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Lions Roar : November 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2010 24 sincerity, and it was also hard to avoid the thought, “Weren’t you in prison during the war?” This mixture of innocence and con- tradictory echoes was intrinsic to my experience of him. At his centers you could spend about eight months of the year in serious Zen training, including eight seven-day retreats offered annually. If you wanted to drop everything and have a run at en- lightenment, it was the place for you. you climbed an overgrown path through guava trees and flowers to get there, and my first sight of the Maui Zendo was of beautiful naked people in open air showers. It was an exciting place for other reasons; there was a feeling that Zen for the West was being constructed each day and anyone could have a hand in the enterprise. During retreat you could share a room with a guy who had run a bird zoo in port- land, or watch William Merwin, a poet whose books I had carried on fishing boats in northern Australia, stand on his head, then write furiously in his notebooks before running down the hall to the first meditation at 4.30 am. An elegant, gracious woman who seemed more refined than most of us had a house set up for tea ceremony and, through a strange and fatal turn of the mind, became a breatharian, subsisting entirely on air until she starved to death. Zen pioneer paul Reps dropped through and showed his fish prints. poet lawrence Ferlinghetti banged on the door. you had to wear robes to meditation and everyone tripped over them all the time, especially when running at four in the morning while trying to tie them on. If you didn’t sit still, some- one would yell at you. But sitting still might be helpful and a few rules, arbitrary to the point of lunacy, seemed necessary to bond an unlikely crew. There was often a feeling that you might be doing the wrong thing, but if you could bear that, the temples on Maui and in Honolulu were places where a wanderer could work with koans and find out the nature of mind and his or her place in the cosmos, or at least grow up. The Old Man was gen- erous with interviews and we felt we were proving the tradition together, something exhilarating and intimate. The system more or less worked for me and cleared up my doubts. Whether it had worked for Aitken was itself a question. His most influential early teacher was nakagawa Soen, the reluctant abbot of a great temple in Japan. Soen spoke good english, liked Beethoven, and was a notable haiku poet. The relationship had a high degree of whimsy. When Aitken visited Soen in winter, and they went for a walk by the Japan Sea, Soen stripped down. “Re- member,” he said, “Zen is not asceticism!” and plunged in. He was not the shiny, self-assured, clear creature that Zen masters were advertised to be. He was always feeling around for the meaning of events, and I found that to be one of his best features.