Robert Gyoun Aitken Roshi (June 19, 1917—August 5, 2010) was co-founder of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha with his late wife, Anne. He was an esteemed Zen teacher within the American Zen community many of whom turned to him for his wisdom and counsel, often during times of crisis or turmoil.
A lifetime resident of Hawai’i, he was a graduate of the University of Hawai’i with a BA in English literature and an MA in Japanese studies. In 1941 he was captured on Guam by invading Japanese forces, and interned in Japan for the duration of World War II. In the camp he met the British scholar R.H. Blyth who introduced him to Zen. After the war he practiced Zen with Senzaki Nyogen in Los Angeles and traveled frequently to Japan to practice in monasteries and lay centers with Nakagawa Soen Roshi, Yasutani Haku’un Roshi and Yamada Koun Roshi. In 1974 he was given approval to teach by Yamada Roshi of the Sanbo Kyodan in Kamakura, who gave him transmission as an independent master in 1985. He also co-founded the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in 1978 with his wife Anne and Nelson Foster (who he later authorized as a Diamond Sangha teacher). Aitken’s students have opened centers in Germany, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Aitken Roshi retired in 1996. After some years living on the Big Island of Hawai’i, he returned to live at Palolo, where his students could care for him in his declining years. He died on August 5th, 2010 at the age of 93.
Michael Kieran, the current teacher at the Palolo Zen Center, worked with Aitken Roshi for many years and began teaching at Koko-an Zendo in the 1980s. He withdrew from teaching to focus on his family and growing business. Later, after Aitken Roshi’s retirement, he began to work with Nelson Foster, a dharma heir of Aitken Roshi and the visiting teacher of Palolo Center. Michael was authorized to teach by Nelson Foster in 1999 and received transmission in 2004, ascending the Mountain Seat in 2006. He is an O’ahu resident and offers regular dokusan and sesshin at Palolo Zen Center.