There was a very moving and groundbreaking interview with Sama kobun for me. I told him about our way of shooting the bow. Not having a Kyudobogen and not in the outward form of this tradition. I told him that we will use other sheet and quite consistently offer Zazen and the bow exercise as a “complete package” in our home. There was at that time, from dogmatic Zen circles, many concerns about this practice and I was not sure if what we were doing was right in the sense of Zen. How liberating and encouraging were Kobuns words:
“Keep it up, do not let yourselves be swayed, it’s good what you’re doing!”
That was so clear, so present, without reservations, no diplomatic ciphers, was simple Zen pur! So we went on, our exercise complemented by the experience of the Indian archery, and thus develop our profile. An important stop on the way was the conversation with Kobun. We thank him!
–Kurt KyuSei –
The goal of practice
By Jeff Brooks
Kobun Chino could divide a sheet of gras from a distance of 25 m. His students were watching him doing that many times. One spring day he went with one of his students at Pacific Coast Highway. He stopped the car on the roadside, opened the trunk and pulled out a two-meter-long Japanese bow and a quiver of arrows hand-carved. They walked across the street to the cliff from which you overlooked the surging surf and the infinite, extending to the horizon Pacific. Had seen up the student, he would have seen the uniformly blue and cloudless sky over the Pacific, but his gaze was fixed on the hands of his teacher, who laid masterfully the arrow on the bowstring and, with a slight inhalation, the tendon to stretched to the maximum, his arms and back were portions of the sheet, his eyes as sharp as the tip of the arrow.
The world froze for a moment, and then, the noise of the surf overlapping, the sound of dissolving itself arrow, the “matsu kaze“, the pine wind came when the chord of the arc came to a halt. The arrow flew in a high, gigantic arch over the ocean.
Kobun Chino was a Zen monk. He taught in a small center in Los Altos and in Santa Cruz. Suzuki Roshi, the founder and leader of the Zen Center of San Francisco, had invited him to come out of Japan in the United States, to help him build the newly founded monastery Tassajara. But kobun was no friend of big institutions and sought a simple, meditative life.
In the late 60s Suzuki Roshi visited the small Zendo some time every Wednesday and were there after sitting a Dharma lecture. The speeches which he delivered there were, later under the title: “Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind” (“Zen spirit – beginner’s mind“) published, remains one of the most influential Zen books.
For a moment the arrow disappeared, against the lights of the Californian sky, before the eyes of the students. He reappeared, a stroke of the pen against the blue hovered, and began its long descent and eventually disappeared gracefully in the water. The men brought the bow and the empty quiver back into the trunk of her car and drove away. Today the student of this history is in his sixties, and he told recently by candlelight in a winter night in New England in our small Zendo of the day with his teacher 35 years ago.
Had seen this young monk, as he shot arrows out to sea a stranger or a novice, he might have believed that the man wasted the arrows. But this student saw Kobun dividing a leaf grass from a distance of 25 meters. This student knew Kobun as a light-hearted, but deeply serious man. And both knew that teachers teach. Even if they do not share a common language with each other, so students and teachers to share their lives together. And their intimate karmic connection can the essentials in life sometimes convey better than any spoken language.
What was it that taught the Kobun on that day? Can we say that kobun his student a koan gave up? Literally a koan is a public thing, an event that will be passed on and subjected to a test and a weighing. In China, the word referred to a precedent, which was used to interpret the law. In the Zen tradition, the koan is a public matter, which relates to the subject of enlightenment, on the nature of ultimate reality.
Wanted Kobun say: “Only this moment“? If he wanted to his students, a committed practitioners say, “dealing only you with the process, not the goal“? Maybe he wanted to express that in practice, as in life, there is no specific target. That, notwithstanding, is as perfectly defined our goal, the trajectory of our thoughts goes to infinity, is the trajectory of our lives to infinity; that the only thing we really have, the point is on the way on which we are right now; the only course of action that we can perform the action is that we are running right now. Maybe he wanted to just say “it’s fun arrows in the sky and the ocean to shoot“.
Metaphysical speculations help because not only the direct insight into the nature of reality frees us from suffering, permanently and completely. Kobun Chino died while trying to save his 5–year-old daughter from a pond. This illustrates in a dramatic way the life of this great Zen teacher. What he taught at that particular moment, so many years ago, has here and now inspired, it seems that his life continues to fly through space and time.