Zen Master Raven

Having spent the previous evening working till way past midnight, I decided to keep my laptop switched off yesterday – It was Saturday after all! Besides I’d come to a realisation earlier in the week. That although I really love what I do at Talis, I’ve been using my work, rightly or wrongly, as a way to hide from other things that I haven’t figured out how to deal with.

Death

    Mole came to Raven privately and said, "We haven't talked 
about death very much. I'm not concerned about where I will 
go, but watching so many family members die, I'm wondering 
what happens at the point of death?".
   Raven sat silently for a while, then said, "I give away my 
belongings".

After visiting dad’s grave yesterday morning, I decided to take a trip into the city center and do a little shopping – wasn’t really sure what I was shopping for. I’ve been having strange moments like that a lot recently – strange in the sense that I’m doing things that feel random, they don’t necessarily have any purpose at the outset. Anyway after buying a couple of DVD’s and some clothes, I ended up at Borders Book Shop in the Bull Ring.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I simply walked from one aisle of books to another glancing at the shelves to see if anything caught my eye. I love Science Fiction and Fantasy novels so I did consciously walk over to that area and spent a while there but didn’t find anything that really stood out. I also spent a fair bit of time rifling through a bunch of Manga novels but I aready own all the good stuff and some of the newer series have proven to be disappointing. Eventually I ended up in the section entitled Philosophy / Spirituality – that’s when I found “Zen Master Raven: Sayings and Doings of a Wise Bird“. When I got back home I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening reading it from cover to cover, twice! Here’s why …

I had this terrible feeling that whilst I understood much of it … there’s a huge amount of meaning within it’s covers that I simply can’t figure out … yet … It feels like a thorn in my mind … and I love it …

The Spirit of the Practice

    Relaxing with the others after zazen one evening, Owl
asked "What is the Spirit of the practice?"
    Raven said, "Inquiry."
    Owl cocked his head and asked, "What do I inquire 
about?"
    Raven said, "Good start."

I think it’s a wonderfully delightful book. The author Robert Aitken, is a well known American Zen Master, whilst he has written a number of other books and essays this piece is very different. His literary device of using animals, unconventional in Zen, is remarkably successful in presenting the promises and risks, hopes and fears of the Tallspruce community that Raven Roshi shares with his students, neighbours and friends. I think this book captures the spirit of Zen as much as any book can, and it demonstrates how Zen can become the practice of a lifetime.

Character

    One evening, in a discussion of his personal problems,
Raven asked Brown Bear, "What is the role of character in 
the practise?"
    Brown Bear said, "I try to keep my promises."
    Raven said, "I try to keep my promises, too, but I'm easily
distracted."
    Brown Bear said, "The cold wind reminds me."

Aitken’s book is the distillation of a collection of stories, some only a few sentences in length, that, as he sees it, illuminate the Way. These stories are succinct, charming and contain a huge depth of insight. The stories might feel weird, but are hugely compelling.

Very Special

    In a group munching grubs one afternoon, Mole
remarked, "The Buddha Shakyamuni was very special
wasn't he! I'm sure there has never been anyone like 
him".
    Raven said, "Like the madrone."
    Mole asked, "How is the madrone unique?"
    Raven said, "Every madrone leaf."
    Mole fell silent.
    Procupine asked, "How does the uniqueness of every
Madrone leaf relate to the practice?"
    Raven said, "Your practice."

2 thoughts on “Zen Master Raven

  1. I find that I always end up in bookstores when I go to town for a spot of consumerism.

    Glad you have faced up to the thing you have been avoiding, we both know it’s best to tackle these things head on rather than let them continue to bubble under the surface.

    B

  2. I am glad that you have found this great little book. I’ve had my copy for quite a few years now and reread it regularly. I keep finding new in it, things I hadn’t seen before – as I’m sure you will. Enlightenments come, slowly sometimes, but they come!

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