Houn Jiyu-Kennett – Remembered

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Rev. Master Jiyu’s ordination on Jan. 21, 1962 in Malacca, Malaysia by Rev. Seck Kim Seng.

She had stopped in Malaysia, on her way to Japan, to receive an award for setting to music the Buddhist anthem “Welcome Joyous Wesak Day” written by the American monk Rev. Sumangalo. There had been an international contest and Peggy Kennett had won.

The Chinese Sangha assumed she would be ordained there because there had already been a number of Westerners ordained in Malaysia by Rev. Sumangalo. He usually gave them “Su” which is a superlative or intensifier meaning “true”,”excellent”, “very” etc. as part of their ordination names.

As was customary in Chinese Buddhism Peggy Kennett was admitted to the monastic Sangha by shaving of the head, giving of robes and taking of the basic ten precepts as well as the Bodhisattva Vows. She did not receive the bhikkuni precepts at that time.

The head shaving was performed by Rev. Seck Kim Seng making him Peggy Kennett’s Ordination Master. Rev. Kim Seng was the Head of the Malaysian Chinese Sangha. The strong Dharma connection between himself and Peggy Kennett was recognized by both of them and was the reason that she chose him to be her Ordination Master.

Rev. Sumangalo was the Precepts Master and Rev. Seck Sian Toh was the Bodhisattva Vows Master. The Head of women monks was present at the ceremony to perform the robing of Peggy Kennett in the monk’s kesa.

Rev. Sumangalo gave the ordination name, as was customary for him to do, in Sanskrit. The name given to Peggy Kennett was Seck meaning “of the Buddha family” which all Chinese monks have as part of their names and Sumitra meaning “beautiful or true friend”. In Chinese characters this becomes “kind friend”. “Kind” is the equivalent of “Maitri” or “Metta”- loving kindness. In Chinese this is often combined in meaning with the equivalent of “Karuna” – compassion. In Japan this was rendered as Jiyu which means “kind, compassionate friend”. Jiyu is also in Japanese a pun for the word used for “freedom from all restraints”. The name Ho Un added to her name in Japan together with Ji Yu means “the true kind friend who has arrived at the highest stage of the Bodhisattva path, the Dharma Cloud raining down Compassion on all beings”. This also happens to be one of the titles of the Bodhisattva Maitreya.

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