Jiyu Kennett

‘Presently he found what he was looking for and handed it to me. I studied it; the word he was showing me was “right.” I nodded but he was not satisfied. First he pointed to the left, shaking his head, then to the right and nodded.

“Not left,” I said, “only right?’ I looked hard at Rev. Hajime.

“Not exactly,” said Rev. Hajime.

Next Rev. Sansaburo pointed at the floor, shaking his head, and then at the ceiling, nodding.

“Up, not down?” I wrote but Rev. Hajime seemed to be mentally scratching his head and gave me no help.

“One way?” I asked.

“Like water,” wrote Rev. Sansaburo.

“Water only flows one way,” I said and he nodded happily and wrote, “Gyate, gyate, haragyate.”

“Gone?” I asked.

“No,” cried Rev. Hajime and then wrote, “Going, going, always going, like water.”

He then added, as an afterthought, “Water bright.”

Rev. Sansaburo seemed to have become galvanised by something and uttered the first word of English I had ever heard him speak.

“Bright,” he cried; he had obviously found several words at once, “mind bright, not dull; bright, bright.” I sat still for a few minutes, thinking hard, then I took the dictionary and found the Japanese for positive and negative and wrote the following: “The mind must always be bright when meditating, always positive and never negative, always flowing on and clinging to nothing just as water flows.”

Rev. Hajime read it carefully and translated it into better Japanese for the other one could make no sense out of my attempt. Rev. Sansaburo nodded in obvious delight and wrote, “Good for the beginning, later nothing at all but, in the beginning, there must be brightness and flow with no holding on. When brightness becomes usual one does not notice even brightness.”

“Then what I decided a little while ago was right,” I wrote, “I must take everything that happens as for my own good, whatever it may be.”

Rev. Hajime nodded. “Always you must believe that everyone has good heart for you,” he said in his atrocious English. “If you not do so you never become peaceful at all; Buddha must be seen in all thing.”

Rev. Sansaburo was writing busily and Rev. Hajime translated, “The attitude of the mind is just as important as the position of the body when you meditate. If the mind is not right the meditation will be useless. Zen teaching is to just sit but it is more than just sitting, and yet it is just sitting. Wandering thoughts are like pain in the legs; if the mind is right in its attitude thoughts pass as traffic on a bridge and we watch from beneath the bridge without being involved in the traffic; if the attitude of the body is right the pain in the legs and other places passes in the same way and neither our body nor our mind is disturbed.”‘ (The Wild White Goose)

I read Jiyu Kennett’s diary account of her training in 1950s Japan quite a few years ago, and while there are parts of her legacy that are questioned these days, her determination to make it through despite many obstacles was more than impressive.

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