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Sangha News - Kobun Chino

On Kobun and Maya's funeral 
from David Schneider

David Schneider cuke page

Tensho David Schneider was with the SFZC for years and knew Kobun well. He wrote Street Zen about Issan Dorsey and is currently the head of Shambala in Europe or something like that. - DC

The funeral for Kobun and Maya took place last evening, Tuesday, 30 July, at the home [a country place, not his main Lucern house] of Vanja Palmers, who is one of Kobun's senior Dharma heirs. It was at Vanja's house that this terrible accident occurred. This house is in Engelberg, an extremely beautiful ski valley an hour's train ride out of Lucern. The ride is so steep that for a not inconsiderable distance the train is hoisted up by a cable.

I arrived at the house about 6:45 pm., the same time, incidentally, that Baker-roshi arrived with his wife, and with a car full of ceremonial gear. We went in to see the bodies. They were lying in a simple, white-silk-lined coffin on a broad patio to the side of the house, under a kind of large picnic tent. It was completely heart-breaking, because, despite the autopsies performed the day before, both Kobun and Maya looked very beautiful.

Kobun was dressed in robes, with an heirloom brocade rakusu, holding a nyoi [teacher's stick]. His chin was tucked in, and he looked very very much there, as if he were doing zazen in an horizontal posture. I kept expecting him to pop his eyes open, but he didn't. Lying more or less curled up beside and slightly on top of him was Maya. It seemed like father and daughter had just taken a bit of an affectionate nap together.

People gathered on this terrace/patio as they arrived, some standing looking at the bodies, others began doing zazen on the cushions around. It was a cool evening, with a light but steady rain. Beyond the patio, one saw green hills, a few houses, mountains. Baker-roshi and Vanja talked over the possibilities for the ceremony, with a few others of us in an upstairs room. Vanja listened carefully, and also factored in the advice he'd been getting on a daily basis from Kobun's older brother, a priest in Japan.

It seemed to me there were 40 or 50 people there when the ceremony began, mostly zen students from Germany. To Kobun and Maya's right side sat Katrin, with one of her little children (the other one was exhausted and sleeping.) Beside Katrin were Yoshiko (Kobun's older daughter) and Taku (the older son, who is, incidentally, a Christian missionary.)

There were offerings of food, tea, sweet tea, drink... there were mountains of flowers, and many candles all around the coffin. There were also flower-petals inside the coffin. I'd brought the most expensive fancy incense I had, and Vanja used it for the ceremony. The shrine was fulsome and elegant.

Vanja led the ceremony impeccably: he was thorough, clear, emotional, completely from the heart. Kobun would have been very proud. One part of the event was to ordain Maya, and to give her a rakusu and a name. She is called "Water Phoenix." ("Phoenix" is also a character in Kobun's dharma name.)

We chanted a number of sutras and dharanis to the accompaniment of the big drum, after which, as is traditional, the ceremony was opened for people to make statements and offerings. At this point, the rain began to fall harder, which made it tough to hear, but had the additional effect of pushing everyone much closer, under shelter.

The family spoke first, then guests. I spoke on behalf of Shambhala, and said how much Kobun had given us through the years, in teachings, friendship, and example; and that his death was a further teaching for us. I also offered on our behalf the best kata I could find – a big, pure white one ‑ and draped it over them

After the statements, there was more chanting, ending with the Heart Sutra, and extensive dedications of merit. Then each person could come up and offer incense, which they did. The whole thing was extremely touching and affecting. A small reception had been prepared in the house, but most people stayed outside on the terrace and sat zazen.

The atmosphere out there was drenched with samadhi. It was quite easy to sit still, with a clear, open, unbothered mind. Time didn’t make much difference in this state. Some people sat through the night.

Right in front of the patio where the ceremony was held, one saw the pool in which Maya and Kobun had drowned. It is not a large pool, perhaps 10 yards by 20, and about 2 yards deep It is artificial, with fairly steeply sloping sides and a border of golf-ball-size rocks. There is a wooden deck on one side, and some reeds growing among the rocks. No one looking at it could really understand what happened. We all spent a lot of time looking at it..

The next morning early, I got back to the house to help with the cremation. We cleared the flowers, and just before the man in the van came, Vanja and I closed the lid of the coffin. We didn’t open it again, even at the Crematorium (which I thought was surprising.) During the closing of the coffin, and the carrying of it to the hearse, we chanted the Heart Sutra, which is what Kobun had done during a similar procedure when we had taken Issan Dorsey out to be cremated. When the coffin was loaded, we went on with the chant until its end, during which time the driver stood respectfully by. We then drove in convoy for an hour through the mountains: the family and Vanja in one car, Mathias, myself, and Emila (a SF Zen Center person, Vanya’s first wife, who just happened to be in Switzerland at this time,) in another.

The crematorium was very clean and modern, and had a good place for us to gather around the coffin. There we all offered incense again, and chanted some more – a longer dharani. I put the other good kata I’d found over the coffin, and then it was mechanically and very rapidly slid into a hot oven. It burst into flames, as the oven door clanged shut. At this point, Katrin, who had seemed very very strong all throughout, showed obvious distress, and wept quietly. We stayed a few moments there, and then went to the cars, while Vanja arranged for the pickup of the ashes, and for the papers necessary to transporting them internationally.

 

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