What is Shin Buddhism?

So I've been attending a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Church for several years now. And the number one question I get asked is what is that? How does that differ from Zen.

So I'm no expert, but here's a good high level overview. Zen is a decendent of Chan Buddhism that came to Japan. After years and several teachers it split into two major traditions, Zen and Shin. (This is a huge understatement. There are many sects of Buddhism in Japan.)

Zen is more monastic. The practices are designed to help you reach enlightenment quickly, but with extreme effort. That's not too say a lay person couldn't do Zen, in fact American Zen is very lay focused, the structure is just set up to work that way.

Shin, by contrast, was set up to be for lay people. It's main practice is the recitation of the nembutsu. And that can be done any where and pretty much any time. They are not focused on trying to grab enlightenment. The path is gentler and much slower. And it comes with a good understanding of what lay people can do in their daily lives.

I'm sure something I said was incorrect, because I'm still very new to Buddhism. Please feel free to correct any errors in the comments.

Buddhism and Me

I recently attended the World Buddhist Women’s convention in San Francisco. I’ve been processing a lot of what inspired me at the conference by writing about it. I realized that I hadn’t really spoke about my relationship with Buddhism on this blog. And honestly, I think I’ve been avoiding mentioning it. The reasoning was two fold. First, I don’t feel like a qualified person to discuss it since I’m actually fairly new to the practice and teaching of Buddhism. And Secondly, I wanted to make the life advice in this blog accessible to everyone and to not scare off anyone by getting too deep into Buddhist philosophy.

But I realize I was being disingenuous. All the ideas I’m discussing, struggling with, and exploring come from my continued practice and experimentation in Buddhism. Shying away from that fact, or obscuring it, isn’t helpful to anyone. So I’m going to be more open about the Buddhist-y things I’m doing and learning. I will still strive to connect things outside of Buddhist Philosophy and explain things so that you don’t need to be an expert in Buddhist scripture to understand what I’m trying to say.

Stress Dreams

The last few nights, I've had stress deeams. I don't call them nightmares, I call them stress dreams, because they are always about stress not fear. In general when I have them they tend to follow the same structure. I see something bad happening, I jump up to try to stop the bad thing from happening, everyone around me either actively gets in my way or begrugenly helps, but no one seems to have the same urgency as I do. They are never about real world events, always something crazy: managing a nuclear plant all alone when the volcano next door erupts. But when I wake up I'm always a combination of stressed and relieved at how silly the dream was.

It's been a few days in a row of waking up thinking my teeth had started falling out, or my bestie was mad at me because she suspected I slept with her boyfriend I'm exhausted. I know I'm having these dreams because my current situation is giving me a lot of stress, but having that stress seep into my dreams is making it harder to deal with it during the day. At a certain point you realized that the environment is toxic and you have to remove yourself. Now if only I could find a way…

Practice

Sometimes I can’t seem to break out of my mental spinning. I will get trapped in the endless intrusive thoughts. I’ll get so spun up that I can’t seem to break out of my own mind. Sometimes I’ll find I’ve started crying. Recently I’ve been trying to use Zen thought and breathing focused meditation to try to keep my mind in the moment, in the present, and stop spinning in the past and future.

Spinning in the future is anxiety for a world that doesn’t exist. Spinning in the past is depression over things you have no control over. Your life is in the present. Your whole life is only right now.

Now I just need to practice.

July 31 - 1 Year

Tomorrow is one year since I started this “rambling” section of this website. The intent was to create a space for me to develop ideas and record what I was thinking about more regularly than my formal blog area. This area is a literal brain dump on various topics ad hoc and thrown together with no real editing and no real plan. I've also taken a large hiatus from all things as I've dealt with work overload and personal health stress.

With all those caveats, I actually think workshoping my ideas and taking through what I'm thinking about without worrying too much about grammar is something that I enjoy and something that I really need to do regularly for my mental health. My goal is to spend more time this next year focusing on my own growth. I hope that will translate into more consistent posts here.

Since I've wrapped a year here, the format of the post titles is going to change slightly, but the content will be just as poorly edited and stream of consciousness and ever. Here's to another year around the sun.

Are you enjoying what is essentially a journal? What topics do you want to read about?

July 30 - Cutting Back on Social Media

I have tried to cut back on my social media usage recently. I feel like I can't totally stop because so much of my connections to my friends are wrapped up in Facebook and Instagram, but I've found that the more time I spend scrolling, the worse I feel about my life and myself. So here are a few of the things I've done to try to cut back on my social media usage:

  1. Delete the Apps

    The first thing I did was make it difficult to just open Facebook and scroll. So I removed the app from my background. But that wasn't enough, because my phone would pop up my last used apps to the top. So I deleted the app off my phone. But, like I said, I still need to check it, so I'm logged into Facebook in a browser window on my phone. That way, I can access it if I need to, but it takes three clicks instead of one. This has really helped me not mindlessly go to Facebook. It's amazing how just a few more motions give me enough time to catch myself.

  2. Unfollow Almost Everything

    Next, I made Facebook boring. I unfollowed essentially everything. I didn't remove any of my friends, but I just opted to not get all their updates all the time. So I'm still there, and I get notifications when things relate to me, but when I open up Facebook, there isn't really anything going on. This has kept me from lingering, even when I do manage to click all the way into Facebook through the browser.

  3. Prominently place Kindle App

    Finally, I started reading a lot more e-books. I put the Kindle app prominently on my home screen, and when I'm bored waiting for a bus and I want to scroll, I open up the Kindle app and read instead. This action did two things. Firstly, I'm not spending as much time mindlessly scrolling through social media and feeling bad about myself. And secondly, I'm learning and growing.

Have you cut back on socal media? What tricks have you done?

July 28 - Keep Moving

It's often hard to see a path forward. The last few months I've been really struggling to figure out where I am going, who I want to be, and what I'm doing with my life. I have been especially worried that I'm litterally wasting away. That my every day is a repetitive, empty set of actions that is leading me nowhere. That I'm already dead.

Recently I've really dove head first into Buddhist practice. At this point, I'm trying to just be here right now. We shall see.

April 17 - Long Time, No See

Finally convincing myself to log back in.

I’m finally at a point where the guilt and anxiety about how long I’ve been gone is manageable, and I can log back in an start trying again.

I really do enjoy writing. This space lets me workshop ideas and contemplate deep thoughts. It helps me play with and explore my beliefs, even the ones I might not realize I have. So I’m going to try to be back more regularly again.

This space makes me happy. This space brings me joy. This space is a comfort.

January 23 - Struggling

The last few days have been a struggle. I know that, generally, when you hear the word struggle, you automatically think about obstacles or setbacks. But I'm taking about emotional or psychological struggles. I find these harder to deal with because with an external struggle, I can pull myself up and start making a plan on what to do next. I can keep going, I can change course, I can make changes. With emotional struggles, I often get overwhelmed. I just feel bad, and no amount of boot strap pulling is going to get me out of this. In fact I've found that the guilt and shame my brain starts pumping out makes the situation worse. 

Me: I'm struggling so, I can't even get out of bed. 

Brain: You're lazy and bad. Just get up!!!

Me: * doesn't get up* 

Repeat and scene. 

January 16 - Prioritize People

I was asked what I was planning on doing differently this year to make it successful. I'm doing even more than I was doing during my Year of Discipline, but this year I've dedicated myself to supporting my relationships. Essentially, I'm making time and prioritizing the people in my life over my obligations.

I'm a little worried that I'm going to burnout this year. We'll just have to see. So far I've done more and felt more connected to the people in my life. Simply put, the answer to the question is I'm putting people over things.

January 11 - Goodbye Cup

When I started down this path of choosing my Core Values, the second one I picked was "Impermanence". I thought about how I really needed to work on letting thing change and go. How I clinged so much to a reality that will always be in flux. The next day after I officially picked Impermanence, my favorite pint glass, a gift from my best friend, shattered. It was all my fault. It was the universe showing my what is had committed to, letting go of things. 

My favorite glass was part of set of pint glasses. Yesterday, the last of the set broke. It's just an interesting closure. Got me thinking about the past. When I broke the first one, I was really sad. My partner offered to try to fix it, but it was broken into far too many little pieces. It was hard to let go. Yesterday, when I was informed that the last glass had broken, I was sad too, but it was more a sense of remeniscent, a quick thought about all the time I enjoyed the glasses, not just the one that broke, but the whole set. And then I moved on.

I took a step back where I realized how much less painful the loss of the last cup was. In the last few years I have improved in my value of Impermanence. And that's something to celebrate. So, Goodbye Cup. Thank you for all the fun we had. Thank you for being there for me for so long. Thank you for helping me see my improvements. Goodbye Cup. 

January 9 - Legacy

Legacy is a strange concept. I believe it comes from our inate fear of death. I believe we look for how we will be remembered to ensure we will not be forgotten. If that's the definition, I don't think I have a legacy, because nothing I affect will last. 

The solar pv projects I design need to be replaced in 20-30 year's. I will probably out live them. The words on this site will disappear as soon as the address expires. And I will eventually die. 

I do have a dream of a building a charitable foundation and giving money to young minority people who want to go into STEM fields.  But currently that's my pipe dream. My hope is that will be my Legacy... Someday.

January 7 - My New Day

Today is the first day of the quarter. I am excited, but like always I've overcommitted myself and my new average day is a little crazy.

I'm still starting my day with writing. Just a quick 30 minute brain dump. Then I'm getting up to make lunches and to get ready. After I get that all together, I'm running to my office on campus. It's only about 3 miles away, so that helps my get my daily run in. I stashed a change of clothes and my work stuff on campus last night.  

I'm planning to put a couple hours of work in before I head to a class I'm taking. I then catch a bus to my day job office and work the rear of my shift there. On the days where I don't have the morning class, I leave my day job a little early to get to campus in time to teach my lab classes.

This next quarter is going to be exciting.

 

January 5 - Acceptance

Some time things seem to go wrong or not our way. This can be especially hard for me because I fixate on what went wrong and what I did wrong. One of my core values is Impermanence. It's not my core value because I've mastered it. I'm by no means free of clinging desperately to the things I can change and the things that have changed. It's my value, because I want to value it. I'm intentionally trying to improve my reaction to the thing out is my control. 

The first step to work towards Impermanence when things go wrong is simply acceptance. I have to step back, reconzie that this is the path I'm walking down now. If I try to fight it, I'll just prolong the suffering. Once you accept the path, then you can start to adapt. 

January 4 - Graditude

Gratitude is one of the most important things to do to improve your life. Just taking some time and thinking about and writing down a few things you are grateful for every day can really affect how content you are. The act of reconzining the positive things you have in your life can pull it all into focus. Most of us fixate on the negative things and that creates a world where only bad things seem to happen. But the reality is the world is what you make it. Your interpretation of what you experience are what makes you happy or sad or angry. 

I'm in no way saying that we don't need to change anything or try to make the world better. What I mean is you shape how the day to day annoyances and slights are interpreted. You decide on how you are going to react. Choose gratitude. Choose contentment. 

January 3 - Negativity

Negativity is all around us. From the people who honk at intersections to the co-worker that won’t stop complaining about their work load. We have to put up with angry, bitter, or just sad people all the time. If you are anything like me, it’s not even the external negativity that is the problem. It’s the internal voices and intrusive thoughts that can be overwhelming.

My intrusive thoughts and negativity is something that I struggle with everyday. I have a few methods of coping, but honestly, sometimes they are not enough.

  1. Cuddling/Physical Contact - Just having someone hold me tight when I’m not doing great usually helps, but that’s not really an option all the time.

  2. Music - Especially late at night, I’ll put in earphones and try to drown out the voices with music or podcasts.

  3. Movement - Going for a walk or run, deep stretching, or an exercise class, just getting my blood moving and stop being physically stagnant can push the intrusive thoughts along.

December 28 - Preparing for New Year

Every year, I throw a large party at my home. I essentially invite everyone I know over and serve food from sunrise to evening. Leading up to the new year, I spend all my available time preparing food and cleaning my house. When I talk about my New Years philosophy, many people seem to really like it.

 Essentially, you should start the year like you want the entire year to go. You should have a clean home. You should fill your home with food. You should share with the people you love. Shape your new year.