I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 16, 2022

How Zen

Winter hike

In my desire to learn more about Buddhism, I recently wondered what is the difference between Tibetan Buddhism, which is really all I've read about so far, and Zen Buddhism. Do you feel like learning along with me?

Last week I realized that we are beginning the third year of disruption of our lives from the pandemic. It was about this time two years ago when the first Americans got the virus, and by mid-March we were all in lockdown, and the entire world was closing down with coronavirus. Now here we are, two years later, and we still are dealing with it in various ways. The omicron variant is so contagious that even those of us who are fully vaccinated and boosted are coming down with it, although those I know who have gotten it have only experienced mild symptoms.

As I have withdrawn from more and more of my usual activities in order to stay healthy, it's been really difficult to continue to get enough exercise. And then last week I managed to "throw my back out" (oh how I wish I could really do that) and even small movements became very painful. Fortunately by having a blog, I can go back and see when this first began happening. It was in 2011 when I had my first sacroiliac joint discomfort, to the extent that I couldn't get up and down without serious pain. It's happened twice more, this being the third time that I've been laid low like this.

That said, every day it seems a little better, and my fear that this is a permanent state recedes from my consciousness. Being in pain is never fun, but when you suddenly cannot walk much distance without being reminded of your limitations, it's hard not to get a little discouraged. I have many friends who also have had to deal with this feeling of falling apart and not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. Getting older, as we have all heard, is not for sissies. But then again, it's the nature of things to wear out, and being alive is a gift even when we are not able to continue on as we once did. 

My continuing study of Buddhism has gotten me curious about what the different types are, as I have heard the phrase of something being "very Zen" and have not thought much about it, but Zen Buddhism is a form that is quite different from Tibetan Buddhism, which is what I know the most about. I keep learning new things almost daily, and realize that this could go on forever without ever becoming proficient in the practice or understanding of the religion itself. What is common to all sects and divisions of Buddhism are (1) the Three Universal Truths; (2) the Four Noble Truths; and (3) the Noble Eightfold Path. 

That's a lot of information, but I think we can all get behind the first part, those Three Universal Truths. They are: Nothing is lost in the Universe; Everything changes; and the Law of Cause and Effect.

In Buddhism, the law of Karma says "for every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful." Therefore, the law of Karma teaches that the responsibility for unskillful actions is borne by the person who commits them. (From Buddhist Core Values) 

Apparently all forms of Buddhism believe in Karma, then. But it's different in Zen Buddhism. Zen is a minimalist way of following Buddhism, whereas Tibetan Buddhism is a more elaborate form. Zen is spread across Japan and Tibetan Buddhism is more well known in other Asian countries. I have discovered that there are plenty of places here in the United States that have followers from both forms. I also learned that there will be a reading by the author, Edwina Norton, an ordained Zen priest, at my local Senior Activity Center at the end of this month. She has written a book, Autumn Light: My Fifty Years in Zen. I will definitely make an effort to attend this one, and of course get the book on my Kindle, too.

One thing I know already: I am a much more serene person after having added a brief period of meditation to my daily routine. Once I get up and start my day, it's now become a part of every morning. How such a small little change can make such a profound difference in how I feel about the rest of life is simply amazing. Even through the back pain, I can find lots of ways to appreciate what's going on around me, and I am happier throughout the rest of my day. It will be interesting to see how I will fare once our lives begin to get back to normal, whatever that means post-pandemic.

And I guess that pretty much winds up today's post. Not much to chew on in terms of philosophical ruminations, but every day is a new beginning, and I do hope that we will be back here next week to see what emerges from the depths of my mind. By then I fully expect the back pain to be a thing of the past and not worth mentioning. That's the optimist in me coming out in full voice. 

I do hope that the coming week will bring you all good things, and that you will have plenty of joy and beauty surrounding you. Until we meet again, be well, dear friends.


Barbara Rogers said...

Thanks for your well wishes...and the same for you as you heal from your pain. I've never had a good understanding of the differences between various forms of Buddhism. There are so many leaders/teachers, it kind of depends upon who you choose to follow...at least in my mind. I like to quote various teachers, as well as read different ones' works. I guess that's why I'm a Unitarian Universalist, and say I'm a pagan. There are so many roads to nirvana.

Anvilcloud said...

we are both posting of back pain today although different kinds.

I can't go with you on Karma, but I am sure that you are deriving some comfort and satisfaction form your studies.

Tabor said...

Thank you for your good wishes. I have thought much about my aging body recently. Both my husband and I are in reasonably good health, but I know that our times are finite. I have always been interested in Buddhism, but too lazy to pursue the study. Maybe now I will after your post. I think Covid is going to continue to raise its ugly head for some time to come as much of the globe is not vaccinated and it will be able to mutate again and again.

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you. I so often learn from you, and today is no exception. How wonderful that you have a talk by a Zen practioner to look forward. I hope you will let us know how it went (in the fullness of time).
I am v glad that your back pain is diminishing too.

ApacheDug said...

DJan, while I can't pretend to show a lot of interest in Buddhism, I admire your pursuit of it. I've known several people in my adult life who claimed they converted or followed these teachings, and I never bought it. With you, I do. What I really wanted to say is, I'm very sorry about your back injury. That type of pain has got to be the worst, especially for active people like yourself. All I can do is send very earnest wishes your way that you're healed soon. I have a feeling that's going to happen too! 🙂

Rian said...

DJan, I hate that you are having back pain... that is the worst. It's happened to me several times over the last few years and although I'm sure mine is not as bad as some, it is awful not to be able to get around without pain. I will pray that yours goes away quickly.

As for Buddhism, I know very little, but do like what little I know. And I believe in meditation, but my monkey mind doesn't co-operate. And I'm a big believer that your attitude and how you handle things make a big difference in your life.

And Covid, well... it kept getting closer and finally hit home. But hopefully due to being triple vaccinated, DH seems to have a mild case (and I am either asymptomatic or have yet to get it). So keep all the necessary precautions, that's all one can do. Stay safe and stay well!

Arkansas Patti said...

Oh I so remember back pain and you have my complete sympathies. There is nothing you can do that doesn't involve the back. Even deep breaths can be painful. I hope this will be a brief episode for you. So glad you have SG to help you when you need it. Keeping the mind active with your venture into Zen will help divert your thoughts from the pain. Just take it easy and stay safe.

Linda Reeder said...

I couldn't help but think of science as I read read your post about Buddhism. Science tells us matter never disappears, it just changes form. As for Karma, it does sound a lot like Newton's third law, for every action there is a equal and opposite reaction.
While I appreciate your quest to learn about Buddhism in order to achieve more serenity, I just have to stick with science. I guess a disruption in my life is Ok. Not back pain though.

Gigi said...

I'm sorry to hear of the pain. I hope it will abate soon.

I'm trying very hard to hold on to an optimistic attitude but COVID is really testing me in that regard.

Have a great week!

Betsy said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your back pain and pray it will soon be gone again. Things like this are a pain to get used to but eventually we all have issues don't we? As you said, we begin to wear out.
Covid is indeed a worry that won't go away. I just dropped my dear husband off at the airport. He's on his way from Omaha to Seatac and then onto Spokane for a few days for work. I worry about him in the airport and plane but we've done all we can do and that's all we can do. We have many, many aquaintances and friends who are sick right now. I have heard several doctors on the news this week say it's no longer an "if" we get covid. It has become a "when." That is NOT a fun thought.

William Kendall said...

My niece came down with omicron.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Stay safe and well this week, hope your back pain leaves soon....rest and ice might help:)

Red said...

Not much to chew on Eh! I've had challenges with my back but it was small back muscles that get slightly pulled. But do they ever hurt. Before it was diagnosed I would spend a few days in bed it got so bad. So after it was diagnosed it took a while for me to catch on that I had to work very hard to stretch those muscles. I haven't had a problem for many years.

John's Island said...

Famous Betty White quotation: “Old age isn’t for sissies… but if you are still functioning and not in pain, gratitude should be the name of the game." I admire your open minded approach to Buddhism and your gratitude for the benefits of meditation. Keep up the good work and thank you for another positive Eye on the Edge. PS Thanks for your kind words on my blog.

gigi-hawaii said...

I can relate to your pain. I hope your back continues to improve. I am glad that Buddhism elevates your mood.

Marie Smith said...

I can see how meditation is a great way to start the day. I would like to do it as well. More to come…

Galen Pearl said...

I always enjoy your reflections. Yep, I'm one of those who, although vaxxed and boosted, got a breakthrough Covid case -- on New Year's Day! Like you said, I was not very sick -- sort of like a bad cold or mild case of flu. Glad it's over and now moving on.

I lived in Thailand for three years. Buddhism permeates Thai culture in every way. However, it is yet another form of Buddhism, prevalent in Southeast Asia, different from Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. So much richness in these various traditions which grew out of the cultures they took root in. I'm sure you will continue to enjoy learning about it all. But the most important thing, as you are discovering, is to practice it, not just to acquire information about it, to make it part of your own experience and way of living.

If you think about it, you have been practicing Buddhism for a long time by your life of self reflection and your affinity with nature.

Mary said...

I like the idea of Buddhism, as it seems so gentle and kind and not so full of judgements and promises of hell to those who vary.
Hope your back gets better soon.

Glenda Beall said...

DJan, I can really relate to back pain. I have had pain so bad I can't get up and can't walk. I have done all they tell me to do, but physical therapy and ice help me the most. Also getting plenty of sleep helps.
I feel for you. I got COVID in spite of all the guidelines I followed. I am fortunate I was not hospitalized and only had three days of being really sick.
As for Buddism, I read that it is not a religion like Christianity, but a way of life and can be practiced by anyone. I think meditation is great and try to do it often especially when I am in pain, but if the back pain is caused by a pinched nerve, bulging disk or anything that affects you neurologically it is very, very hard to live with. I hope you find the formula that will best help you. Take care, my friend.