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Houn Jiyu-Kennett

Reverend Master Houn Jiyu-Kennett, Roshi, (1924-1996) was a priest and Zen Buddhist teacher of the Soto school, as well as founder of The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, whose two main training temples are Shasta Abbey (US), and Throssel Hole Abbey (UK).

Born in St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex,England on New Year's day, baptised Peggy Teresa Nancy Kennett in the Church of England. She was awarded a scholarship from Trinity College of Music, London and a Batchelor of Music degree from the University of Durham. She first became acquainted with Buddhism through the Theravada tradition. She joined the London Buddhist Society in 1954, eventually becoming a lecturer, and a member of the governing Council. During her time there she met and studied with many Buddhist teachers who visited, including D.T. Suzuki, who introduced her to Rinzai Zen. In 1960, the Very Reverend Keido Chisan Koho Zenji (1879-1967), Chief Abbot of Daihonzan Sojiji, gave a talk at the London Buddhist Society during a tour of the US and UK. He asked Peggy Kennett, who helped organize his visit, to come to Japan to be his disciple. Sojiji, one of the two main monasteries of the Soto Zen sect, which at the time was regarded as being a training temple solely for Japanese men.

While traveling to Japan on January 21, 1962 she was ordained into the Chinese Buddhist Sangha in Malaysia by the Very Reverend Seck Kim Seng, who gave her the name, Sumitra (True Friend). After which she arrived in Japan to train with Koho Zenji at Sojiji, and on April 14, 1962 she was ordained again. Her name was changed to its Japanese equivalent Jiyu (Compassionate Friend), and she was also given the "religious" family name Houn (Dharma Cloud). She received Dharma Transmission from Koho Zenji in 1963, and was later certified by him as Roshi. She held several positions during her years in Japan including "Foreign Guestmaster." Eventually she was appointed Abbess of her own temple in Mie Prefecture.

Following Koho Zenji's death, she left Japan for London, stopping at San Francisco, in November 1969. She decided to stay in the U.S, and founded the Zen Mission Society in 1970 (which in 1978 was reorganized and renamed the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives). In the following November she founded Shasta Abbey at Mount Shasta, California, where she resided for 26 years as the first Abbess, and Head of the Order. She founded Throssel Hole Priory, now Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey, in Northumberland, England in 1972, as well as many other Buddhist temples throughout North America and Europe over the course of her lifetime.

Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett died at Shasta Abbey on November 6th, 1996 of diabetes related illness.

Upon her death, Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy (1945-2003) was named Head of the Order, and Rev. Master Eko Little was named Abbot of Shasta Abbey. Upon the death of Daizui MacPhillamy, Haryo Young was elected to succeed as Head of the Order.

Selected Works

  • Roar of the Tigress
  • Zen is Eternal Life
  • The Wild, White Goose: The Diary of a Female Zen Priest
  • How to Grow a Lotus Blossom or How a Zen Buddhist Prepares for Death

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