the river of heaven

Diving into Aitken Roshi’s book of haiku, The River of Heaven: The haiku of Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki (publication date June 14, 2011).  It opens with a bittersweet recollection by Susan Moon of Roshi’s stepping down ceremony. 

“Someone asked him, “What is the most precious thing?” and he replied, “A good night’s sleep.” “

Moon reflects that after all he had contributed to the world of Zen, a good night’s sleep must have indeed been a precious thing.  The River of Heaven is a gentle collection of haiku with Aitken Roshi’s commentary on each poem.  The commentaries reveal not only something about the authors of the haiku but also of Roshi himself.  At times critical, at times nostalgic, he finds a delicate presence between his persona of Zen Master and a humble reader of the Zen Masters.

The book is divided into The Summer Moor which showcases the haiku of Basho and The Spring Sea with the poetry of Buson, Issa and Shiki.  Aitken Roshi leads with Basho, clearly a favourite of his as he describes in the eponymous haiku:

The sea is wild!
stretching to Sado Island
is the River of Heaven.

The Milky Way is the River of Heaven and it conjures up wondrous images of celestial beings walking the path through the skies.  In the commentary, Aitken writes that he fell in love with Basho upon reading this haiku in the Library of Hawai’i in 1938.  Roshi Aitken passed from this earth on August 5, 2010, hopefully to stroll restfully along the River of Heaven.

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