Jim Ito

Jim Ito

Jim Ito died on July 1, 2017. I was grateful to hear that his illness had come to a peaceful close. I was more saddened by the onset and progress of his illness than by its end. It seemed supremely wasteful that Jim’s life, which was so thoroughly lived, and so thoroughly enjoyed both by himself and by everyone who shared even a moment of it with him, did not last forever. Of course no one lives forever, but Jim should have lived to be at least 100. Make that 120.

It was fortunate that to the very end Jim was surrounded by people who loved and cared for him. There were a lot of such people, but it is a measure of his un-self-consciousness that this surprised him. In one of my last conversations with him he expressed astonishment that so many people cared about him. I explained that this was his karma – he lived a life of exceptional purity, and so of course everyone loved him. He had not thought of this before.

My brother Christopher referred to Jim as a bodhisattva, and I agree completely. Bodhisattvas come into the world to show us (show us, not tell us) how to live. Everything Jim did was an inspiration and an example. I will never forget seeing him make a salad with the same rapid gestures he used to arrange flowers or dig in the garden or harvest vegetables. Every gesture was completely unmediated, perfectly controlled but beyond thought, fitted naturally and organically to its purpose and occasion. It was like zen archery, it was a samurai salad – no thought intervened between purpose and action. That salad was a sutra – the Buddha himself could not have given a more economical explanation of how to live.

It was like that with everything he did – his involvement was total but un-self-conscious. He knew more about music, and experienced it more thoroughly, than anyone else I ever knew. He spoke Spanish and Italian without ever actually learning them. People would gather around him in European cafés and sing and play music – somehow that never happened to me or to most other people. He could create a garden almost with a wish (although there was digging too) – it was as if the earth could not restrain itself from producing more of whatever he asked for than he could possibly use.

When he became ill, he tried for survival in the same whole-hearted, integrated and purposeful way he lived the rest of his life. And when he knew he had to die, he did that the same way too. His passing offers a final lesson for us, given as always by example, in the graceful acceptance of the transience of life.