It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Kanjuro Shibata Sensei, the kyudo master who came to North America to share his knowledge and wisdom with western students at the invitation of Trungpa Rinpoche.
Shibata Sensei was the real thing. He was the product and holder of the ancient warrior lineage of Japan. Yet unlike many of his contemporaries, he never lost sight of the true nature of warriorship. He told his American students “kyudo is meditation. The main point of kyudo practice is to polish your heart deeply.” In contrast, the world of kyudo that he left behind in Japan had devolved into competitiveness and rivalry.
Sensei was the twentieth in an unbroken line of bow makers and kyudo masters. Born in Kyoto in 1921, he became the imperial bowmaker to the Emperor of Japan in 1959, a post he held until 1994 when it was passed on to his adopted son, Nobuhiro.
When he came to the West in 1980, Sensei made an immediate and profound connection with the Vidyadhara, and became an invaluable teacher and guide for many of Trungpa Rinpoche’s students. He pointed out that “with hearts as big as the autumn moon, we can magnetize the great heart of our enlightened lineage, the heart of the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and we can strengthen our family connection through meditation practice.”
Since Trungpa Rinpoche’s passing in 1987, Shibata Sensei has been a continual source of inspiration and support for the Shambhala Community. Here is his message to the sangha on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Trungpa Rinpoche’s passing:
Hello everyone. How are you? Trungpa Rinpoche died so quickly, very quickly. Now, all of you, sangha people everywhere, listen to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s voice. You can hear him very well, his natural voice, straight from his heart to your heart. Twenty years sounds like a long time. To think of it in this way is sad. How long ago we first met him… The sangha leadership from that time is truly, especially sad today.
But, everyone, open your hearts straight to Trungpa Rinpoche, please. You can do this. There is no need for bad feeling at all. Look! East! Great Eastern Sun!
Shibata Sensei has been a source of wisdom and authenticity in our midst for over 30 years, an irreplaceable national treasure. His passing is a great loss.
Tributes and Recollections
I met with him in Kyoto in the 90’s. My friend, an old student of the Vidyadhara’s, arranged the visit. It was the day before I left Japan. He ignored me the whole time I was there. I knew he was a teacher, and that whatever he did had meaning….so, I was relaxed. As we were leaving, my friend told Sensei that I was leaving Japan the next day…he expressed what seemed to be regret that he wouldn’t see me again real soon…real emotion. So, he blew my mind two ways from Sunday. – John Tischer
They were both truly unusual Kyoto-ites. Really different. Leaving this ancient city of culture, going off in their 60’s to the cowboy town of Boulder just to meet a teacher from Tibet, and not coming back home until three months later. That’s just not very Japanese. And on their last evening in Boulder, I had the good fortune to meet them and to bid them farewell. There is not much more than that to say. But…….years later, had you been standing quietly in the moss-garden, and peeking through the shoji-paper into the tea-house, you might have heard Sensei sitting around the fire and talking with a few people about the Way, the Dao. And I remember, they were asking him questions about practice. Maki-san asked him why he was not teaching Japanese people, and his answer was swift and shocking: “Because they are only interested in hitting the target and receiving certificates.” Then he waved his arms towards them and continued: “Not like you and the Western students, who study from the heart.” This was a real moment of transmission for these 5-6 young Japanese people.
These two people of Brave Heart, husband and wife; all that they transmitted, may it remain deep in our hearts and spread out into the hearts of countless others. What they did for us is truly a miracle. -Jack Convery
In 1980 or thereabouts I was planning to go to Japan to buy brocades to decorate the Shambhala Centers that were about to be visited by the 16th Karmapa on his second visit to North America. I was also planning to buy a few hundred oryoki sets so I went to visit Kobun Chino Roshi in California to see if he had any recommendations where in Japan I could buy the brocades and the oryoki sets wholesale. When Kobun had been a student at Kyoto University he studied kyudo with Sensei and after that had remained in contact with him. While visiting him I met Sensei’s adopted son and successor, Nobuhiro, who had just married Sensei’s daughter, Hiromi. They were on their California honeymoon and also visiting Kobun. When I told Nobuhiro about my upcoming trip to Japan he offered his family’s help and also invited me to stay there. I asked Kobun if it would be imposing on their generosity and he said that it wouldn’t be and encouraged me to accept the invitation. A few weeks later Nick Sbrocca and I went to Japan. When we arrived in Kyoto we went straight to Sensei’s house and were welcomed in an extraordinarily gracious manner by Sensei and his wife (Nobuhiro and Hiromi would return home from their honeymoon two or three days later). The Shibata family, especially Nobuhiro, put an enormous amount of skillful energy into helping us get the best brocades and oryoki sets at the best prices.
Even though Sensei spoke very little English he was a masterful communicator and seemed thrilled to hear about Rinpoche’s appreciation of Japanese culture. He was especially pleased to hear that Rinpoche was not only teaching Buddhism but also warriorship in general. He also made it clear that one of his dreams was to someday visit America.
It was obvious that he was a genuine master just as Kobun had hinted; so I called Rinpoche and asked if we could invite him to Lake Louise for part of the seminary and all of the Kalapa Assembly which was to follow. Rinpoche said yes, go ahead and invite him and that Vajradhatu would help finance their trip. Sensei, Okusan (his wife) and Tanaka Tsuruko (a young woman who came along as translator) came to Lake Louise and fit in beautifully from the moment of their arrival. Rinpoche fell in love with them and they with him. The rest is well known history.
One time, when I was staying in Boudnath, I saw Lama Chime Rinpoche’s face in a dream. He said to me, “You could call it Kyudo.” I didn’t even know what Kyudo was at the time. Polish your hearts!
My condolences to the immediate and extended Shibata family.
Videos with Shibata Sensei
A short interview with Shibata Sensei:
An address by Sensei to a Shambhala Training weekend on his visit to SMC in early November 2012.