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Kobun sitting near Puregg Zendo


Houn Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi – his students and friends simply called him KOBUN – was born on February 1st. 1938 in Kamo, Japan, in his parents’ Zen temple JOKOJI. He was the youngest of six children. After the early loss of his biological father he was adopted by his later master, Hozan Koei Chino Roshi. During his studies at Komazawa University and his stay at Eiheiji monastery, he regularly attended the weekly lectures of Kodo Sawaki Roshi for many years. The third crucial influence for Kobun was Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. In 1967 Suzuki asked Kobun to move from Eiheiji to the US to help him establish Tassajara, the newly founded Zen monastery in California. For the next 35 years, Kobun mostly lived in the US.


Kobun during calligraphy lesson

Kobun was a gentle and good-natured soul. ‘An open and flexible mind is the way’ he said  …. and lived. Many people felt existentially touched in his presence, they recognized the Zen master in him. With some he had a more formal teacher–student relationship. Kobun disliked organizational structures and ‘politics’, as he used to put it (along with ‚keep away from …’). Though he avoided such structures and ‘politics’ and sometimes even specifically sabotaged them, a number of centers and sitting groups started to grow in America and Europe. Folks found inspiration in his being and referred to him as their teacher. Towards the end of his life he encouraged some of his older students to take on more responsibility in the transmission of Zen and authorized them as teachers.


Kobun was a Zen priest and master of ceremonies. However, at heart he was an artist, a painter, calligrapher, poet, Shakuhachi player; he practiced Kyudo (jap. archery), liked to cook, was a good and fearless skier, a healer and astrologer, …. and was broke most of the time, even though some very wealthy people were his students. He has two children from his first and three from his second marriage and four grandchildren. On 26 July 2002 Kobun drowned together with his five-year old daughter Maya when trying to save the latter from a swimming pond in Switzerland.