It Was Me Too

Description

I began my meditation practice four years prior to arriving in Honolulu, first in Nepal, then in India and Korea. All of my teachers had been Asian. Without really knowing it, I had projected a certain mystique onto them.

The first time I saw Aitken Roshi was in Honolulu. Though I had been practicing
at the Koko An Zendo there for over a month, I had as yet not seen him because
he was in residence at the Maui Zendo at the time. I began my meditation
practice four years prior to arriving in Honolulu, first in Nepal, then in India and
Korea. All of my teachers had been Asian. Without really knowing it, I had
projected a certain mystique onto them. I bumped into that mystique, or rather
the lack of it, at that first meeting and for the next three years of my practice with
Aitken Roshi.
I found private conversations with Aitken Roshi difficult, not only because I hated
being told I was wrong and then being rung out of the room but also because I
didn’t feel connected to him. To some degree, my prejudice against a “round-
eyed” teacher got in the way; to some degree, we just didn’t mesh, or we weren’t
on the same wavelength, whatever the image. It didn’t feel like it was working,
and I told him so. I explained that I felt he didn’t hear me and demonstrated what
it felt like by putting my arms out in two directions, ninety degrees apart from
each other, showing the disconnect. He leaned forward, looked over the rim of
his glasses, and said. “That’s you, not me.” It was a perfect response – a perfect
example of the way that I felt he didn’t get me. I actually felt relief. Now I could
just enjoy the community and the meditation practice; I figured that two out of
three of the three treasures was pretty good.
After three years in Hawaii, I was selected to go to Japan as an exchange
scholar. This became the opportunity for me to practice with Aitken Roshi’s
teacher, Yamada Koun, in Kamakura, for what turned into seven years. During
my second or third year there, Aitken Roshi came to Kamakura to visit Yamada
Roshi. Enough time had passed, and my relationship to my practice and to
Yamada Roshi had developed to the point that I felt able to do what felt like the
right thing, the polite thing. I even discovered a sense of gratitude toward him for
my connection to Yamada Roshi. We arranged to have lunch together.
As we sat across the table from each other in a tiny noodle shop, chatting easily
about this and that, what so-and-so was doing, and so on, there was a pause in
the conversation. He leaned forward, and as he looked over the rim of his
glasses, he sais, “It was me too.” Tears welled in my eyes, and we held each
other’s gaze for several moments. My relationship with him, from that moment
on, has been something that touches my heart.
That relationship deepened and became even more intimate in August of 2010,
when I attended the memorial ceremony for Aitken Roshi at the Palolo Zen
Center. As part of the ceremony, we were given the opportunity to go p to the
altar and face the large photo of him there and say some words. I wasn’t sure
what words might come out and was surprised and touched to hear myself say,
“It was me too.”

Published  in: Buddhadharma: The Practitioners Quarterly Summer 2016