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.
Aitken's approach is clear and sure as he shows how our minds can be as nurturing as clover, which enriches the soil and benefits the environment as it grows.
The presentation written on the back of the book couldn't be more true.
Aitken states his aims regarding the book to beas "being to clarify the precepts for use by the Western students of Buddhism", “as a way to help make Buddhism a daily practice.” and prevent Zen from becoming a hobby, which is “made to fit the needs of the ego.” The mind of clover is a compilation of essays, some of which have been previously published.
The first chapter is an “overview” of the nature of the precepts, followed by 10 chapters on the the grave precepts, One precept per chapter. Aitken further points out, that the precepts are "not commandments etched in stone but expressions of inspiration written in something more fluid than water."
Aitken approaches these precepts, the core of Buddhist ethics, from several perspectives, offering many layers of interpretation.
The dharma is the law of the universe, a law that may be expressed simply: "one thing depends upon another".
His interpretations and explanations grows and widens, and his focus expands to include a wide variety of topics and views concerning the precepts.
After the chapters on the Ten Grave Precepts, we have ten further chapters, which are taken from Dharma talks or teishos given by Aitken Roshi. In these chapters he writes about everything from Ecology to religious activism, the self, and who to blame...
This is the great joke of Zen. It is the great joke of the universe. There is no absolute at all, and that is the absolute. Enlightenment is practice, as Dogen Zenji said.
And what is practice?
Getting on with it.
It is hard to find any good books on the ten grave precepts, this makes Aitkens book even more special. Not only does it take up the ten precepts, it also puts them under focus and puts new perspectives on them. And as a extra bonus you get some extra chapters all wonderfully narrated in that special style that Aitken uses about an variety of things.
All in all, a book to keep.
May the force be with you