Remembering Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi, 1938-2002

I first met Kobun in Les Kaye’s living room in early 1970, where students sat in a circle and discussed Dharma questions.   Kobun was mostly silent.  I had left my troubled marriage and family just months before and was still working as a corporate nerd in mainframe computer R&D, but trending toward a hippie culture.  Haiku Zendo and Kobun were even better!

 

After months of occasional sitting at Haiku Zendo, I asked for a private meeting with Kobun.  We met in dokusan in his living room. When I began apologizing for my ignorance of Zen, Kobun almost shouted, “You are not ignorant!” He then gave me detailed physical instructions for sitting zazen.  I tried to be pleasant, agreeable, and respectful, even while thinking, “Hell no! Too much! Nothing to do with meditation!” which I understood then as primarily mental.

 

As time went by I practiced zazen daily and saw Kobun occasionally.  The sesshins Kobun led were incredibly difficult and tortuous for me. (Throughout those decades my practice was rewarded with “enlighten-mints” but no breakthough.  Even so, my personal problems did diminish with practice.)

 

Kobun’s talks during sesshin were always very warm, talking about sesshin practice but also about his family, training and personal experience in Japan and America. His personal life was troubled by problems that his students also suffered: Problems with money, marriage, homes, etc.  We students loved his talks in part because they provided relief from our intensive sitting practice!

 

In the mid-1970's I suggested to a mutual friend that I might look for a Zen master.  She replied “Don’t you think Kobun is a master”?  That had not occurred to me, as Kobun Sensei (teacher) was always very careful not to allow anyone to call him Roshi.  By 1980 he allowed people to use the "Roshi" title, although mostly he was just called Kobun.

 

Kobun supported my spending a practice period at Tassajara Zen monastery in 1977.  Later, since I traveled frequently to Japan, he invited me to visit his brother Keibun’s family temple in Kamo, where I was generously welcomed as a guest.  It did not occur to me to be there as a Zen student, in part because I was mostly traveling on business during the several visits.   However, in retrospect I think that both he and his brother thought I might start over, in Japanese monasteries under Keibun's direction.

 

I never asked Kobun for ordination (nor did he suggest it) assuming that if he wanted me to serve any particular role he would ask me. He did have me become a sangha officer and later board member for a few years each.  In early 1980 I asked him to officiate at my wedding, and he generously met with my fiancé and me a number of times.  Kobun arrived perhaps twenty minutes late at my wedding ceremony, to our waiting full house, having parked his VW bug across the sidewalk to save time.

 

After that Kobun was traveling and living elsewhere and his appearances became less and less frequent.  But each time he came back it was as though he had not been away.  His talks became more personal and, to me, he seemed firmer in directing Jikoji as well as in teaching. In later years he became increasingly warm toward me, once jumping from his car to hug me after our cars pulled into Jikoji.  Felt weird; I feel more comfortable with Japanese formality than with hugs.

 


Kobun's Talks has links to the text of many of Kobun's talks.

Jikoji's Web Site has many other links to Kobun-related sites, and Kobun's teachings