Zen teacher and author Robert Aitken released ‘Zen Master Raven’ a couple of years ago as a collection of Zen stories and koans told through the heart-warming interactions of a group of animals that include Mallard and Mole, Jackrabbit Roshi, Brown Bear Roshi and Zen Master Raven himself, a curious and earnest seeker of the way. This first story from the book recounts how Master Raven met his mentor by asking the same question over and over until he received a response he felt he could follow.
Searching for a Master
When Raven was living near Jackrabbit Roshi, he visited him frequently to inquire about the Way. One day he asked, “I hear that the Buddha Shakyamuni looked up from beneath the Bodhi tree and saw the morning star and announced his realization. I get the feeling that something is missing from the story. What happened when he saw the star?”
Jackrabbit laid back his ears, closed his eyes, and said, “He realized the truth of mutually dependent arising.”
“Well,” thought Raven, “Jackrabbit Roshi seems to know his Buddhism, but maybe I’m not a Buddhist.” So he flew off to see Prairie Dog Roshi.
When he announced himself, Prairie Dog poked her head out of her burrow and blinked in the bright sunshine. Raven told her about his encounter with Jackrabbit Roshi and asked, “What happened when the Buddha saw the morning star?”
Prairie Dog crawled out and stood erect. She crossed her paws on her chest, scanned the horizon briefly, and said, “He realized the underlying fact of oneness.”
“Well,” thought Raven, “Prairie Dog Roshi seems to know her metaphysics, but maybe I’m not a metaphysician.” So he flew off to see Moose Roshi and found him feeding on waterweed in the creek at Cedarford. Perching himself on a rock, he croaked for the Roshi’s attention. When Moose looked up, Raven told him about his encounters with Jackrabbit Roshi and Prairie Dog Roshi and asked, “What happened when the Buddha saw the morning star?”
Moose dipped his face in the creek again and came up munching. “Delicious waterweed,” he said.
“Well,” thought Raven, “that sounds more natural.” He sat on the rock a moment, but Moose said nothing further and just went on feeding. “Okay,” thought Raven, “maybe I’ll come back, but for now I think I’ll continue this pilgrimage.” So he flew off to see Brown Bear Roshi.
Announcing himself, he stood and waited outside the den. Brown Bear eventually emerged and squatted silently on his haunches. Raven told him how Jackrabbit Roshi had said the Buddha Shakyamuni realized the truth of mutually dependent arising, how Prairie Dog Roshi had said he had realized the underlying fact of oneness, and how Moose Roshi just said “Delicious waterweed.” “What is your opinion, Roshi?” asked Raven.
Brown Bear made a strange sound, and Raven couldn’t tell whether it was a chuckle or a growl. Finally he spoke. “Something’s still missing,” he said. Raven waited respectfully, but the Roshi remained silent.
“Well,” thought Raven, “Brown Bear Roshi seems to know about something. Maybe I should stick around for instruction.”