Creative Expression
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Wisdom & Compassion

By Katharine Kaufman //

It was Kobun Chino’s birthday a few days ago. If he was still alive Fran would give him some birthday money and he’d spend it all at the Pacific Mercantile. Lesley would make him sushi. I would be his assistant, along with others. He’d show up late and drive the president crazy. Zen would be very popular at Naropa. Certain Zen Centers would disapprove of the wild lineage…but they would love Kobun.

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But he’s not here and we are. I am.

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In 1994 at the beginning of a three month practice period in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Michael Newhall put his two hands on my back and pushed me up the hill to try to catch Kobun Chino, who was about to drive away.

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When you want to be on this Soto path you sew a rakasu (the bib like fabric that maybe you’ve seen, sort of short hand for a full robe). I am told in Shakyamuni Buddha’s time people used fabric from piles of discarded cloth. If you’ve been to India you know that every little scrap and dung ball is recycled. This material was totally rejected as if it were poison (perhaps it was). The monks and nuns washed the fabric and sewed their robes from it. They sewed it in the shapes of rice fields. Buddha was looking at rice fields from where he sat.

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Mike knew that if I didn’t ask Kobun then it wouldn’t happen. I needed those months to ask Edwina to teach me, measure me, get fabric (from a San Francisco fabric store), measure fabric, cut, and sew tiny stitches, iron. “I return to Buddha,” along with each stitch.

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Kobun’s not here, physically (unless you count the smoke of incense and the way the wind goes through the pines) ….I am here. We are here. I guess that’s good enough.

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It’s not enough to be only compassionate. I need wisdom too.

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Every morning I chant, I vow to be with all things, as I unfold rakasu and place it around my neck. Not only being with everything, but wearing the Tathagata’s teachings too. Wearing this wisdom, I will be with everything. That’s what I say. That’s what I am willing to do. Part of the wisdom is, I will fail. Failing will bring me down a little. It will be a relief. I don’t have to succeed at being with all things. I just have to be with all things.

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So yes to Kobun and all my teachers such as small dog next door and robins hopping in branches and the people writing postcards and directing plays and making art and standing at airports. I may not be the wise one or the worthy one or the only one. I am here though, and willing to give it a go.

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So I go up the hill before Kobun drives off and I say too loudly, “sewing?” And he says as soft as wooly thyme, “Yes, sewing.”

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Now it is now. I have this teaching to hang over my neck and sit where my heart sits. A wisp of some translation continues. A vow.

~ o ~

About the Author

katharine_kaufman2-140x190Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry. // Katharine Kaufman

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