Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Buddha Buzz Weekly: Interest in Buddhist Chaplaincy Increases During the Pandemic

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.

Interest in Buddhist Chaplaincy Has Increased During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Interest in Buddhist chaplaincy has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Religion News Service. Hospital patients and their families have needed more help managing anxiety, sorrow, and grief, especially because physical proximity to patients has been restricted. Brent Beavers, a Buddhist hospital chaplain in the San Francisco Bay Area, said he was often a patient’s only human contact besides doctors and nurses. The Buddhist approach to chaplaincy has attracted interest particularly for its contemplative approach and calm acceptance of sickness and death

Right now, the Association of Professional Chaplains only counted 23 Buddhists among its 5,000 active chaplains, but Buddhist chaplaincy training programs at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado have seen larger numbers of applicants since the pandemic began, including from non-Buddhists. Jamie Beachy, director of Naropa’s Center for Contemplative Chaplaincy, said that the capacity to be warm-hearted while also being confident and stable while navigating suffering will become more urgent as world crises seem to be intensifying.

Japanese Buddhist Nun Completes 36-Mile Walk in Honor of Indigenous North American People

Japanese Buddhist nun Jun-San Yasuda completed a three-day, 36-mile walk from Little Falls to Fonda, New York in memory of the suffering wrought upon North America’s Indigenous people after the Mayflower’s landing 400 years ago, Buddhistdoor Global reported. Several people joined her, chanting “Namu-myoho-renge-kyo,” the title the Lotus Sutra, while they walked.

Yasuda has been what she calls a “peace walker” since 1978, when she participated in the Longest Walk, a 3,107 mile walk from San Francisco to Washington DC, to protest a series of bills before Congress that threatened Native American treaty rights. None of the bills were ultimately passed. Her Thanksgiving walk was in solidarity with native people, focusing on being mindful of the history of the land that she and her fellow walkers set foot upon.

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5 Research-Backed Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage

There’s something odd about the very idea of “the science of marriage.” Raising kids together, negotiating disputes, or having good sex—these aren’t “scientific” activities. It would be odd to use predictive analytics to improve your parenting. It would be even stranger to use data sets of your past trysts to spice up your sex life. 

Science can’t explain the mystery of marriage—the actual experience of being in love. And yet, over the last 30 years, a growing body of evidence has helped shed some light on what works and what doesn’t in marriage.

After reading much of the research and interviewing numerous researchers and marriage experts for our forthcoming book, here is our list of the top five research-based tips for optimizing marriage.

1. Focus on positive interactions

John Gottman, a preeminent marriage researcher, purports to be able to predict the likelihood of divorce with over 90% accuracy. How does he do it? It all comes down to what he calls the 5-to-1 ratio. Couples that interact with five positive interactions for every one negative interaction are likely to stay together. Couples that get caught in a cycle of negative interactions, on the other hand, seem destined for divorce.

2. Communicate

University of Utah sociologist Daniel Carlson’s research points to another foundational skill in marriage: communication. His studies show that communication leads to a more egalitarian division of labor, which in turn leads to greater relationship satisfaction as well as more and better sex.

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Create a More Spacious Life

By Leo Babauta

Contemplating on how I want to live recently, I became clear in the last few months that I needed to create more space in my life.

My life is full, which is a wonderful thing — I have lots of people in my life who care about me, want to spend time with me, want to work with me. Amazing!

And yet, it’s become clear to me that in order to show up fully for everyone I’m serving … I need to also have space to replenish. To fill up my tank.

So I set out to create that space.

Here’s how it looks for me at the moment:

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The Aunt with a Grandmotherly Mind

Mahapajapati, the Buddha’s aunt and foster mother, represents the quality of the fierce feminine: deep compassion and a maternal, nurturing kindness, matched with the qualities of perseverance, grit, tenacity, and courage. 

The Buddha’s story goes that Mahapajapati and her sister Maya, who was the Buddha’s mother, were married to the same king or clan head, Suddhodana. As far as we know, Maya died very soon after Prince Siddhartha’s birth, probably from complications of childbirth, and Mahapajapati took him in and raised him along with her own son.

I always imagine what that must have felt like for Mahapajapati, to have these twin events of the loss of her beloved sister and at the same time being handed the responsibility for raising her young nephew. I wonder how she was able to engage with her grief. 

Mahapajapati is often understood in the Zen tradition as this great nurturing force, what’s sometimes called robai-shin, or “grandmotherly mind.” But she’s not only known for that—she’s also the founder of the bhikkhuni order, or the sangha of Buddhist nuns. The story goes that Mahapajapati asked the Buddha to ordain women three times, and he said “yes” only after the third ask. (In mythic language, three can be understood as “many.”) Traveling from her home to Vaishali in present-day India, where the Buddha and his sangha were staying, she asks the Buddha to join the holy life, but he declines to fulfill her request the first two times. The third time, or perhaps after many attempts, she brings a group of other women with her. Again, she implores her stepson: “Please, we’d like to join the sangha.” And again, he says no. She returns outside the gates of the sangha to greet the group of women, all of them exhausted after walking long distances, with bloodied feet and dusty robes, and they begin crying and wailing.

Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and trusty attendant, hears their cries and asks Mahapajapati what is going on. She tells him, and he is apparently so moved by their plight that he goes and takes a stand. He pleads their case to the Buddha—but again, the Buddha says, “No. It’s not going to happen.” However, Ananda doesn’t take no for an answer. 

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Why Imagination—Not Resilience—Might Help You Heal From Heartbreak

One of the words most bandied about during challenges, even before these upside-down pandemic times, is resilience. We hear a lot about our collective need for strength, or our individual cultivation of effort in the face of adversity. Notable books have connoted resilience with Grit, or climbing The Second Mountain, or Bouncing Back. The Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Alternatively, Merriam Webster likens resilience to a form of rubbery elasticity, or the ability “to adjust easily to misfortune.” The takeaway being that to survive crisis, we must quickly and easily adopt the quality of sand that gets in your teeth—or, like rubber, we must reflect a type of unchanging, indestructible goo. Even social scientists, who take a nuanced view of resilience as “a stable trajectory of healthy functioning after a highly adverse event,” require levels of stability and health that are difficult to maintain for even the most seasoned mindfulness practitioners.

Who we were before cannot be resurrected; grief and trauma aren’t about stretching and then regaining our original shape, they are about being reformed into what some grief experts call the dynamic shift from Life One to Life Two.

Cultivating resilience during times of adversity is exhausting. Many people feel weak when faced with a crisis and it is dissonant to suggest they be physically or mentally tough. As an end of life doula, I regularly see this response. A hospice patient, a woman of deep spiritual grounding, with years of contemplative practice, recently said to me, “I’m not tough. I am scared. I am tired. I am so ordinary.” To suggest that she develop resilience feels out of sync with her reality. In my experience, if a concept doesn’t provide comfort in death, it is ill formed to support us in life. This means resilience, despite its popularity and positive intent, does not necessarily encourage effective coping. 

Bouncing Back from Grief

Another challenge with resilience is the implication of elasticity. As anyone who has faced profound loss or suffering can attest, a person cannot take the same shape afterward as they had before. “Bouncing back” suggests that it is possible to go back to a prior pre-crisis life, that the past is inherently more desirable than the present. It may feel true in a time of suffering that yesterday was better than today, but functionally there is only this moment. Looking constantly backward leads to the belief that an imaginary past self is required to survive a crisis. This is false. Who we were before cannot be resurrected; grief and trauma aren’t about stretching and then regaining our original shape. They are about being reformed into what some grief experts call the dynamic shift from Life One to Life Two. 

How Imagination Helps

What then should we make of this obsession with resilience as a way to survive through suffering? What if instead of resilience, there was an alternative, one that allowed for the mysterious potentiality of an unwritten future?

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