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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