R.I.P Robert Aitken

Robert Aitken MISC Roshi 5 1917 – 2010

Robert Aitken dies at 93; American Zen master
Aitken, one of the first Americans to be fully sanctioned as a master of Zen Buddhism, emphasized a path to enlightenment through social action. (LA times)

D T Suzuki MISC Roshi 1 and Robert Aitken

The story of how Robert Aitken came to Zen is remarkable in itself. Aitken was an undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii when he decided he needed a break from studies, and he took a construction job in Guam. So it was that he was an American civilian in Japanese-occupied Guam when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He was taken into custody the day after the bombing and spent the entire war in civilian prisons in Japan.

One of the guards loaned Aitken a copy of R. H. Blyth’s book Zen in English Literature and the Oriental Classics. Aitken read the book several times until the guard took it back. But then Aitken was moved to a new prison, and his cell mate was — R. H. Blyth. Blyth was a student of Zen who had been teaching English in Japan when the war began, and so he also spent the war in Japanese prisons. So it was that Aitken’s misfortune became an opportunity, and he and Blyth had long discussions about Zen.

Aloha Roshi (Diamond Shanga)

A memorial ceremony and celebration for Robert Aitken will be held at Palolo Zen Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, August 22 at 10 AM.