On Sunday 5th August a ceremony was held at La Gendronnière to commemorate the life of Jean Baby, an elder disciple of Master Deshimaru who died on Jan 1st of this year, aged 90. Jean was the founder of the Dojo of Strasbourg, and also (together with Nancy Amphoux) the founder of the UK branch of the International Zen Association. The ceremony was presided over by Raphael Triet, the current abbot, and was attended by around 100 fellow disciples of Master Deshimaru, friends, family, disciples and other well-wishers. During the ceremony, Jean’s ashes and mortuary tablet were brought to the altar by his son, Luc Baby, and his friend and disciple, Marie Huonic. The Hannya Shingyo and dedications were chanted. Three speeches were then given to commemorate his life. The sangha then processed to the graveyard, where the Dai Hi Shin Darani was chanted and the ashes placed in the grave. Well-wishers then offered shoko at the grave.
Speech by Yusen Hugues Naas, Responsible of La Gendronnière Temple and former head of the Strasbourg Dojo:
The first time I met Jean, it was the day I decided to go to the Strasbourg Dojo to see what it was about. It was the Rue de Planches, for those who remember. I rang. Someone let me in. I climbed to the second floor. The door opened and a lugubrious face appeared and said ‘you’re late!’. Without stopping, I turned round. It can’t have been the right moment… I came back 2 years later, on time.
I got to know the Strasbourg sangha. It was the seventies. Jean was there, surrounded by young people still in the ambience of 1968. For many among us, he was a second father. He knew how to get us to love zazen, always available, listening, always giving sound advice.
Later, the dojo moved to Rue Brulee where Jean rented a flat. I would see him arrive each morning, on foot in his black cape. His departure for Bristol with Nancy was our weaning. For me, it was an opportunity to discover England; driving on the left, fish and chips, and to share pleasant moments with Jean in the garden together with the foxes living nearby.
After Nancy’s death, Jean returned to Strasbourg. Getting his apartment ready was a chance for me to see him once more. He was precise regarding the hanging of his pictures and Sensei’s calligraphy, but left the arrangement of his library up to me.
After I left for La Gendronnière, we met less often. Already, his state of health meant he could no longer come here. I saw him only two or three times a year, but each visit was a wonderful moment. He would always welcome me with macha tea and little cakes, and would ask for news of La Gendronnière In return, he would speak of friends in Strasbourg, his cleaning lady, and the state of the world which greatly concerned him.
And now he has returned once more to be next to his Master.
I would like to take this moment to express my gratitude to him for all the years of precious aid he gave me. Without him, perhaps, I would not be here today.
Speech by Chris Seiho Preist, Chair of IZAUK
It was thanks to Nancy Amphoux that I was first drawn to Zen, but it was thanks to Jean that I have stuck with it. What it was that most impressed me about him was a real sense that he no longer felt a need to prove himself. He embodied something of the “man of the quiet way, no longer struggling to seek the truth or cut illusions”. I suspect he was not always like this. He clearly struggled throughout his life with the mind-demons that afflict each of us in different ways; his teachings and way-of-being in later life grew from facing these demons and making peace with them.
Jean arrived in the UK in 1986, together with his partner Nancy Amphoux. They came to Bristol, founded Bristol Zen Dojo and later IZAUK, setting up groups around the UK and holding regular sesshins. While in the UK, they were married. Nancy died shortly afterwards, but Jean continued to lead the UK sangha until returning to France in 1997 after fracturing his spine in a fall.
In his teachings to us, he often spoke of “the demon of good” – the idea that we know best what is right for others and impose it on them. He felt that this attitude is a great source of suffering for humanity, and encouraged us to confront our rigid certainties while preserving faith and confidence. He also spoke of the dangers of ambition, and particularly spiritual ambition. He encouraged us to shine the light of awareness that comes from zazen on the ego-games we played in our practice and in the sangha. In his view, we should not strive to be the first or the best, but instead allow ourselves to simply be adequate.
His way of teaching was to make us aware of our mistakes and illusions gently and often with good natured humour. His naturally introvert character meant he preserved a sense of distance from us, not caring for idle chat, but at the same time gave a feeling of emotional warmth and caring.
Personally, I drew inspiration from him as an example of the self awareness and peaceful acceptance that zazen can bring. It is partly thanks to his simple presence and way-of-being that a small but strong community of zen practitioners has grown in the UK, and for that gift we are deeply grateful to him.
Speech by Pierre Dokan Crepon, President of the AZI:
On behalf of the AZI and all its members I would like to pay homage to Jean Shogen Baby who left us on the 1st of January of this year, 2012, at 91 years of age. Jean was the founder of one of the first places of practice of our association, the Zen Dojo of Strasbourg in 1971, shortly after meeting master Taisen Deshimaru. Meeting Master Deshimaru was a decisive encounter for him, as he was an authentic spiritual seeker. In 1974 he was ordained as monk, receiving the dharma name Mokudo Shogen, and he became one of the pillars of our association, making the Strasbourg dojo a living and creative place of the Way where many young people gathered and took part in the establishment of Zen in Europe. After the loss of Master Deshimaru, he moved to Britain with his partner Nancy Amphoux where they established the Bristol Zen Dojo, which formed the origin of the UK sangha of the AZI. During the 1990s he directed several summer sesshins at la Gendronnière and was a key member of our administrative council. Through this, he always kept a link and a particular affection for the members of our association, his companions of the Way.
When we look at this path with discernment, we understand the meaning of phrases such as ‘to put oneself in accord with the Way’ or ‘to follow the tracks of the ancient masters’. The practice of Jean, and the teachings he gave throughout his life, are expressions of the eternal Way, and are set in the continuity of the practice and teachings of awakened beings. It is through considering this beyond the person that we realise the highest dimension of this life, of our life. In peace, we can say farewell to Jean, Mokudo Shogen, who continues his path on the Way of nirvana.