Category Archives: Overcome Difficulties

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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Why Write?

Brenda Birchenough. These hands wrote,  I plan to quote some of it in the near future.

Years ago I was talking to a chap who studied creative writing, ‘Why write’ I asked him. He replied, ‘There is only one reason and that’s to understand oneself better’. This holds true for me to this day. Yes, there is altruism involved in the case of writing for Jade Mountains, to offer the teaching, however, the element of understanding myself better is lurking in the background. Here is what I’ve said in the past about my purpose in terms of ‘offering the teaching’. Oh, and a bit about the history of Jade, started propper in 2005.

The following has been copied from a post from 2012 titled Looking Back Looking Forward. This website had just moved from a program called Drupal to WordPress. It is no small thing to migrate all the content from one ‘platform’ to another. With the change I found myself reflecting on my original purpose for writing this weblog and the refining of that. So here is a bit of history for those who are relatively new readers. My first post, Entrenching Tool explains my background intention.

With the aid of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I retrieved Jades original About page published sometime in mid-2003. I didn’t write a lot back then however I was glad to see the post The Road Not Taken was logged in the archive and so I have pulled it back into the current site. And at such times as these, moving house, it is perhaps good to reflect on the original intention that inspired me to maintain an online presence in the first place. So here is my first post, The Entrenching Tool!

Reflections on why I write from November 2011. Edited 2020.

On first sight Jademountains might look like an exercise in self-indulgence! A monastic going on about herself. However do explore the Archive, there’s frequently teaching embedded within a post where I’ll be talking about something I’ve experienced, thought about or otherwise found interesting and worth passing on. Hopefull the material ammased here will be a useful ‘tool’ to find inspiration, information and encouragement to continue to practice. Return frequently. Do subscribe if you want to have posts come into your inbox.

The underlying teaching is Buddhist practice is not separate from living an ordinary daily life what ever ones circumstances.

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Vocation – Dedication – Imperfection – Acceptance

We had a monastic ordination ceremony this morning. Yes, a brand new monk, Koun (there is a line over the o making it a long o, ‘aw’). Roughly. For days there have been rehearsals for this and that, ceremonial details to be gone over, last-minute re ironing of a robe, robe seams checked, preparations for moving into the monk’s zendo. This is where novice monks live for the first years of their monastic lives. I did that at Shasta Abbey in the 1980s, it’s a Zen tradition that goes way back.

The about to become monk make their own vestments and some are learning the art of needle and thread and the sewing machine as they go along. One of my contemporaries and a seriously good seamster said ‘the hot iron is the lousy seamster’s handmaiden’! The hot iron can go so far but only so far in correcting wrinkled seams etc. Nobody likes to unpick, least of all me however sometimes one has to accept that ones sewing skills are wanting. Those early lessons are paving the way, strengthening the way to accepting one’s fallibility and so-called imperfections. Both as a selfed person and as a functionary.

It is common to think of ‘vocation’ as being about having a ‘calling’ to the religious life which indeed the word does point to. However, I regard vocation in a much broader way to include a calling to dedicate one’s life path in a specific direction. As a young woman I was moved to be a photojournalist having seen pictures of emaciated children in Biafra and stories about Whaling Ships and the like.* I wanted to expose injustice. Although I trained as a photographer and loved to write, eventually I realized my vocation was in the direction of religion. Not to achieve becoming a perfect person, more a completely human person. Fallible and OK with that. Not so easy.

Here is a telling excerpt from an article titled The Importance of Singing Badley! Thanks to Chris Y for posting the link to this article on FB.

From this point of view, the greatest glory of collective singing isn’t performance by a famous choir. It’s rather, in the back room of a pub or around a campfire or in someone’s house, when people who can’t really sing, manage to sing together and what they sing gives a collective voice to the buried longings of each of their flawed, lonely and yearning hearts.

And this moment singing isn’t just about singing. We’re encountering a fundamental idea: that we don’t need to be good at something, anything for us to join in. That we belong here anyway. That we deserve to exist. Others – much more than we think – are like us; they’re not judging us harshly most of the time; they’re wishing that they, themselves, could take the step we’re taking and – in fact – they are finding some of the encouragement they need precisely in our own inept, gloriously out of key but utterly genuine and beautiful efforts.

The Importance of Singing Badly from the site: The Book of Life

*Japan announced last year it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and would resume commercial whaling on July 1, 2019 sparking global condemnation and fears for the world’s whales. Japanese whaling ships prepare first commercial hunt in more than 30 years.

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Nothing Lost

Dad grave, Cornish slate.

There seems to be a wholly different language and vocabulary around poetry and creating to the point where I’m thinking ‘this is not something I can connect with, or ‘do’. However, I will continue to read the book somebody kindly lent me recently. Here is a quote which does ‘ring’, somewhat.

It is not any moment, but this very moment, that a Japanese poem contemplates and preserves; not any feeling, but the emotion pressed like wine from its underlying events. And there are underlying events – behind almost every tanka stands the essence of a particular story, a set of circumstances.
From Nine Gates, Entering – The Mind of Poetry by Jane Hirshfield

emotion pressed like wine from its underlying events. For me, emotion is welded to the event. No amount of pressing is going to sever the feeling from the underlying event since all of one’s senses are invoked. Recalling the circumstances surrounding my father’s death for example. It played out like a movie both at the time and now – filled with pathos yet from one place removed. Not exactly detached, that would be cold, more both in the film and watching it at the same time. I’m not having a problem with that.

he died
beating the odds
He won!
Nothing lost.

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