(To see the complete November 2016 newsletter, go here)
It is a little hard to believe that it has been so long, but this weekend, on Sunday the 6th of November, we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett’s death with our Founders Day festival. In addition to respecting and revering her for being the founding teacher of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives and the founder of our temple, I, like many people, feel a very personal connection to Rev. Master Jiyu since she was the living teacher of the monks and lay practitioners involved with our Order when I first started practice. And more than that, she seemed to really speak to a part of me that I had little hope of being addressed by a living person.
Reflecting on Rev. Master Jiyu’s influence, I am reminded of a small episode from the life of the Buddha. After a long period of extreme effort, he realized that asceticism does not work and gave up forcing himself in that way. He took a meal and a bath and, standing next to a river, maybe after having cleaned his alms bowl, he tosses the bowl into the water saying “If this bowl floats up stream, I will attain enlightenment,” and the bowl floats upstream.
In practicing the Dharma, we all will find ourselves in a situation where we will need to go against the stream: sometimes perhaps in an outward or social way, but mostly we will need to go against the stream of the greed and anger and confusion we find in our own minds.
Rev. Master Jiyu used to say that in the imperial era of the United Kingdom, the one unforgivable social transgression, when living in the provincial areas of the empire, was to “go native”. To adopt the values and views of the people “conquered” by the empire. It was ok to study things like Buddhism from an academic perspective, but one must not believe in it or take it seriously. When she encountered the Dharma, she recognized on a heart level that it had great value and had the courage to wholeheartedly give herself to it: she went native.
This willingness to take practice seriously and go against the stream, not just to do something different, but because of what I can only describe as the necessity of the heart, was to me one of her greatest offerings and I feel continually blessed by all that she made possible. I often find myself in a state of wonder over the unlikely set of circumstances that has given me the good fortune to encounter others who take the Buddhadharma seriously and carefully cherish and preserve it by putting it into practice even in small ways.
The Perfection Of Zen
By Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett
[The temple Rev. Master refers to is Unpuku-ji, in Haino, Mie-ken, Japan. The picture above was taken at Unpuku-ji during Reverend Master Jiyu’s Chief Priest installation ceremonies (Kessei) and shows the statue mentioned in the article below.]
The perfection of Zen teaching must, of necessity, show itself in the way of life of the trainee, and in his behaviour to other people, otherwise he has learnt nothing. But perfection is something at which we work, it is not something that we can ever completely achieve—hence there is nothing but endless training for the trainee, and no one ever says he is either enlightened or not enlightened—he just goes on in his endless training, doing the best he can.
I learned a lot of what I know of the perfection of Zen teaching from the statue of Kannon in my own temple in the country. When I first took this temple there was only half a roof, no ceilings, no wall, no gate, a weed patch for a garden, no gas, water or sewerage arrangements and only one electric light bulb which you carried on a long line from the ceremony hall to the one room in which there were mats and in which I was to live. I was abbess of this two hundred year old temple in which even the statue of Kannon needed an umbrella to keep out the rain. Rats scuttled at her feet and wood worms gnawed at her pedestal, but her face was completely at peace. With hand upraised in blessing she gazed down on me in utter serenity, silently blessing the village in spite of the fact that her house had been allowed to fall into ruin, and drunks sported themselves bawdily in her meditation hall, for the temple had no parishioners at that time and was known to be the poorest temple in all Japan.
For the first few days I did nothing but zazen in the company of the beautiful statue then, as the weather grew warmer and I began to look around me at the state of the temple’s dereliction, I gradually collected the money to mend the roof. I put up the ceilings with my own hands, never knowing before that time that I could handle a hammer and nails. Together with friends we put up a wall and built a gate, and begged enough mats from those who were buying new ones for their houses to cover the floors of all the rooms. As you will see from the news-letter the house is almost finished—only three ceilings now needing very slight repair and, this year, a friend is putting in modern toilets. It has been hard work; it has taken a long time—and I have loved every minute of it. But the statue has the same smile of benediction now I have almost finished as when I began—come rain, sleet, snow or typhoon, buildings or no buildings, she blesses the village. And when the drunks insult her by making water in her now lovely garden and desecrate her meditation hall she does not complain.
This altitude of uncomplaining all acceptance is one of the signs of the perfection of Zen teaching and the complete peace and freedom that training for such an attitude of mind can bring is its own reward. But, you may say, I have no such statue to teach me such things. My answer is that you can find spiritual truth in everything you see; even the most inanimate thing can be the master of a true trainee, hence the stupidity of looking for a specific person as a “master” or teacher. If you doubt this, take a look at the road outside your house. The rain soaks it, the sun scorches it, the traffic churns up its surface and the dogs and the drunks foul it without ever a sound of complaint therefrom. When the trainee can become like the road outside his house, completely uncomplaining in the face of all events, both good and bad as the world understands good and bad, he will have come close to the perfection of Zen. My advice to all of you who grumble and complain is to look with religious eyes instead of worldly ones on everything around you and make even a blade of grass your master for it has much to teach. No one expects you to become perfect but there is room for improvement in all of us. And remember that three of the signs of enlightenment in our behaviour are gratitude for all things, and a complete lack of either grumbling or anger.
Originally printed in The Chu Shin Zenji Newsletter, [Sōji-ji,]February, 1968.