In Memory of Robert Baker Aitken, Roshi
by Ven Kobutsu Malone, Maine, USA, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 7. 2010
The past first week of August 2010 has been momentous to say the least.... Meeting Aitken Roshi face to face after all these years was an incredible experience. We have communicated "mind to mind" for many years but I was never so fortunate to be in his physical presence.
When he asked me to come and visit him a couple of weeks ago, at first I hesitated... After talking with my son Ryushin and a couple of close friends, I decided to borrow the funds required and make the journey. While I was preparing to leave and on my journey Ryushin conducted a successful appeal to raise the money from supporters to enable me to make the journey.
Roshi and I had meetings every day I was there except for Wednesday, the day he was taken to the hospital. I recorded all of our meetings and the audio files have been archived. On Thursday, I was scheduled to fly home. I had trepidation about leaving with him in the hospital but was reassured by sangha members that he had been hospitalized many times before and had always responded to intravenous antibiotics.
Lynn Davis, the Archive Librarian a The University of Hawaii at Manoa, a close friend of Aitken Roshi, had volunteered to drive me from the Palolo Zen Center to the Honolulu Airport. With the unexpected hospitalization of Aitken Roshi, we went to the Straub Hospital so that I could say goodbye to my beloved friend, spiritual father, and colleague. I was stunned on seeing him, he was breathing heavily, his eyes were almost closed and he was unable to speak. He knew I was there, we held hands as I spoke to him. At one point he became agitated and I could tell he wanted something from me. I simply moved my head to his chest and he placed his hands on my head, patting me to comfort my sobs. It was heart breaking.
I promised I would carry on our work without fail and with complete determination to see justice done. Lynn Davis took a few pictures of us meeting for the last time as I held him, stroked his head and reassured him of my love. Being pressed for time to get to my flight I had to leave. Before I left I placed my hands in Gassho and recited the Four Great Vows in Japanese:
SHU JO MU HEN SEI GAN DO
BO NO MU JIN SEI GAN DAN
HO MON MU RYO SEI GAN GAKU
BUTSU DO MU JO SEI GAN JO
On leaving his room I burst into tears and was held by his caregiver, Mele, as I sobbed. I left the hospital troubled and began my 26 hour journey home. The trip was grueling, painful and unsettling. On arriving at the bus station in Bangor, Maine on Friday at 6:45 PM, I saw Ryushin and my dog Harley waiting for me through the bus window. I got off the bus and greeted, first Harley, and then Ryushin. I sensed that something was not right and as I embraced my son he gently told me, "Aitken has passed." I burst into tears and wailed in front of the crowd, I sobbed uncontrollably as my son held me in his arms. I felt as if my heart had been torn out.
I had time to compose myself on our hour and a half ride home. As soon as we got in, I called Michael Kieran, Aitken Roshi's Dharma Heir who gave me Tom Aiken, Roshi's son's, telephone number. I called Tom and expressed my condolences.
There is much more, I will write my memories in greater detail later. We have just experienced the passing of a true Giant of The Buddha Dharma. "Papa" Aitken, The Lion of Dharma, is gone.....