I showed up at Koko An Zendo while still a teenager. Having done my preliminary research, I marched into my first dokusan with Robert Aitken and announced my intention to take up the path of Zen. He had regarded me and said, “Well, there is this koan called Mu…” Shortly thereafter, I moved into that little temple in Hawai’i and embraced the deep sense of inner vocation I felt upon chanting the vows and taking my seat for meditation.
I was a rough piece of work. Unruly, my peace of mind shattered by my life on the streets, without inner direction except a fierce conviction that the Buddha Way was mine own. I don’t know what Aitken Roshi saw when he accepted me as a student – he was an intensely private being. Yet I recently came across a passage in a little booklet he published in 1960 which seemed to reach out of across the decades to clarify his mind for me:
Sometimes a juvenile delinquent is brought to the temple by despairing parents in hopes the monks can make a man of him. In the one case of this kind I know about the boy had a difficult time in adjusting to temple life. He made one entire sesshin a complete washout for everyone by going into giggling fits in the zendo. However, I found him at the same temple when I visited there six years later. He had become a monk and was acting as the personal attendant of the roshi. So far as I could tell, the temple life had indeed straightened him out.
Had Aitken Roshi recalled that “juvenile delinquent” as I had audibly and visibly battled with my inner demons through my second sesshin, wreaking similar havoc on the atmosphere of the zendo? Had that long ago encounter shored up his determination to keep a loose cannon like me rolling around the temple until I could batten myself down? I suspect so. Continue reading “Reflections on A Dawn Cloud”