Looking at Amazon, I was very happy to see a new print edition of a favourite book of mine, Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind, by Maura 'Soshin' O'Halloran, is currently in the pipeline. The last edition was eight years ago, and copies have since become scarce, depriving me of a valuable source of Christmas presents! I first read this book when I had been a student of Sri Chinmoy only a couple of months, and it was a tremendous inspiration to me. The book contains the personal diary and letters home of a young Irish girl, Maura O'Halloran, as she enters a Zen monastery in Japan at the age of 24, recieves the spiritual name Soshin (which translates as the title of the book), and begins her spiritual training. Personal accounts written by great seekers of truth have always been of considerable inspiration to me in my own spiritual quest, and the sense of childlike joy and pureness of heart exhibited by the author in the course of the book remain with me now, even though it is a considerable while since I last perused its pages.
When I talk to other Irish people about this book, they say "Oh, you've probably seen the documentary then" - apparently a documentary filmed of her during her time in Japan (and alluded to in the book) gets reasonably regular reruns on one of our smaller television stations. Unfortunately, I habitually steer a wide berth from the television in much the same way as a dry alcoholic steers clear of passing the off-licence; both of us know what will happen if we don't. So I haven't seen the documentary yet. But hopefully I will one day.
The funny thing was that just before I became a student of Sri Chinmoy, whilst not consciously looking for a spiritual path, I was certainly interested in increasing the depth of my fledgling daily meditation practice. I had a good friend who practiced Zen a lot, and he used to give me books to read (including the wonderful Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki-roshi) and I went to one or two meditations of the local Zen centre. At the same time, I saw a poster advertising free meditation classes by the Dublin Sri Chinmoy Centre. Back then, joining a spiritual path inspired by the Indian traditions was the last thing on my mind - my notions of what meditation should be were very influenced by Zen; lots of personal effort and discipline, extremely lengthy meditations, and much time mastering the lotus position. But time passed, and then one day I realised I had stopped going to the Zen meditations and was still going to Sri Chinmoy Centre meditations, indeed I had applied to become a student of Sri Chinmoy. Fine, my mind might have been a little dismayed that the meditations might not have fit into my grand philosophy. But on the other hand, I was happier than I had been in ages, more aware and grateful for the beauty of the world, and some very destructive habits of mine had dropped away almost immediately. So hey, I thought, let's just keep going.
And it was around this time that I read Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind. One would perhaps think that the book might have acted like a magnet to draw me back to the path of Zen; indeed it proved quite the opposite. As I was reading the book, a deep truth was being inwardly driven home to me: whilst different meditation paths may employ different techniques and guidelines and may steer a different course towards the summit of the mountain, deep within the essentials like love and gratitude and joy and service to humanity are common to all. And I realised that once I had one-pointed concentration and focus on progressing along my own path, I would not miss out on any essential experience exclusive to some other path - as the old Tibetan saying goes, "realise one path, and you realise them all". And I read of how when asked how she chose Zen as a path, she was rather baffled as to an answer and mused later in her diary that, in a way, Zen chose her; I suddenly realised that was how I felt about my own path, that in some undescribable way events had been drawing me towards here, this very moment, and inwardly I knew that Sri Chinmoy was the teacher I was supposed to have.
And also, the book really awakened a sense of adventure about my spiritual life that remains to this day, that embarking on the inner quest for Truth is perhaps the greatest adventure of all, with the greatest prize of all: the realisation of who you truly are. And three and a half years on, recalling all the joy and wonder and (hopefully) progress along my own spiritual travels, I feel very grateful that I read this book.
Later, I came across a passage by Sri Chinmoy which I feel resonates very much with what I said above, and indeed might rank as one of my favourites:
"Spirituality is not merely tolerance. It is not even acceptance. It is the feeling of universal oneness. In our spiritual life, we look upon the Divine, not only in terms of our own God, but in terms of everybody's God. Our spiritual life firmly and securely establishes the basis of unity in diversity.
Spirituality is not mere hospitality to others' faith in God. It is the absolute recognition and acceptance of their faith in God as one's own. Difficult, but not impossible, for this has been the experience and practice of all spiritual Masters of all times."
(from the book 'Yoga And The Spiritual Life ')