Someone I consider one of my guiding teachers, and a great inspiration for the creation of this Sangha, has left this little world.
Rev. Jiho Sargent, a Soto priest, was a friend, guide, mother and tough as nails voice of reason and common sense in my life for many years. I believe that I first sat with her in 1989 at the temple in Tokyo were she was a priest (Taisoji). She became a priest late in life, at age 49, and was also one of the few Westerners to be trained in a fully Japanese way exclusively in Japan (at the Soto school's special monasteries for women) and then served as an ordinary "parish priest" at Taisoji involved in the more mundane, "day-to-day" duties of a Zen priest in Japan ... a very unusual path for most foreign teachers.
She is the author of a book called "Asking About Zen" (also available in German, Spanish and some other languages)
http://www.amazon.com/Asking-About-Zen- ... 0834804948
... which was rather unusual for a Zen book, and can best be described as a "nuts and bolts," "tell it like it is" dry, "bringing it down to earth" guide to many subjects which are explained rarely if ever to Zen students (and thus, are misunderstood by the great majority - especially Westerners). Jiho had a "set the record straight" style that allowed her to comment on many aspects of Zen as it has come to be practiced in the West that are usually ignored or "papered over" by other writers because they are rather controversial within the Zen community (a lot of the same subjects we freely discuss here at Treeleaf, in fact ... she was a TREMENDOUS influence and source of much of what we do, and how we do it, in this Treeleaf Sangha).
Please do me the honor of repaying a bit of our debt to her by reading the following, a couple of simple newspaper interviews she gave many years ago (I am not sure that all the quotes by her are exact, by the way, as the reporter may have been paraphrasing) ...
We will have a special Zazenkai this weekend that will include a memorial service for Jiho ... I hope you will sit-a-long ...
Tokyo temple offers Zen with an American touch
By KANAKO TAKAHARA
The Japan Times: Monday, June 8, 1998
It's a rainy Sunday night in May and a small woman dressed in "koromo," the black robe for priests, is welcoming people who have come to practice "zazen," a type of Zen Buddhist meditation, at Taisoji Temple in Tokyo's Toshima Ward.
People take their seats on "zafu," a special cushion used for zazen, and rock back and forth on crossed legs until they find a stable position. The bell rings to signal the start of the meeting.
Silence prevails -- apart from the sounds of the pouring rain and the participants' breathing. "The important thing is to concentrate on the moment," explains the Rev. Jiho Sargent, 66, an assistant Soto sect priest -- and a United States citizen. "One's thoughts do wander about at times, but try to feel each moment you are sitting," she says.
Sargent meets about half a dozen participants monthly to offer instruction in English on zazen and to discuss dharma, the Buddhist law. "This meeting makes me feel relaxed," said one participant. "That's why I come here."
Sargent has traveled a long road to reach this point. As a child she went to a Presbyterian church back in the U.S., but was more enthusiastic about choir activities than listening to sermons. At the age of 16, she stopped practicing as a Christian, unable to reconcile the contradictions she felt were inherent in the church.
In 1974, at the age of 43, she arrived in Japan to work as the project leader for a special-purpose computer system being installed at Haneda Airport. During her stay in Tokyo, she recalled, "I visited Kyoto on a three-day trip and was fascinated by Kannon-sama, a being in Buddhism who symbolizes compassion, in temples there."
That experience changed her life forever. After returning to Los Angeles, she visited a Zen temple there and started practicing zazen.
Going through a divorce at the time, she found that meditation helped her control her emotions when she felt troubled. "It was greatly attractive to me to learn that I could just sit still even when I was greatly upset about something," she laughed.
Sargent now uses a Buddhist first name, Jiho, which means "the aroma of compassion," only retaining use of her birth name, Ann, in her passport and official documents.
She first thought of becoming a Buddhist priest in the late 1970s. An English-speaking priest, the Rev. Zendo Matsunaga, had been holding bilingual zazen meetings in Tokyo at a center Sargent had attended since moving to Japan. He became busier at a temple he worked at in Shizuoka, however, and there was no one to replace him in the Tokyo center.
She then underwent training for several years at a temple in Toyama Prefecture, as well as at others, and finally qualified as a priest in 1989 when she was nearly 60.
Her next meeting is June 28 from 6:30 to 9 p.m at Taisoji Temple, a 10-minute walk from Sugamo station in Toshima Ward, Tokyo. For more information, call (03) 3910-8234.
(C) All rights reservedZen Buddhism grips expats
From Rebecca MacKinnon
CNN Tokyo Bureau Chief
July 18, 2002 Posted: 2:45 AM EDT (0645 GMT)
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) --Tens of thousands of Americans live and work in Japan, doing all kinds of jobs -- teachers, soldiers, diplomats, journalists, and corporate executives.
There are also a few who were drawn to Japan as part of a spiritual quest. Among them is a seventy-year-old highly unusual American woman who now calls Tokyo home.
Jiho Sargent -- once known as Ann Sargent -- first came to Japan 24 years ago for the U.S. aerospace company, Lockheed.
It wasn't long before she decided to make a change.
"My children were on their own and I was getting tired of working," says Sargent.
Now as assistant priest at Tokyo's Taisoji Temple, she leads a weekly Buddhist [Zazen] session, encouraging non-Japanese people -- Buddhist or not -- to join.
She also teaches visitors how to practice Zen meditation and how to sit cross-legged on a cushion called a Zafu.
"(When meditating) try to concentrate on experiencing each moment as that moment arises without judging whether its a good experience or a bad experience," says Sargent.
Sargent first encountered Zen meditation in the 1970s in California while coping with divorce and raising two children as a single mother.
"I thought this sounds like a good plan. You have at least a few minutes a day of not stewing about all this," says Sargent.
"It didn't stop me stewing when driving the car or sitting at my desk but at least it stopped me stewing when I was sitting on the Zafu (laugh), and it makes quite a difference. You'd be astonished."
As a priest she lives and dresses simply. Her blue eyes and shaved head do sometimes provoke interesting comment.
"I've had even new people say 'but of course you realize that you can never understand anything about Zen if you're not Japanese!'," Sargent said.
But for Sargent the most important part of Zen is its worldview.
"Cause and effect is the basis of Buddhism," says Sargent, referring to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"They have happened. And we can't undo them . . . I think if people would concentrate on the fact that at this moment we are in this state, so what can we do in the next moment. That will be helpful."
Sargent believes many other religions concur. But for her it was Zen Buddhism that helped bring sense to a seemingly senseless world.