Preface (by Paul)
Recollections of Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett Roshi
by a Zen Trainee On 29th December 1996, Throssel Hole Priory held a memorial ceremony for our lately deceased teacher, Reverend Master Jiyu Kennett. Her death made me review my association with her.
I first met her in the late spring of 1970 when she came to Birmingham to conduct a week- end retreat. I had met quite a number of Buddhist teachers by then but this was my first encounter with a Zen Roshi. I did not know what to expect as she stood there on my doorstep with Mokurai her "mirror" monk. Little did I realise it was a meeting that would revolutionize my life.
From the start she made us train with great energy. Her words were down to earth and very much to the point, like a washing in the cool, clear waters of reason. By the end of the week-end something had changed.
She continued her whirlwind tour of England, finishing up in Northumberland where she remained for quite some time before returning to California and the setting up of Shasta Abbey. During her time in the U.K. I trained with her as often as I could.
She was a prime mover. With her deep realization, the fruit of her sincere training, she inspired trust, confidence and affection in all her trainees. It has often been said, "Zen masters point the way". Her whole life was devoted to just that, to the nth degree. She enabled me to unlock and sort out what ailed me.
That her teaching was true is to be seen in what she left behind. For me it had been a matter of life or death. Because of her showing me how to train, life won. She showed me how to live and, as with all her trainees, gave me unwavering support and kindness which took many forms, sometimes very uncomfortable. At the end of that very first retreat, I was moved to write a poem that ended thus:
This is Jiyu Kennett Roshi, the ALL-Sided One. I was privileged to be present at Shasta when an envoy came from Sojiji and presented to her a rakksu in recognition of her continual training and achievement; this after years of silence. The rakksu was like the night sky with rain. Closer examination revealed that the raindrops were Chinese characters of the Heart Sutra, in silver, woven in the brocade material. This was a special honour!
I have not seen her for a long time and yet she is still alive with me. I see her clearly in my mind's eye, all energy and movement. I ask her advice, I hear her admonish or approve.
She talked at times of her own teacher Koho Zenji with deep affection and respect, tones now heard when her own trainees speak of her. A true transmission.
At the ceremony of the 29th December I stood with the others listening to the moving words,
... and marvelled at the flowering of her practice and, because of her, our inheritance. She truly had the Wheel within her hand and truly held the Lotus.
She gave us her greatest gift, her life, for which I, for one, shall be eternally grateful.
Hail and Gassho
Some biographical and historical notes
Vajira Bailey O.B.C. (Order of the Buddhist Contemplatives) is a Zen Lay Minister.
In 1967 she became Chairman of the Birmingham Buddhist Society (in the UK). In 1969 she was ordained as a member of the Western Buddhist Order and given on that occasion the name Vajira by Ven. Maha Sthavira Sangharakshita, who was Hon. President of the B.B.S.
As Chairman of the B.B.S., Vajira invited teachers from different schools of Buddhism to lecture and teach, which is how Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett came to do the week-end retreat in the Birmingham area.
"..My feeling was that we were fortunate to have representatives of all types of Buddhism in this one country and that, by taking the opportunity to encounter them, one would find the right one for one's own practice. Also I felt that since the flavour and methods were influenced by the cultures into which Buddhism was introduced, then surely we should be careful to adhere to what the Buddha taught and not be deluded by cultural accretions. Ergo, Buddhism would have a western flavour in the west while keeping to the teachings of the Buddha.
After meeting the Rev. Master Jiyu and training with her for some years I resigned from the Western Buddhist Order and, when at Shasta Abbey, retook the upasika ordination, called Jukai in the Soto Zen school.
At the same time, Ven. Rewata Dhamma (Theravadin) stayed here, having come to the
Midlands at the request of the Karmapa of the Tibetan Kagyu school - until they found
premises in Edgbaston.
Links refreshed: 24 February 2001