Category Archives: Overcome Difficulties

Embracing the Wise and the Foolish

A wise person learns the mystery of existence in a flash
And climbs in a leap beyond the world of hollow phenomena,
Whereas a foolish person holds willfully to facts and details,
To drown in subtle differences of words and lines,

Not happy with these lines above. There is a strong pointing to the opposites and for most people, this can be a grand opportunity to climb aboard the ‘foolish’ label and stick it securely to the self. Where it can remain for decades, which is indeed foolish! Or, and this happens, one sticks on the wise label and believes oneself to have ‘lept beyond the world of hollow phenomena’. Maybe so, maybe not but this is still within the realm of the opposites.

One does come across texts that extol the reader to let go of the intellect and allow oneself to ‘leap’ or more often to ‘let go’ of discursive thinking and habitual behaviour. As is said above, ‘to drown in’ and ‘to hold willfully’ to facts, details, subtle differences of words and lines, neither any of us would want to do, certainly not for extended periods of time. It takes as long as it takes to realise the futility of such thinking. So I take the lines from the poem by Ryokan copied above as a strong pointing past what we often term ‘the ordinary mind’. Such teachings can be and are a powerful reminded of the futility of such thinking.

The ‘leap’ then is a leap of faith/trust that there is a deeper aspect to ourselves/existence that is not available via the normal means of understanding ‘why things are the way they are’ and to work out how to change them in oneself or others or both.

Faith in this tradition does not need or require an ‘object of faith, nor is ‘blind faith’ what’s being pointed to. Rev. Master Jiyu said in my hearing that the solution to all koans, including the koan of daily life, is a leap of faith. I’d think this was about doing something deliberately with my mind. I’ve learnt that it’s the opposite, that it’s to deliberately decide NOT to do something! Committing to sitting still in formal meditation is to deliberately decide not to something, anything, one could be doing and JUST SIT! And to simply and actively engage with ‘what is’. This embraces the ‘wise’ and the ‘foolish’, without discrimination.

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Challenges For Change

Here is a repost from 2009.

Challenge One: Trust
Challenge Two: Face up to change
Challenge Three: Access the source of Trust
Challenge Four: Trust that trust is not…what we think it is.

It’s not always so easy, it’s a personal challenge in terms of trust, to talk about one’s interior world with a monk who they don’t know. However, that’s what people can do when here for a retreat, or at other times too. It’s especially challenging to talk about a life change on the horizon which, on the face of it is life-changing, in every direction. The third challenge is to trust ones own heart while talking. Hearing ones own voice emanating from deep within, knowing that another is listening without judgment, can be life-changing!

Here is some correspondence with a woman I met at a recent introductory retreat. I’m publishing with her permission. Our exchanges, both in person and via email, are an example of how Taking Refuge in the Sangha works.

Dear Rev. Mugo,
The time that I spent at the monastery this weekend has been invaluable. No matter which route my spiritual journey now takes, it will not be the same as I thought it would have been on Friday when I set off. Many thanks to you and the other monks for your inspiration and a special thanks to you for listening and allowing me to honestly explore where I am right now.

My response:

Thanks for this. Glad the retreat helped and thanks for the thanks. As you will have read on Jade, I found being around all of you people this last week inspiring. Here we all are just attempting to take the next wise step in our lives. May your steps take you to the important thing, however that manifests in your daily life as a religious person.

This person has in actual fact made a remarkable step in her religious life. On the eve before going off on holiday for two weeks she asked me if I had any general advice you thought might be appropriate.

I responded thus:

Have a lovely holiday with your family. As for advice generally? I’d say to trust the deepest part of yourself and consult inwardly as you move along in your life. Rather in the way one does when out and about, shopping perhaps, taking a pause in an aisle in a supermarket and then remembering you need eggs and if you hadn’t stopped you’d have had to make an extra trip to get them later. The process is just the same generally. Pausing as you go to give those sideways thoughts and insights a chance to be heard. Maybe a slight adjustment suggests itself regarding ones intended direction. This is probably particularly important when, as you are, taking what seems to be a big change of direction in terms of religion. However, you more than likely already realise it’s not such a big step now because you can see how there have been lots of little steps which have come before this one.

Yes, just keep on with your life and enjoy each day, hour, moment. Perhaps appreciate would be a better word. I think one can’t help but appreciate when one opens ones’ heart and follows where it leads especially when a certain level of ‘leap’ has taken place. A life-changing change.

I’ve never used the example of pausing in the aisle of a supermarket before, it just came up when writing to you and thinking about it you can probably relate to it. Often people divide up there lives between spiritual and ordinary, I think this is a false distinction. Obviously one is not going to check with ones interior about getting white or brown bread or will it be cheese on toast or fish fingers for tea! We use our ‘common’ (sense) obviously.

Back from holiday recently my correspondent made a huge leap in understanding regarding listening. I bow to her continuing insights.

We are back safe and sound. We enjoyed the holiday but I am glad to be home nonetheless. Thank you so much for your reply. Yes, by all means, use your response on Jade. I found the supermarket analogy interesting but it did make me realise an aspect of myself which I have to be careful of, I think. My husband always offers to do the shopping, much preferring that I keep well away from the supermarkets and Costco especially. The reason for this is that ….. I spend too much money. ‘I had better put that in the basket because I may need it sometime in the future’. I never seem to be able to keep to what I have written on the list. It got me thinking that to pause in/for the moment is good but not to pause contemplating what I might need in the future. Your comment re, opening my heart and following where it leads, I am adopting as my motto to remind myself to follow the lead rather than trying to lead where my head says it wants to be. Patience is a virtue!

The leap, just in case you didn’t notice it, was to pause and not contemplate what might be needed in the future.

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A Saving Grace

Here’s a wonderful observation from Henrey Miller. I subscribe to the thought of not taking things too seriously. My response to a seeming disaster is ‘nobody has died, been maimed, abused or needs to be taken to hospital’! Let’s be grateful’. Often I’ll laugh with the thought, ‘how human’. Of course, we all do have to take responsibility for when things go wrong or a mistake is made but getting all worked up about it doesn’t help the situation. Retraining a sense of humour helps to maintain a sense of proportion. A saving grace.

Perhaps the most comforting thing about growing old gracefully is the increasing ability not to take things too seriously. One of the big differences between a genuine sage and a preacher is gaiety. When the sage laughs it is a belly laugh; when the preacher laughs, which is all too seldom, it is on the wrong side of the face.

Henry Miller, (December 26, 1891–June 7, 1980)

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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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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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