ROBERT AITKEN


Excerpts from
Remembering Soen Roshi
from the book
Original Dwelling Place: Zen Buddhist Essays
1996, Counterpoint



When I met the monk Nyogen Senzaki in the Miyako Hotel in Los Angeles at the end of 1947, he told me about Nakagawa Soen Osho, with whom he was corresponding, and showed me his picture, a snapshot taken in a field in Manchuria some years before. Though we were just getting acquainted, Sensaki confided in me that he had wanted to bring Soen Osho to the United States before the war, but the hostilities had prevented this. Now he was planning again to bring him for a visit. It was clear that my new sensei (teacher) was deeply invested in their friendship, and I got the impression, confirmed many times subsequently, that he hoped Soen Osho would eventually settle in the United States as his successor.

I studied with Senzaki Sensei for a few months and returned to Hawai'i before Soen Osho visited Los Angeles the following winter. Then in 1950, I received a fellowship to study haiku and Zen in Japan. This involved settling in the Tokyo area, auditing courses at the University of Tokyo, and living in Kitakamakura where I could do zazen and attend sesshin at Enkakuji, the Rinzai monastery where Senzaki Sensei, Professor D.T. Suzuki, and Professor R.H. Blyth had connections. The practice at Enkakuji proved too difficult, so I wrote to Soen Osho, explaining that I had been a student of Senzaki Sensei andasking if I could visit him. I enclosed a haiku:

The train whistle in autumn
has the same tone
As the temple bell.



He responded by telegram with the haiku:

Under red maple leaves
at our mountain temple
I am awaiting you.








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