Zen Master Raven by Robert AitkenZen Master Raven by Robert Aitken

Publication Details

    Zen Master Raven by Robert Aitken
  • Author: Robert Aitken
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications
  • Date Published: 22 September 2017
  • Format: Paperback

Further Information


Zen Master Raven is an exposition of Zen through over a hundred koan-like encounters by one of the most esteemed and influential Zen masters of the twentieth century Robert Aitken (1917 – 2010). Aitken was a teacher in the Harada-Yasutani lineage and co-founded the Honolulu Diamond Sangha in 1959 together with his wife. One of the original founders of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship he is considered to be of seminal importance in shaping the expression of modern American Zen.

The Sources

Zen Master Raven follows a thousand year old literary tradition within the archives of Ch’an and Zen writings. These accounts focus on brief, free-standing dialogues that Zen’s Great masters are purported to have had during the course of their careers. Whether they did or not is somewhat open to conjecture with evidence that suggests many were attributed to their source many years after their death.

In Zen Master Raven the author has assigned these dialogues to birds and beasts as well as integrated into them exchanges he had had with others during his lifetime. It features comments from such characters as Mallard and Mole in addition to profound teachers such as Brown Bear, Moose Roshi, and Zen Master Raven himself.


Over twenty years in its production Zen Master Raven finally appeared following several setbacks and readjustments in 2002. This latest edition by Wisdom Publications has been enhanced through its inclusion of additional artwork by Jennifer Crosby.

It is a well-crafted publication which presents the teachings in a simple and attractive format.

However, to me, the book’s contents were sadly too eclectic for me to make much sense of. Is this because my over-logical and rational mind was unable to perceive any inherent beauty in the work? Is it because it requires an fundamental grounding in Zen teachings first?

I am happy to accept that both of these might be reasons for me not enjoying this book but that apart the publication fails for its inherent use of non sequiturs which confuse and confound – but more importantly, because of the book’s absence of any accompanying explanation as to the text’s inherent meaning.

All I can do is accept that this book somehow fulfils a thoroughly unorthodox function that lies well outside of my own sphere of Buddhist appreciation and understanding. Despite that the book fails to explain how I might overcome that short-coming.