Note: This initial description of Jikoji's founding was written by
Angie Boissevain Sensei as a part of her brief biography describing Kobun
(Chino) Otogawa, Roshi. Please email supplemental information or corrections to
In the mid-1970s a fundraising effort was initiated to buy the Pentler Estate, a Japanese style house the Palo Alto Quaker community had inherited and offered to Bodhi through the Duvenecks, who were members of the Quaker community.
Most fundraising activities took place at a cultural festival at Stanford University, with demonstrations of Japanese carpentry, flower arranging, calligraphy, Koto music, and movies. Another big source of funds came from a free 34”x24” poster sent to hundreds of people which described the sangha’s plans for the Pentler Estate on one side, and on the other was an example of Kobun’s calligraphy, dramatic thick white characters on a black ground which, he explained on the back, said “Yu Ko,” and means “the mysterious light of people’s true, deep virtue. It connects all of us to each other. It causes Bodhi to exist.” This brochure is still displayed on a wall of Jikoji's community building's dining room.
It took a year to raise the asking price of $200,000, and to receive a use permit from the county to convert the house to a retreat center. However, after considerable further efforts on the part of many people, many obstacles still remained. Jerry Halpern, a student who had met Kobun in 1967 at Tassajara, subsequently wrote his admittedly possibly flawed recollections of the process, as described in Recollections of Bodhi's Attempts to Acquire the Pendler Estate.
After the Pentler Estate project fell through, new possibilities appeared. One was a gospel meeting house close to downtown Mountain View, another was 60+ acres high on a mountain ridge above the town of Saratoga. At a Sangha meeting, the merits of both were discussed and the group split between country and city enthusiasts. We could do both, someone suggested, with the country place for sesshins, and the city for every day. This was agreed to and $50,000 was paid for each place, with $50,000 each left for upgrades.
At the opening ceremony at Kannon-do in Mountain View, Kanjuro Shibata’s son and protege Motohisa, invited by Kobun to come from Japan, performed a ceremony, sending an arrow into a straw target with a shout. Sometime later, Kobun named Keido Les Kaye abbot of Kannon-do. After Shunryo Suzuki's death, Keido Sensei finished transmission with Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi, Shunryu's son and dharma heir.
In 1979 the country place on Skyline Blvd, once a Quaker High School in the Santa Cruz mountains which had morphed into a so-called free school, housed four buildings and a number of cabins and geodesic domes that Buckminster Fuller helped build as a project for its former owner, Pacific High School. At the time of purchase about sixty otherwise homeless people, whose small commune down the road had just been bulldozed by the sheriff, had moved into the cabins and domes tucked into the forest on the hillsides. Those sangha members who were creating the center had much to do to accommodate the residents, most of whom felt disenfranchised and were powerfully angry. Many claimed "no person owns the land; only God owns it!" and refused to cooperate in any way.
However, Kobun openly invited everyone into the once-library, now Zendo, and some of them came--Vietnam vets, runaway kids from as far away as West Virginia, disaffected hippies of every kind--and everyone was made welcome to stay on the land as long as Zen practice was allowed to continue there. There were countless meetings with the residents, who called themselves an anarchistic commune. Kobun was patient and often, with small gestures, turned an ugly atmosphere toward health and healing. Once, as sangha members and residents sat on the edge of a porch discussing the many accommodations the residents thought they needed, a resident angrily pointed to the broken glass at everyone’s feet and asked why Bodhi didn’t clean the place up. Kobun leaned down and quietly began gathering bits of glass, and slowly everyone joined in and cleaned the ground. This was the first of many steps to create a new atmosphere and life of practice there. When someone asked Kobun how long it takes to create a real meditation center, he said, “Oh, about 500 years.”
In February 1981, the Community was still in full existence and there was a thriving Zen community and school at 'Bodhi Pacific'. All the domes were occupied. Kobun was often in residence (he used the old Dokusan Room at the corner of the Big Zendo for his residence). During this time, Hollis DeLancy and Ken Wing created a school on the property, and a number of young people came to live there and study in an “open-school” atmosphere.
After several tumultuous years cleaning up, trying to accommodate residents, and holding sesshins (during which one man made sure sesshins had the benefit of full blast rock music), the Bodhi board became more and more uncomfortable with the chaos of the Skyline situation, especially when some of the more difficult residents began to attend board meetings. Finally, when a young boy at the “school” sniffed paint from an aerosol can and ended up in the hospital, the board decided the school should close, and that Bodhi Skyline should be sold. A committee was appointed to prepare the property for sale, and to look for potential buyers who would fit the criteria for a nonprofit, religious and educational corporation. Although the 60 acres was prime mountain land, its prospective resale would have been limited by this restrictive original purchase criteria.
After long deliberations with the Mid peninsula Open Space district, which owned hundreds of contiguous acres, a complicated arrangement was made for them to buy the hillsides surrounding Bodhi Skyline, leaving 13 acres, including the small pond and 4 main buildings, to Kobun’s sangha. Part of the agreement was that Bodhi was responsible to return the land to its original state. Thus began a year of extreme cleanup, during which the local volunteer fire dept. practiced its skills by slowly burning down the domes and cabins in the hills, while Bodhi members hauled out the debris.
The year of cleanup at Bodhi Skyline included getting a use permit from Santa Cruz county to operate a retreat center. Kobun returned occasionally to encourage and help as he could, especially to attend public meetings to support the application for a use permit.
Kobun named the new center Jikoji, meaning Compassion Light Temple, and its Zendo Monju-do, meaning Place of Manjusri, and it was incorporated with the new name. He then invited his elder brother, Keibun, abbott of the family temple, Jokoji, to come to America to inaugurate the new temple with a Dai Segaki, a Hungry Ghost Ceremony. This was done in two parts at the Jiso shrine, the first part conducted by Kobun and his brother at a food-laden table, with chanting and incense, the second by Native American friends of Kobun and the Sangha, who rearranged the crowd of participants into 3 concentric circles, children in the center, and led an hour of singing.