Filed in Zen (Chan)

No Mean Preacher

Robert Aitken Roshi: The Last InterviewJoel Whitney

Wisdom Collection

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Also in this issue: Remembering Aitken Roshi: A student offers glimpses of the late Zen master, by Roshi Paul Genki Kahn.


I step from my taxi onto the driveway of the Koko-an Zendo in Honolulu, three hours early for my interview with the eminent Zen master Robert Aitken. I had planned to use the time for extra research; instead, I’m hijacked by another visitor. Kobutsu Malone is a Zen priest, visiting from Maine. Portly, bald as a pink bowling ball, with wild white eyebrows that jut from his face like jagged tumbleweeds or lightning bolts, he wears green-brown Zen robes and steps slowly down the center’s lawn to meet me. Hands in a thoughtful posture behind his back, he resembles a medieval European monk, a character out of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Taking him first as the sangha’s manager, through whom I’ve arranged the interview, I thank him for coming out to meet me and ask for a place to keep reading. Malone’s first words are a threat—namely, to chain me to the radiator so I won’t get into trouble. He pauses for the joke to sink in, erupting in a hoarse roar of laughter.

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