Robert Dairyu Chotan Aitken Rōshi (1917 – 2010) was a Zen teacher in the Harada-Yasutani lineage. He co-founded the Honolulu Diamond Sangha in 1959 together with his wife, Anne Hopkins Aitken. Aitken received Dharma transmission from Koun Yamada in 1985 but decided to live as a layperson. He was a social and environmental activist advocating social justice throughout his life, and was one of the original founders of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He wrote many books including the, now classic, Taking the Path of Zen, and his commentary on the Mumonkan koan collection in The Gateless Barrier.
The Diamond Sangha is a lay tradition that emphasizes koan study as a practice that is compatible with lay-life. The teacher offers a koan to the student who then contemplates the koan in both their zazen practice and in the course of daily activities. One can contemplate while driving, while cooking, while waiting in line at the supermarket, while sitting at a desk in an office. The koan begins to replace the random thoughts that fill our minds – the often unhelpful thoughts about past and future. This is a form of mind training that cultivates wisdom, kindness, self-acceptance, and an expansive sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves.
Ross Bolleter, Robert Aitken, Subhana Barzaghi, John Tarrant, Daniel Terragno.
Robert Aitken Roshi
Weekly Zazen in Santa Cruz, 2019
When I first came upon a koan I was both confused and captivated. The koan went like this:
Once a woman raised a goose in a bottle. When the goose was grown she wanted to get it out. How can she get it out without breaking the bottle?
I knew the answer was not something mechanical. I knew the answer must point to something profound and beneficial, but I had not the slightest idea what it could be. As this koan, and hundreds of others, has been used to awaken people, I felt compelled to find a way to answer it. Finding my first teacher I began on this journey and have not regretted it the decades since.
In the Gateless Barrier it says, “Koans are stories and verses that present fundamental perspectives on life and no-life, the nature of self, the relationship of the self to the earth – and how they interweave. Classic koans have proved effective over the centuries and millennia in recording – and evoking – especially illuminating experiences of such fundamentals.
Koans are not riddles or puzzles whose trick is in their clever and obscure wording. They are the clearest possible expression of perennial facts which students grasp with focused meditation and guidance.”
“For subtle realization it is imperative that you cut off the mind road.”