Following on from our tribute to Rev. Master Saido Kennaway, this week, we are publishing the transcript of the eulogy spoken at his funeral, by Karen Richards. At the end of the post, is the youtube link to his funeral, which was held at Telford Crematorium, on Saturday the 18th of March.
I knew Rev Saido for over forty years, as a teacher, fellow Trustee of Telford Buddhist Priory and as a friend, not only to me, my husband David and our family but to the whole Telford Community. Some memories of him stand out like polaroid photographs, with little details still sharp. In others, there is just the sense of a person who truly knew what it meant to be human.
He once explained the process of entering the monastery as a postulant. The trainee stands at the gate, head shaved, new robes on and asks to be let in. He or she is left there for some time, with their alms bowl in hand, as a test of their resolve to train in monastic life. At the end of their wait, they are asked on three occasions, why they wish to enter the monastery. David Kennaway’s answer was. “I wish to live with integrity”. I was impressed by that answer because it struck me that he wasn’t asking for anything. He wasn’t asking for shelter from the world or Enlightenment or anything for himself. Rather he wanted to take an honest look at himself and take responsibility for his life. This pledge, his pledge, has affected us all.
I first met him in the early 1980s. at a weekend retreat held at the home of the late Vajira Bailey, in Bearwood, Birmingham. I was not attending the retreat, myself, but dropping off David my husband. I had made a cake, with dried fruit in it, which, to my horror, had all sunk to the bottom of the tin, during baking. I was prepared to drop David off and duck out as quickly as I could but when she saw the cake, Vajira insisted that I give it to the monks, in person.
She invited me into a room, where R M Daishin and Rev Saido were seated, eating their supper at the table. They made an immediate impression on me – one of those polaroid moments that you never forget. I was introduced, we exchanged a few words, I placed the cake on the table, and left.
At the end of the weekend, I returned to pick up David, this time waiting in the car, outside. As we drove off, I asked how it had all gone. Good, apparently and oh, the monk sent a message for you, “Tell your wife she makes good cake”.
Now, that cake would not have won any prizes, but, the message was a kindness, pointing towards the offering rather than the cake itself and that first meeting set the course for the rest of my life.
We met, on many occasions, in the years that followed, particularly in his role as Lay Ministry Advisor. However, It was when, in the year 2000, when he came to be prior, of Telford Buddhist Priory, that I got to know him well and had the good fortune to learn from him. He had chosen Telford, in part, because it was centrally situated to the places he needed to get to, to continue his work for Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation, and for his work for the Network of Buddhist Organisations, as well as his work as the Order’s European Advisor.
He loved the priory building itself and saw it as a great treasure, with its large garden and garage big enough to become a workshop for projects, its light and airy mediation room and the kitchen’s in-built, deep fat fryer, which he soon became very skilful at using. So he introduced a ’Chips and Chat’ evening into the schedule. Those chips were very, very good.
Alongside the usual schedule, Rev. Saido introduced sangha walks, days out, gardening days and canal trips. These events brought our community together so that we weren’t merely ships that passed on a meditation night but true Dharma friends and we thrived on it.
He liked to do things a bit differently, not too differently, just enough to point beyond the outward form and would often comment, “I’m probably a heretic!” And chuckle, to himself. For instance, he liked the altar to be full and burgeoning, more in the Malay style than the Japanese Zen, which is much simpler. And he didn’t care to be called a Master, though he surely was a Master.
He rarely gave formal talks. Rather, his practice was to teach by example and by bringing the Dharma into group conversations. When he did give a talk it would usually involve diagrams or unusual teaching aids, such as Newton’s cradle to teach the Law of Karma.
Mostly, Rev Saido’s teaching came through his actions, the way he lived his life, his sense of humour and direct way of speaking and his willingness to talk one to one with someone about their difficulties, for as long as it took to help them.
He was also a practical and creative person who would make or fix things, rather than throw them away – and sometimes he didn’t fix things and still didn’t throw them away. Like the time he offered to fix my indoor water feature. He took it apart, decided it was beyond him and then left me with a pile of bits.
The garage was his happy place, where he could be creative and in which, over a period of time, he made his beloved Stupa, which now stands outside the French Windows of Telford Buddhist Priory and into which his ashes will be interred.
These past months, however, his health began to fail him, and, on the official day of the Buddha’s Parinirvana, in the Buddhist calendar, he got his cancer diagnosis. And, it was The Festival of the Buddha’s Parinirvana, held at Telford Buddhist Priory, that came to be the last ceremony he ever officiated at. He was frail and wobbly on his feet but he still did full bows and would not accept a chair to sit on for the duration of the ceremony, when one was offered. I knew in my heart that this would be the last time that he would be our celebrant. I stood close by, in case he should fall and, in so doing, I noticed a sizeable hole in one of his white socks. I thought about offering to mend it but I knew it wasn’t necessary, not because he wouldn’t wear them again, that I surely knew, rather, just like that cake, all those years ago, it was his offering that mattered.
When it got too much, Rev Kanshin, to whom we are eternally grateful, came to help him and we did what we could.
For those of us fortunate enough to be around him during those final weeks, we witnessed a person still giving everything he could. He took care of as much business as his body would allow. He meditated through the pain and called those around him Bodhisattvas.
One cold Saturday morning, Rev Kanshin and I set out to rearrange the garage a bit, so that we could move some furniture out of the common room, into there, to make space for Rev Saido’s bed.
I was shocked that Rev Saido came to help us because he seemed so ill and frail. I urged him not to come out in the cold but he insisted, “I can still point!” he said and point he did.
There were remnants of his personal projects everywhere and we were instructed to relocate them and not to damage anything. At one point, I picked up a little bundle of what I thought was misplaced recycling – two margarine cartons and a yoghurt pot and I asked if I should put them out in the recycling bag. He looked at me and said, “No, those can be used again” We stood in silence for a moment, looking at each other. He had been busy for days, signing off on legal papers and letting go of his worldly responsibilities, but there, in that cold garage, it seemed to me that letting go of these simple, cherished objects, which perhaps no one else but he would value in quite the same way, was the greater challenge. He almost crumbled at that moment and so did I. Then, accepting what needed to be done, he said, softly, “Yes, OK” and let me take them away.
Reverend Saido, Thank you for your life of training and dedicated work for us all. We are so very grateful for it. You did indeed fulfil your first intention, to live your life with integrity.