Usually it appears as a capacity for accepting other people or situations
as they are, without wanting to control them By such acceptance you
finally become yourself. Joriki is a very strange thing. Unless you
sit, it never grows.
MEDITATION / CONCENTRATION
Concentration is not sitting. Concentration is mind. The mind and
the conditioned situation which the mind is dealing with are one thing.
So concentration is actually another word for samadhi. In other words,
if you a doing something, and utterly devoting yourself to it, that is
what concentration is. So in a larger sense, sitting itself is perfect
concentration. But in general, you cannot say sitting is concentration,
because there are hundreds of millions of concentrations The problem
here is any kind of concentration makes you ignore anything other than
that concentration. So when you concentrate on something, don't become
afraid of your ignorance. You had better now that you are going to
become ignorant about hundreds of things, because you picked this one.
The reason I said sitting is not concentration is that concentration still
involves the self who maintains self-tendency. Sitting is to destroy hat
kind of thinking. Just be there, exist there as something that was from
beginningless beginning. From beginningless beginning everything grows,
and now will be so. So there are dimensional differences between sitting
and concentration. When you cook something, you do not concentrate you
attention on a particular thing. Concentration is like clear blindness,
you are acting in it; when the work is done, the food is there. If you
concentrate , saying, "I'll cut this squash in a real nice way," with
that kind of mind you cannot move your knife so well. If you forget
the idea that, "I'll do a good job," then the surface consciousness may
be blind, but a very intuitive, very clear order is always working.
So you naturally know when to cut, when to stop the fire, and when
to stop cooking. In this sense, practice and repetition of training
are always needed for concentration. Meditation is very different.
Many times people mix up meditation and concentration. In meditation
you cannot control yourself. If you try to control yourself, you
never get into meditation. Your concentration is controlling you
when you are "doing" some form of meditation. Instead, you have to
ask your meditation, "please, please come to me. Please work for me."
Otherwise, if you chase to get it, it will never come to you. Even if
meditation is always is covering and accepting me, whatever I'm doing,
I don't feel it. Recognition of the feeling of meditation is like
feeling our inhalation and exhalation. Air is everywhere and you just
breathe a very little amount of it. When you inhale, your whole life
is exhaled by air. If you exhale, you are inhaled by the whole air.
So there is no conception of small and big : "I am small and meditation
is big," or "Meditation is small and I am big." And there is no you,
there is no sense of inside or outside. In the big world of meditation,
when two or three elements are communicating, that is concentration.
If you concentrate on every direction, that is meditation. You do not
do it, but it happens when you are ready to accept it, or when you are
ready to be accepted by it.
SELF AND OTHERS
To be born on this earth is to have the whole thing. From the beginning
there are precise distinctions between thing, but the whole thing
is yourself. That is how it started. When we become deeply involved
in precise discrimination between things for a long time, we forget
our original self. We don't lose that original nature, but we forget.
To sit is to recover that original nature fully, and to stay with it for
a while. To get up from sitting is to gain excellent relationships with
other selves, many dilemmas, people, plant, birds, jobs. Suzuki roshi
talks about this original self as the "Big Mind" in which everything
exists without exception. Dogen Zenji said, "To master the Buddha's way
is to master, to clarify your own self. Through that you can clarify he
own-selves of all others." He said your focus is to clarify yourself,
you presence. He also said, "It is the greatest living subject, to
clarify your own birth and death matter." The subject is so close,
pointing to yourself like this. If the subject is outside, we can study
it pretty well, but when you start pointing to yourself like this, it is
almost impossible. Our fresh eye is opened toward the outside, so the
same eye cannot be used for the interior realm. When we turn around and
make our interior world an external object, and analyze what's happening,
we usually call this psychology or religious studies. But this kind of
study of an objectified self is not what we are doing. How to be with
the self which rejects analysis in every way is a very important point.
What zazen causes in you is what you already have and how you actually
are, not something different from your actual existence. Everyone of
us has some deep concern about ourselves, a wish to be a valuable being
both for ourselves and for those about whom we are concerned. We want
to be truly important being for all. It seems that meditation practice
gives some way to clarify yourself as an important being, as a seeker of
deep understanding about where and how you exist and what is actually
going on. You came quite naturally to sit, without knowing that this
action has some unclear ambition in it; it points to a very natural,
unconscious confidence in your being. To desire perfect enlightenment is
the biggest ambition you can have. As long as you sit, you have to have
such ambition. It is also very ambitious to want to understand other
existences. How do you experience the existence of others? It is very
difficult to really know that others exist, are a different existence
from yourself. Usually what you see in others is who you are, so what
you experience is when and where you existed. Actually we don't care
whether others exist or not, but when you reach an ultimate understanding
of yourself, a big question appears. Is this just me existing, or are
there some people on this earth? The model of primitive experience
is children's consciousness when they are two to three years old.
Small children don't have a sense of past and future, only the present,
and the only existence is themselves. Even though we become a member
of society and see and are taught that there are other existences, that
children's consciousness stays with us. The turning point comes when
we begin loving other people. Do you remember when you began to love
beings when you were small? Its was a very big event. It's a kind of
opening up of other worlds with your capacity, and opening yourself at
the same time, opening up to accept other existences.
A very difficult person to meet with and understand is actually our
own self. The whole experience of getting to know others is actually to
have a standard to reach to yourself. Endlessly approaching the matter
of oneself is the focus of zazen practice. Clarifying your own existence
is actually expanding your own self endlessly. Whatever you experience
becomes yourself, and you see into yourself with the existence of others,
which is not different from yourself.
The great pleasure, the great accomplishment of your way-seeking is in
the realization of sitting. This form of sitting, this place to sit
on this earth, this time to sit, the twentieth century, all have lots
of problems. The shikan taza way is giving birth to the Buddha seed.
It is not a person becoming a better person, it is the actualization
of what we are. To sit in shikan taza is very uncomfortable at first.
It's rather more peaceful to sink into a warm soft couch and have a
nice drink. That's peace, we may say. But to recover our basic view of
sanity and clarity, to see how everything actually arises and falls moment
after moment is how take this sitting posture. Awakening, continuous
awakening is nothing but our basic nature. Putting that awakening into
some form as so-called being, as a man or a woman, explains what shikan
taza is. When you jump into the Buddha's world, you place yourself in the
center of annuttara-samyaksambodhi. That is shikan taza's real meaning,
real action. Shikan-taza is immeasurable, it's unthinkable. You can
use your entire system of knowing, but it is impossible to completely
understand it. Shikan taza sounds very strong. Shikan is understood as
identical to zaza. Shikan means "pure", "one", "only for it". Ta is a
very strong word. It shows moving activity. When you hit, that movement
is called ta, so "strike" is ta. Za is the same as in the word zazen,
sitting. To express the whole character, shikan taza is actually quite
enough, but not enough until you experience it. Shikan taza is sitting
for itself. You may say pure sitting for itself, not for something else.
Shinjin datsu raku is the same as shikan taza. Shinjin is "body/mind".
Body/mind is nothing but our whole life. This cannot be seen in two ways;
body/mind is one thing. Datsu is "to refrain", and "to drop from".
When you are dreaming some terrible dream, and the dream is cut off,
that is called datsu. When you get rid of that dream, that also is
called datsu. When you have a sword, the action of pulling a sword
from its sheath is called datsu. So datsu has a very strong meaning of
freeing from something. Another way to express it is : to have conquered
something which hindered your existence, like attachments, delusions,
or misunderstandings. Zazen itself is cutting off those conditions.
When we are dreaming, even if it is later called a dream, while we are
dreaming it is a real thing. This night is almost the same as last night,
but you cannot call last night back. You can remember how you were
yesterday, but at this point, we don't have yesterday. Yesterday only
gave time and space for now, so we can be completely in present time.
Datsu is the succession of time from today to tomorrow; datsu of now
is the next moment. This moment is the next moment. This is the way
our life is going on. It sounds like an intuitive, ordinary philosophy
of life. Everyone can feel it: "Oh, it is, it is!" Usually no one pays
attention in that way, being with the present and seeing and feeling that
yesterday is behind us like a rope. We are on top of the rope, or karma,
and it just goes on and on like knitting. So last year someone might
have said, "You are crazy", and you thought there was something to it.
A strong impression makes unreal existence real and real existence unreal.
Shikan taza is not what we usually think, it is truly personal deeds,
because only if one decides to sit does it appear. Sitting cannot
be fully experienced by imagination. Shikan taza has a kind of
slippery feeling to it. This means that it is easy to slip off of it.
It's quite slippery because it relates to your everyday condition.
In each sitting you have to sense it without anyone's help. There are
no techniqu4es; there is no measuring stick with which to evaluate it.
There is no way of knowing what it is or what you are doing. All kinds
of conceptualizations, ideas, hopes fall away from it. They cannot stay
in your meditation. Sitting on your cushion is not relaxation, it is the
result of all your knowledge. Every experience you have come through
sits there each time. It is very serious. Otherwise, you sit because
it feels good, and you are comfortable, and once in a while you feel an
ecstatic sensation in your body. You feel calmness, stillness, clarity,
and forget there are hungry people on this earth. You forget there are
lots of diseases which are killing people. If you do not observe that
in your sitting, you are just escaping into your desire. It happens if
you mistake or limit the focus of your sitting practice. Sitting shikan
taza is the place itself, and things. The dynamics of all Buddhas are
in it. When you sit, the cushion sits with you. If you wear glasses,
the glasses sit with you. Clothing sits with you. House sits with you.
People who are moving around outside all sit with you. They don't take
the sitting posture! Sitting shikan taza does not depend on human
intellect. It is not something you understand. It's indescribable.
We say the contents of sitting are beyond our thinking system or our
sensations. Belief or confidence is not what we usually think it is.
Doing shikan taza shows utter trust and belief in it. If you explain
shikan taza it becomes something which you don't understand, but you can
experience sitting with everything with the understanding that everything
is there, is there with you. Buddha's sitting is way beyond purity and
impurity, holiness and unholiness. It is beyond Bodhisattva's sitting,
which is endless. Bodhisattva's sitting is like a seed which never
stops flourishing; it always come back.
Kobun and the art of Kyudo
Many remember Kobun as a Zen master and for his calligraphy. However, he also practiced Kyudo. The traditional art of Japanese archery played an important role in his life. He received his training from Kanjuro Shibata XX in Kyoto (Heki Ryu Bishu Chiku Rin Ha) already at an early age. He had a close friendship with Kanjuro Shibata Sensei. Throughout his life he practiced with varying intensity.
He taught on behalf of Shibata Sensei and sometimes independently. In the article below Kobun discusses some essential points of Kyudo. For him the ultimate goal of Kyudo is to uncover one's natural dignity. He further stresses that there is no difference between Kyudo and Zazen. Both require lifelong training to reveal who you really are when you meet the target.
Natural dignity and the arrow of the mind
A conversation with Kobun Chino on the 8 July 1987 during the
Kyudo Intensive seminar at the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center
PDF: Kobun, Sesshin Talks
by Kobun Chino Otogawa
PDF: Traces of Kobun by Shoho Michael Newhall
Buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly, Fall 2012
Our Great Friend and Teacher Kobun Chino
by David Chadwick
永平道元 Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253)
孤雲懐奘 Koun Ejō (1198-1280)
徹通義介 Tettsū Gikai (1219-1309)
螢山紹瑾 Keizan Jōkin (1268-1325)
明峰素哲 Meihō Sotetsu (1277-1350)
珠巌道珍 Shugan Dōchin (?-1387)
徹山旨廓 Tessan Shikaku (?-1376)
桂巌英昌 Keigan Eishō (1321-1412)
籌山了運 Chuzan Ryōun (1350-1432)
義山等仁 Gisan Tōnin (1386-1462)
紹嶽堅隆 Shōgaku Kenryū (?-1485)
幾年豊隆 Kinen Hōryū (?-1506)
提室智闡 Daishitsu Chisen (1461-1536)
虎渓正淳 Kokei Shōjun (?-1555)
雪窓祐輔 Sessō Yūho (?-1576)
海天玄聚 Kaiten Genju
州山春昌 Shūzan Shunshō (1590-1647)
超山誾越 Chōzan Gin'etsu (1581-1672)
福州光智 Fukushū Kōchi
明堂雄暾 Meidō Yūton
白峰玄滴 Hakuhō Genteki (1594-1670)
月舟宗胡 Gesshū Sōko (1618-1696)
卍山道白 Manzan Dōhaku (1635-1715)
曹源滴水 Sōgen Tekisui
法雲圭道 Hōun Keidō
法源湛庭 Hōgen Tantei
越泉宗超 Essen Shūchō
雲外宗印 Ungai Shūin
義門良邦 Gimon Ryōhō
白龍喚瑞 Hakuryū Kanzui
大樹佛山 Daiju Bussan
大林寬中 Dairin Kanchū
義雲孝宗 Giun Kōshū
鳳山孝英 Hōzan Kōei [知野 Chino]
法雲弘文 Hōun Kōbun (1938-2002) [乙川知野 Otogawa Chino]