“Suddenly I realized we must take care of things just because they exist.” – Maura O’Halloran
Maura O’Halloran was born in Boston, the daughter of an Irish father and an American mother. When she was four, the family moved to Ireland. Her father died when she was fourteen, and she played a large role in the upbringing of her four younger siblings.
From a young age, Maura displayed a deep awareness of human suffering. After college she spent time working in soup kitchens and traveled widely in Latin America. Her concern for social justice was accompanied by a serious attraction to the spiritual life. After experimenting for some years with various methods of prayer and meditation, she decided to explore the wisdom of the East.
In 1979 she flew to Japan and applied for admission to a traditional Buddhist monastery in Tokyo. Many Catholics, and even Jesuit priests, have undergone training in Zen meditation in Japan, finding no inherent conflict between their Christian faith and the principles of Zen. But at the time of Maura’s arrival there were few Western women who had been accepted into the very male world of a Zen monastery. Maura was admitted, and so she embarked on the rigorous training of a monk.
Her journals offer an unusual record of her experience, which included sustained periods of meditation, arduous manual labor, and an ascetic discipline of mind and body. Under the guidance of her Roshi (master), she struggled to solve her assigned koans, the famous Zen riddles designed to free the mind of dualistic illusions and lead the novice on the path to enlightenment. In the cold of winter she joined the other monks on an annual begging expedition in the North. With her shaved head and monk’s robe, wearing only straw sandals in the snow and sleet, she would join the other monks as they passed through the streets, ringing a bell and holding out their bowls for alms and donations of food.
After six months of intensive training, Maura experienced an ecstatic breakthrough. While being interrogated by her Roshi she was suddenly overcome by tears and laughter. “It is enlightenment!” her Roshi cried. Afterward, when she went outside, she was overcome with a feeling of compassion for everything in existence.
This was not the end of her training. In the months that followed she concentrated more energy than ever on her meditation and her self-discipline. By the next year her Roshi made her an extraordinary offer. If she would agree to marry a fellow monk, he would entrust his temple to her. Torn between the desire to obey her Roshi and a conviction that this was not where she was intended to remain, she experienced a strange physical collapse. Her Roshi at this point accepted her plan to leave the monastery at the conclusion of her training. Some months later, Maura reflected on her vocation:
“I’m twenty-six and I feel as If I’ve lived my life. Strange sensation, almost as if I’m close to death. Any desires, ambitions, hopes I may have had have either been fulfilled or spontaneously dissipated. I’m totally content. Of course I want to get deeper, see clearer, but even if I could only have this paltry, shallow awakening, I’d be quite satisfied…. So in a sense I feel I’ve died. For myself there is nothing else to strive after, nothing more to make my life worthwhile or to justify it. At twenty-six, a living corpse and such a life! … If I have another fifty or sixty years (who knows?) of time, I want to live it for other people. What else is there to do with it? … So I must go deeper and deeper and work hard, no longer for me, but for everyone I can help.”
As this reflection makes clear, Maura did not consider enlightenment something to be grasped for herself alone. Rather, she wished to empty herself to serve others in the way of compassion. This was Maura’s wish. But it was not her karma. Instead, after leaving the monastery on her way back to Ireland, she was killed in a bus accident in Thailand on October 22, 1982. She was twenty-seven.
Book to Hang Out With: Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind: The Life and Letters of an Irish Zen Saint
One of the most beloved Buddhist books of all time-having inspired popular musicians, artists, a documentary film, and countless readers-is now in an expanded, new edition, loaded with extras. Absolutely absorbing from start to finish, this is a true story you might truly fall in love with.
At only 24, Maura O’Halloran left her Irish-American family stateside and traveled to Japan, where she began studying under an inscrutable Zen master. She would herself become recognized as a Zen master-in an uncommonly brief amount of time. Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind is Maura’s beautifully-written account of her journey. These journal entries and letters home reveal astonishing, wise-beyond-her-years humor, compassion, wisdom, and commitment.
This expanded edition includes never-before-seen entries and poems, the author’s unfinished novel, and an afterword that discusses the book’s cultural impact. It will be a must-have for Maura’s previous fans–and will surely find her thousands of new ones.
Order the book via Amazon HERE and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Love Serve Remember Foundation.