Filed in Zen (Chan)

Buddhism Without Walls

An interview with Robert Aitken Roshi

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Robert Aitken, the dean of American Zen, received permission to teach in 1974 and dharma transmission in 1985, both from Yamada Roshi. During World War II he was held by the Japanese as a civilian internee captured on Guam and during his imprisonment was exposed, by chance, to the book, Zen in English Literature, by R. H. Blyth. Later, the two met during internment in the same camp. Aitken Roshi demonstrated against nuclear testing in the fifties, for unilateral disarmament in the sixties, and against the Trident submarines in the late seventies; he counseled draftees during the Vietnam War and cofounded the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in 1978. He has called himself a feminist, performed ceremonies for aborted babies, and advocated sexual equality within a Buddhist community where historically none has existed. The author of nine books on Zen Buddhism, including Taking the Path of Zen and Original Dwelling Place, Aitken Roshi founded the Diamond Sangha in 1959 with his late wife, Anne Hopkins Aitken. Today he lives in retirement in the district of Puna on the Big Island of Hawai'i in a house close to his son. He is presently at work on a commentary on The Blue Cliff Record, a collection of koans compiled in twelfth-century China.


Aitken RoshiFifty years ago, yours was a somewhat lone voice in the attempt to integrate Zen Buddhism with an American sense of social justice. Now you have a lot of company, and the movement of "engaged Buddhism" is described as a new paradigm. Is it?

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