Anne Aitken died on June 13 of this year  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....;
copyright �1994 Turning Wheel
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