The Courage of a Strong Heart

The following article, written by Rev. Oriana was taken from the Eugene Buddhist Priory Newsletter. You can subscribe to receive future newsletters (although it’s listed as a ‘blog’) by going to the Eugene Buddhist Priory home page.

“Whenever a true heart exists, the Dharma springs up also.”
From the offertory for the Founder’s Day Festival, OBC

On Founder’s Day at Throssel last November, the Dharma talk was begun with the above quotation. Rev. Jishin then spoke about how a true heart sees the Dharma and the Dharma sees the true heart. We cannot grasp onto the true heart, as it is not an object or a thing; we can only be quiet and let the true heart enter us. I am reminded of the lines in “Adoration of the Buddha’s Relics”—“The truth enters into us and we enter the truth.” We don’t define the Dharma, we just let it flow without obstructing it with our ideas and concerns. Rev. Jishin goes on to say that “nothing has the significance we give it.” Everything we add—make significant—only obstructs. Can we see this?

When I spoke about the courage of the spiritual warrior last issue, I quoted Rami: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” This is the field of emptiness. This is where the courage of a strong heart resides. The true heart, the strong heart, allows itself to be touched by both the “good” and the “evil.” It makes no distinction. That is, we have the courage to stay with our experience however we may see it. The courage of the strong heart doesn’t reject what is in front of it but receives what is happening right now. This opens us to compassion for the suffering of all beings—all beings.

In his book, Ostaseski gives an example of the courage of the heart that I would like to share with you. A 14-year-old American student brought his parents’ gun to school and began randomly shooting, wounding 2 students. Jencie Fagan, a teacher at the school, approached him, speaking calmly, and talked him into giving her the gun. This is the courage of a spiritual warrior who engages in “the mindful practice of touching with mercy and tenderness that which we previously touched only with fear.” Then she held the boy, continuing to talk to him, promising to stay with him through the arrest process. This is the courage of a strong heart. No separation. This is what Ostaseski calls “fearless receptivity.” I like that very much: “fearless receptivity.” Yet there is something in me that would like to encourage us to be receptive even in the presence of fear. Isn’t that what we do? In the moment, we overcome the fear. This is what is happening. Right now, what is it good to do? Let your heart and body move, trusting that a true response can arise even in the midst of fear.

In The Transmission of the Mind, Huang Po, 9th-century Zen monk, speaks of the courage of the heart.

“By the Dharma is meant the heart, for there is no Dharma apart from heart. Heart is no other than the Dharma, for there is no heart apart from the Dharma. This heart in itself is empty, and there is no empty heart either. When the empty heart is sought after by the heart, this is making it a particular object of thought. There is only testimony of silence, it goes beyond thinking. Therefore it is said that the Dharma cuts off the passage to words and puts an end to all forms of mental activities.”

There is only testimony of silence, unobstructed by words, striving, or belief.

I am reminded of Vimalakirti’s “tremendous silence.” In the Vimalakirti Sutra, written around the 3rd century, wise layman, Vimalakirti, invites bodhisattvas to describe how they became fully aware of the reality of non-duality. Each bodhisattva gives an account of how they transcend various dualities: happiness and misery; purity and impurity; distraction and attention; birth and death and so on. Then Manjusri, the bodhisattva of great wisdom, asks Vimalakirti how he overcomes duality. Vimalakirti remains silent. In the literature, this is often referred to as Vimalakirti’s “thunderous silence.” Anything that Vimalakirti says, any words, will divide the truth—it is this and it is not that.

When we move beyond ideas of good and evil, we are moving beyond seeing the world in a dualistic way. Here, we find the courage of the heart, the true heart that is not apart from the Dharma and, in the end, cannot be expressed in words.

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This is The Dwelling Place – Video of Dharma Talk

Rev. Master Oriana takes to the sky this morning, flying back to Eugene Buddhist Priory after a five month stay at Throssel. Fly safely good friend in the Dharma.

Rev. Oriana trained at Throssel from 1998 until 2013 when she was appointed chief priest of the Eugene Priory in Oregon, USA. She gave this talk during her five-month visit to Throssel, following the Festival of Maitreya Bodhisattva in early February. It emphasizes the point that although we know Maitreya as the Buddha Yet to Come, we can only see him now, today, and that we all have the potential to be Maitreya Taken from the Throssel website.

Here is the dedication spoken by the celebrant, Rev. Oriana, at the start of the Maitreya Ceremony.

“Above the heavens there is no Maitreya, below the Earth there is no Maitreya, but seeing his face is superior to hearing his name.If you meet him in person, you cannot be deceived.” (quoting Great Master Dogen)

We dedicate this ceremony to Maitreya, the Buddha yet to come. As Maitreya becomes Buddha, gaining a wisdom that knows the cause of suffering and the end of suffering, a wisdom that moves from duality to emptiness, may we, too, gain the same wisdom and see the Pure Land.

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Love our UK Footpaths

I love our system of footpaths, spidering across the UK Ordnance Survey maps. I’ve followed many on foot and by pony; uphill, down dale, fells, mountains, marshes, coastal paths, long-distance paths, bridle paths. Walking can be moving meditation, mood-elevating, exciting (memorable moment on Great Gable back in 2016), frightening (also Great Gable 2016!) I could go on and on about entering the great outdoors and staying out for long hours, rain, shine, bitterly cold. Sometimes all at the same time! I’ll not go on though. A short video filmed in a church yard in Wasdale Head after that 2016 walk.

If you are a one who follows paths, don’t want our valuable historic paths to disappear then nip over to the Ramblers website and take a look at your area on the map. It’s easy.

Walkers are being urged to help identify 10,000 miles of historic footpaths that are missing from the map in England and Wales and could be lost forever.

All rights of way must be identified before a government deadline of 2026, after which it will no longer be possible to add old paths to the official record.

The walking group Ramblers is calling on walkers, historians and map enthusiasts to use its new mapping site to identify missing footpaths.

The online tool divides the official map into 150,000 1km squares so users can compare historic and current maps side by side, spot any differences and submit missing paths.

The Guardian, Walkers urged to help save historic footpaths before 2026 deadline

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Brenda’s ‘Voice’

Brenda habitually wrote very long letters, always spoke at length in person as well as at length on the telephone. I knew her voice well. Here’s the briefest email she ever sent. Her humour shines through. As does our friendship.

20 May 2000 10:02
From Mugo to Brenda Birchenough
Yes, I looked one more time for that piece of paper and found it thank goodness. I will stay with Jill on Tuesday night though thanks for being willing to have me stay. Now have a safe journey up to Throssel. I do concern myself about you on the road, safety and all of that. Know you are valuable Sangha Treasure, look after yourself and please do not take risks. Steady as she goes. I am taking my own advice too. Sound like a fussing friend? Yes! In gassho, Mugo

20 May 2000 10:25
From Brenda to Mugo
In answer – How’s this for brevity…..
I will
Thank you
What a lovely thought
I will
I won’t
Not Fussing, just caring
Thank you, good friend
Love and in gassho

This posting is for all those who struggle, as Brenda struggled, with their early abusive upbringing. Many people have written saying how they have enjoyed hearing her voice on the audio posted yesterday.

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The Golden Wave – Brenda Birchenough – Audio

The late Brenda Birchenough speaks about a breakthrough in her training (in the 1990s) which gave her fresh eyes to look at herself and all beings. As she says, “I was brassed off, desperate to get out of the monastery”. Having been at Throssel for a five-week stay and with three days to go before leaving a breakthrough came which changed her perspective on herself and her relationship with others.

Sometimes one has to get so thoroughly fed up with oneself for an insight into the truth to happen. It was her intention to train and see into her habits which propelled her to see The Golden Wave. Being ‘brassed off’ helps, the intention to look at oneself honestly helps one not to slide off into despair.

The title of the talk is Let Flow the Golden Tide.

Brenda would frequently question the validity of what she understood to be true saying, “I experienced the compassion of the eternal so how come I’m still judging (she would use stronger language, to be honest)”? I can’t remember what I would say, probably something to the effect that thoughts are habit-forming when repeated over and over. She was blessed with a faith she didn’t recognize and I would point that out to her. Frequently.

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Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives