An Tanshin (1911-1994)

Named Anna Stinchfield Hopkins when she was born in Cook County, Illinois on February 8, 1911 (birth certificate #6407), Anne told her husband, Robert, that her name was later changed (when she was old enough to remember the event, perhaps six to eight years-old) because Stinchfield did not provide positive numerology readings. Her mother, Marian Stinchfield Hopkins, was born in Detroit, Michigan, and was 25 when Anne was born. Her father, Lambert Arundel Hopkins, born in New Mexico, was a 29 year-old "Railroad Supply Man" when she was born.

Anne spent two years (1929-1931) studying abroad as an undergraduate at Oxford University and graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, California (B.A., English, 1932). She then pursued a Master's Degree in Sociology, first at Stanford University (1933), and later at Northwestern University (1940-1942). In addition to her Oxford years, she also lived in England from January to June, 1937, and at various times in her life traveled to Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Italy and much of South America.

She was living at the teacher's quarters of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha in Palolo, Honolulu, Hawai'i, when she became ill with flu symptoms and died of a coronary attack two days later, on June 13th, 1994, with her husband, step-son, and a few close friends at her hospital bedside.

Anne Aitken died on June 13 of this year [1994] in Honolulu, with her husband Robert Aitken Roshi , her stepson Tom, and Don Stoddard, friend and temple builder, by her side. She was 83. Anne is one of the mothers of modern Zen in the West. She is remembered best for her generosity with the gifts of life: encouragement, telephone calls, conversation, books, poetry, music--she liked to play the recorder with friends--tea and sympathy, tolerance, money, and more encouragement. Immensely gracious and strong, she helped guide several generations of Zen students. She had a fruitful and long Zen partnership with her husband, Aitken Roshi. It began when, on their honeymoon trip to Japan, they stayed at Ryutakuji and went in to sesshin, without her understanding quite what a sesshin was. This is a story she told with a relish that reflected both her delight in absurdity as well as her ultimate pleasure in the dharma. In 1959 she helped found the Koko An Zendo in her living room in Hawaii; it became the foundation temple of the Diamond Sangha--now an international association with many temples.

     She studied with some of the great teachers of her time--Soen Roshi, Yasutani Roshi, Yamada Koun Roshi--and helped bring them to the West to teach. Her early studies were in art, literature, and social work, and these influences can be seen in her later Zen work. In the Maui Zendo she was tough enough to run the work crews and help a band of undisciplined and unfocused young people to function and to discover Zen.

     Anne inherited money, and it seemed the only interest she could find in it was to be a benefactor of Buddhism and social causes. She had a great empathy for the poor, disadvantaged, and just plain eccentric. She acted as if people would live up to her standards of service and civility, and mostly they did. She loved people into being dedicated and even courteous.

     Maui Zendo was one of the early temples in the West where you could do hard training, and without Anne it couldn't have come to be. In countless sesshins, she inspired us in her particular fashion. She conveyed her understanding of Zen by her presence, her floating, dance-like walk, her welcoming words, so consistently dazzling and intimate that they were like an embrace, her sense that a beautiful heart and beautiful things and beautiful actions were all on the one thread, her serenity, humor, and perseverance; these were her teachings. She deflected flattery and even sincere praise; she saw her gifts as those of service and loyalty. She was particularly encouraging to senior women, telling them, "Yes, you can do it, you'll do it very well," when they took on a new responsibility. The importance of this support cannot be underestimated. She liked to be in the background herself, but did not believe that others should be. Her final gift was her candor about the approaching end. Her image for death was this: We are waiting at a bus stop - our bus comes along and we get on....;

John Tarrant 
copyright �1994 Turning Wheel

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