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Lions Roar : November 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2010 26 the matter of his dog. He learned enough to guide others. In an interview he held out his hand and I met Hakuin, the great medieval koan master, embodied in a little room while outside it rained and rained and inside there was light, nothing but light. I never forgot that dawn. Sometimes his under- standing seemed deep and other times not so much, but his rule-bound meticu- lousness was fine for me, because I didn’t expect someone to understand my feel- ings or mirror me; I wanted to know what the tradition thought and how it could deepen me and those to come. In the Buddhist world the obligations of mentors and students are always under negotiation, and when I left for the Bay Area, turning down his offer to stay in Ha- waii and take over his temple, he took that as disloyalty, which I suppose it was. I hadn’t been aware that I had any strong reaction to my old mentor’s death, but the night after I heard the news I dreamed of my long-dead grandfather, another tall, difficult, intelligent man with great stories. I kept waking and falling back into the same dream. In the dream he drew for me some star maps for navigation. I noticed he drew the far northern stars, indicating in the dream that he was intending to sail into high, cold latitudes. When I was leav- ing I realized I could have taken him sail- ing, but I hadn’t thought to and wouldn’t be returning that way. We wouldn’t meet again and he would be alright. Many years ago, just before I began teaching, I dreamed that I was following Robert Aitken and Thich nhat Hanh up the steps to a big temple. They went in and I was a few steps behind. It wasn’t a matter of personal feeling—these weren’t teachers I would have imagined following, and they didn’t agree with each other ei- ther. I was just following them, entering the same great temple they entered. In the dream personal feelings and opinions didn’t matter, as they don’t matter in life. We have all followed the old masters up those steps, and it’s not the temple we expected. That’s the point of Zen—the day we have is the good day, that dog has buddhanature after all. ♦ Once Soen was giving sesshin in Ho- nolulu and gave a great yell. Aitken found himself joining in. Soen thought Aitken was on the verge of enlightenment and started yelling and whacking him with the Zen stick in an effort to push him over the edge. Aitken was yelling too. “But nothing happened” he said later, forlornly. “I don’t think those methods work.” Aitken ended up studying with Koun yamada, who had been Soen’s high school roommate. After the war yamada had tak- en the problem of suffering seriously; he trained very hard and became the poster child for massive enlightenment experi- ences. yamada had a literate, innovative, and practical mind. Some of his students found enlightenment quickly; others ya- mada would drag or inveigle into the koan curriculum, coaching them in the hope that they would find their feet by stumbling along. Aitken was his test case for that theory. When the time came, Bob wasn’t so sure he should teach. He muttered, “I just can’t do this, I can’t teach,” to Taizan Maezumi at the Zen center of los Angeles, and Mae- zumi invited him to stay for a while. It was Maezumi, he said, who really made him a teacher. Maezumi didn’t quite fit the idea of a Zen master either—“I could smell the sake on his breath,” Bob remembered, “but he was completely clear and he held my feet to the fire till I understood.” Bob never stopped wondering if he had indeed ever had an enlightenment experi- ence, and told me different versions at dif- ferent times. Sometimes he was quite sure he hadn’t. He was always feeling around for the meaning of events, and I found that to be one of his best features. He was not the shiny, self-assured, clear creature that Zen masters were advertised to be. He was timid and anxious, and put down other teachers, out of a kind of embar- rassed competitiveness. But he knew that he judged and assessed others because he judged and assessed himself, and when he was least certain he was most interesting and helpful to be around. In Zen there is a famous koan about whether a dog has buddhanature, and that was the koan he worked on for twenty years, trying to settle