August 06, 2010

Robert Aitken (1917-2010): A Life Well Lived

Plants transpire, the moisture evaporates and returns as rain. The earth is dampened, allowing rootlets to absorb nutrients in the soil. The nutrients themselves are released by worms that eat the earth, and by the casts of countless other beings as they give themselves in death. People, animals, and other plants flourish, and give themselves in turn.

Robert Aitken Roshi, from “Dana: The Practice of Giving,” Tricycle Summer 2003

Robert Aitken Roshi died yesterday. Fully embodying the spirit of dana, he gave his life to teaching Zen in the Harada-Yasutani lineage and advocating for social justice. In addition to co-founding and leading the Honolulu Diamond Sangha with his wife beginning in 1959, he was also one of the original founders of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in 1978.

To honor a life well lived, and a man that would help define Zen in America, please enjoy these articles and interviews from the late great Robert Aitken Roshi.

"Authority and Exploitation: Three Voices," A discussion between Robert Aitken, David Steindl-rast and Diane Shainberg about the tension inherent between egalitarian imperatives and the authority required in order to pass on spiritual teachings.

"The Roundtable: Help or Hindrance?" A conversation about psychedelics with Robert Aitken, Ram Dass, Joan Halifax, and Richard Baker.

"The Teacher in Everything," A Zen essay by Robert Aitken.

Image: Robert Aitken's website

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Mushim's picture

He was my good friend for 21 years. He returned my faith in Zen teaching authority and kindness after I'd been around the block and raked over the coals more than once in the Zen world. He loved poetry and children, and taking a stand against war and oppression. He had an amazing collection of books and a brilliant mind that was both scholarly and artistic. He carried my son when Josh was a baby and answered his questions when Josh got older. We exchanged letters for many years, though ups and downs, births and deaths, formation of relationships and dissolution and loss. Aitken Roshi encouraged me to write, to speak what I knew to be true, and to keep on my toes.

Tricycle » Robert Aitken (1917-2010): A Life Well Lived | Cr's picture

[...] Tricycle » Robert Aitken (1917-2010): A Life Well Lived Posted on August 7, 2010 by Armin Tricycle » Robert Aitken (1917-2010): A Life Well Lived. [...]

Andrew Cooper's picture

As well as being a Zen master to students in the Diamond Sangha, Aitken Roshi also was a mentor to hundreds, maybe thousands, of dharma students who were not formally his students. In this, I believe he was unique, as the influence of other Buddhist teachers, on a personal level, tends to be confined to their community. But Aitken Roshi filled a role--in fact, he more or less created it--as an elder friend in the dharma to all who sought him out. This was hugely important to countless Buddhists, and I was surely one of them. Today, there are many Buddhist teachers in the West, but Bob Aitken was also our Good Friend, our kalyana mitra. I hope someone can step forward to fill that role, for it is much needed. Blessings to Robert Aitken Roshi.

J's picture

This is such a shock to me . . . I only know of Robert Aitken through his books. He is one of the best writers on Zen and poetry out there. My condolences to all who knew him.