Everyday Buddhism: an introduction

The first half of Ken Jones’s life was dedicated to radical social change, including many years as a communist party activist. However in mid-life he suffered something of a crisis of political faith. By now a left-wing labour party member, he became disappointed with the progress made in the struggle for social justice, and its many defeats and betrayals. He became aware that something – the self – was absent from radical social theory, and he commenced a meditative examination of his own self. In due course he adopted a Zen Buddhist path (whilst remaining a social activist) and received an early introduction to the practice of emotional awareness from his first teacher Irmgard Schloegl (later the Ven Myokyo-ni), of the Buddhist Society.

However, Ken now found himself wrestling with the crucial question of how existential and social liberation could be combined in a single practice of inner and outer work, founded on a unified body of theoretical understanding which made sense of both. Out of this struggle came his most important book, the pioneering “Social Face of Buddhism” (1989), followed in 2003 by a revised edition “The New Social Face of Buddhism”.

Disagreement over the question of socially engaged Buddhism led to a break with the Buddhist Society and subsequent membership of the Kanzeon Sangha, as a student of Genpo roshi. Ken still maintains a Kanzeon connection in annually co-leading a retreat with his friend Dave Scott (Keizan sensei), leader of Liverpool’s Stonewater Zen Sangha. After several years’ training with Genpo roshi Ken moved away from highly institutionalised Buddhism and found a congenial home in the Western Chan Fellowship, with its Teacher, Dr John Crook, as his mentor and friend. He sadly misses the latter since his sudden death in 2011.

Although remaining a staunch Fellow, over the last fifteen years Ken Jones has developed his own teaching style, founded on an “Everyday Buddhism” pioneered by Joko Beck and other American Zen teachers, and characterised by a practice of emotional awareness in the body.

Some eleven years ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which has been taking a long time killing him, though latterly with greater success. He has gradually ceded his leadership of the UK Network of Engaged Buddhism to a younger generation of activists, and is now an honorific President. This has enabled him to focus his energies on leading some dozen Everyday Buddhism retreats each year, as a roving independent teacher. The participants appear to find these valuable, and the centres at which they are offered still welcome him, so he will continue to offer these events for as long as he is able. Beneath them lies a strong commitment to the Soto Zen tradition and particularly to the teachings of the great thirteenth century philosopher-monk Eihei Dogen.

This Everyday Buddhism section of the website is divided into three parts.

First, there is an introductory piece “How to do Everyday Buddhism” followed by an up-to-date calendar of Ken’s current retreats.

Secondly are eight “Dharma talks” which resemble chapters encapsulating talks given at various retreats over several years. These variously enlarge upon and extend “How to do Everyday Buddhism”, which provides an introduction to them.

Thirdly are nine miscellaneous papers which, in one way or another, reinforce the above.