Robert Aitken has practiced Buddhism for more than half a century. He is an American Zenmaster (now “retired”), a writer and teacher of vast reputation.
His beginning as a Buddhist resulted from being a prisoner of the Japanese in the Second World War, where he met R. R. Blythe and D. T. Suzuki as fellow inmates.
When he came back to america after the war he met Nyogen Senzaki, with whom he continued to study Buddhism. Aitken has returned to Japan on several occasions to study for a number of masters including Haku'un Yasutani.
He has written more than than 10 books on Buddhism, and resides on Hawaii.
In the book Zen master Raven he takes up the koan tradition in a different setting, through the stories of animals.
We have the beginners, Mallard and Mole, teachers-in-training, Porcupine, and masters, Master Brown Bear and Zen Master Raven. But also animals such as Stag sensei, teaches karate, Reverend Crane, preaches Christianity, and Owl who complains about the difficulties of balancing the pursuit of enlightenment with the demands of a career.
He uses the animals in an own accord, each animal portraying a special kind of "character".
Relaxing with the others after zazen one evening, Owl asked,"What is the spirit of the practice?"
Owl cocked his head and asked, "What do I inquire about?"
Raven said, "Good start."
The usage of animal imagery in the Buddhist literary tradition is widespread. Animal imagery plays a central role in some of the earliest Indian sources. Examples include the Khaggavisana Sutta, advocating world-renunciation by portraying the itinerant lifestyle of the early bhikku as the lonely wandering of the rhinoceros. Likewise in the jataka tales, animals often appear, but here not only as fables, but as episodes in the previous lives of the Buddha himself.
In Zen Master Raven, through a series of brief Koanstyle conversations/talks between masters and students, we are taken through the career of Master Raven, beginning with his studies under Master Brown Bear, and his foundation of a small but vital Zen community.
As leader of this community, he provides guidance to an array of different creatures in a variety of topics.
In the final episodes, Raven retires from his role as teacher, leaving the community in the capable hands of his disciple, Master Porcupine.
If you have ever read any animalfables, you will love this book.
If you enjoy koans, so much better.
It draws admirable upon both the traditions, making it an book for all to enjoy.
May the force be with you