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Otogawa, Kobun Chino

kobun chino roshiKobun Chino Otogawa (乙川 弘文, February 1, 1938—July 26, 2002) was a Japanese Soto Zen roshi who made great strides during his lifespan in bringing Zen Buddhism to the West. Ordained an unsui by his adoptive father Koei Chino Roshi at age twelve, Chino went on to earn an MA in Mahayana Buddhist studies from Kyoto University and then trained at the famous Eihei-ji for the next three years. In 1967 he came to the United States to assist Shunryu Suzuki in running the San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. In 1970 he went on to establish Haiku Zendo in Los Altos, California, where he taught the following eight years. He established Jikoji in 1983 with some students, including Angie Boissevain, and soon after began teaching in New Mexico. He also became a faculty member of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado in 2001 and had always had good relations whith Chogyam Trungpa of Shambhala.

As seen in the picture, calligraphy played a major role in Kobun’s life, which he taught to students during his tenure at Naropa. Later in life he taught and led sesshins throughout Europe in places like Austria, Germany and Switzerland. It was in 2002, while in Switzerland, that Kobun drowned while trying to save his daughter who had fallen from a dock. Kobun left behind several Dharma heirs who received transmission through Vanja Palmers. Described as a gifted teacher, Kobun is incredibly missed by those who knew him.

Carolyn Atkinson recently did an interview with Sweeping Zen and remembered this of her teacher:

“[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.”

(Photo hosted by permission of Vanja Palmers)

A Light in the Mind – Kobun Chino Roshi as remembered by Carolyn Atkinson

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