Kobun Chino Roshi Calligraphy Airport Story, June, 2000

Roshi had spent the weekend at Karme Choling in Vermont teaching calligraphy. Over the last three days he had made numerous calligraphies. Each time he would finish one; he would pause, point at each character, contemplate it for a few moments, and gently explain its meaning to the attentive students. He did this time after time, tirelessly.

A day later at the Boston airport, Roshi was checking in at the boarding counter. A couple of students were with him to say goodbye and help with things. Behind him stood one student holding a large calligraphy scroll close to his heart, wrapped in a beautifully Japanese brocade. When the woman working at the counter saw the foreign looking object and the smiling man in front of her dressed in robes, she was a little suspicious. Her first question was a polite, but official: "What's in the package?" Roshi paused and answered happily: "ca-rr-i-ga-fee" in broken English. The woman obviously did not understand. She thought about it a little and then her next question was: "Did anyone help you pack your bags?" Roshi paused for a long time, grinned and answered: "Yes!" (Roshi had brought numerous items with him on the trip, all carefully bundled and tied in neat packages. When he left Karme Choling, it had taken quite a long time to repack his bags and the help of many students.)

The lady behind the counter looked perplexed at this point. She hesitated for a while, then reached under the counter and handed Roshi a large plastic card explaining the "carry on rules" in five different languages: English, Japanese, two forms of Chinese, and Korean. The card was literally covered with calligraphy. She said somewhat impatiently: "Which of these can you read?"

Roshi politely took the card, stood there just looking at it a while, and then, starting at the first line, very slowly he ran his finger over each of the characters. Finally when he reached the last character on the last line, he calmly looked up at her and joyfully said: "All of them!"


The woman paused, then smiled back at Roshi and said softly: "Thank you sir, you may go".

- Chris Magnus