August 25, 2018

Selected quotes from "Essays in Zen Buddhism"

Below are some quotes I found interesting from DT Suzuki's book "Essays in Zen Buddhism". I'm not sure if I necessarily agree with all of what is said, but it's certainly a book that makes you think about what's truly important in life. Why do we beat ourselves up, comparing this and that, thinking that the momentary glee from more money and status are worth something long-term. What am I chasing after? And has it been right beside me all along?



---
The reason why the Buddha so frequently refused to answer metaphysical problems was partly due to his conviction that the ultimate truth was to be realized in oneself through one's own effects; for all that could be gained through discursive understanding was the surface of things and not things themselves, conceptual knowledge never gave full satisfaction to one's religious yearning. p61

This is why the Lankavatara-Sutra tries so hard to tell us that language is altogether inadequate as the means of expressing and communicating the inner state of Enlightenment. While without language we may fare worse at least in our practical life, we must guard ourselves most deliberately against our trusting it too much beyond its legitimate office. The Sutra gives the main reason for this, which is that language is the product of causal dependence, subject to change, unsteady, mutually conditioned, and base on false judgment as to the true nature of consciousness. For this reason language cannot reveal to us the ultimate signification of things. p72

"That does he know, and he knows also other things far beyond, far better than those speculations; and having that knowledge he is not puffed up; and thus untarnished he has, in his own heart, realized the way of escape from them, has understood, as really they are, the rising up and passing away of sensations, their sweet taste, their danger, how they cannot be relied on, and not grasping after any of those things men are eager for, he the Tathagata is quite set free." p134.

If the Buddha could be said to have had any system of thought governing the whole trend of his teaching, it was what we may call radical empiricism. By this I mean that he took life and the world as they were and did not try to read them according to his own interpretation. Theorist may say this is impossible, what we call an objective world is really a reconstruction of our innate ideas. Epistemologically this may be so, but spiritually a state of perfect freedom is obtained only when all our egoistic thoughts are not read into life and the world is accepted as it is as a mirror reflects a flower as flower and the moon as moon. p140.

Without a serene, pure, and firm heart, the truth can never be grasped as it really is. A keen, penetrating intellect may know of the truth and discourse about it, but as to its realization in life a disciplined mind is required. p141.

It may not be altogether out of place here to make a few remarks concerning the popular view which identifies the philosophy of Schopenhauer with Buddhism. According to this view, the Buddha is supposed to have taught the negative of the will to live, which was insisted upon by the German pessimist, but nothin is further from the correct understanding of Buddhism than this negativism. The Buddha does not consider the will blind, irrational, and therefore to be denied; what he really denies is the notion of ego-entity due to Ignorance, from which notion come craving, attachment to things impermanent, and the giving way to egoistic impulses. p157.

As long as the dualistic conception is maintained in regard to the liberation of the soul, there will be no real freedom as is truly declared by the Buddha. 'The abandonment of everything' means the transcending of the dualism of soul and body, of subject and object, of that which knows and that which is known, of 'it is' and 'it is not', of soul and soul-lessness; and this transcending is not attained by merely negating the soul or the will, but by throwing light upon its nature, by realizing it as it is in itself. This is the act of the will. An intellectual contemplation which is advocated by the Samkhya philosophers does not lead one to spiritual freedom, but to the realm of passivity which is their 'realm of nothingness'. Buddhism teaches freedom and not annihilation, it advocated spiritual discipline and not mental torpor or emptiness. p159.

Men of the world, in eternal confusion, are attached everywhere to one thing or another, which is called seeking. The wise, however, understand the truth and are not like the vulgar. Their minds abide serenely in the uncreated while the body turns about in accordance with the law of causation. All things are empty and there is nothing desirable and to be sought after. Wherever there is the merit of brightness there follows the demerit of darkness. This triple world where one stays too long is like a house on fire; all that has a body suffers, and who would ever know what is rest? p182.

'Shadow follows a body and echo rises from a sounds. He who in pursuit of the shadow tires out of the body, does not know that the body produces the shadow; and he who attempts to stop an echo by raising his voice, does not understand that the voice is the cause of the echo. [In a similar way] he who seeks Nirvana by cutting desires and passions is to be likened to one who seeks a shadow apart from its original body; and he who aspires to Buddhahood thinking it to be independent of the nature of sentient beings is to be likened to one who tried to listen to an echo by deadening its original sound. Therefore, the ignorant and the enlightened are walking in one passageway; the vulgar and the wise are not be differentiated from each other. Where there are no names, we create names, and because of these names judgments are formed. Where there is no theorizing, we theorize, and because of this theorizing, disputes arise. They are all phantom creations and not realities, and who knows who is right and who is wrong? They are all empty, no substantialities have they, and who knows what is and what is not? So we realize that our gain is not real gain and our loss not real loss.' p194.

People often imagine that the discipline of Zen is to induce a state of self-suggestion through medication. This is not quite right. As we can see from the various instances above cites, satori does not consist in producing a certain premeditated condition by intensely thinking of it. It is the growing conscious of a new power in the mind, which enabled it to judge things from a new point of view. Ever since the unfoldment of consciousness we have been led to respond to the inner and outer conditions in certain conceptual and analytical manner. The discipline of Zen consists in upsetting this artificially constructed framework once for all and in remodeling it on an entirely new basis. The older frame is called 'Ignorance' and the new one 'Enlightenment'. It is evident therefore that meditating on a metaphysical or symbolical statement which is a product of our relative consciousness plays no part in Zen... p260.

When life becomes more enjoyable and its expanse is as broad as the universe itself, there must be something in satori quite healthy and worth one's striving after its attainment. p265.

Therefore, when he was asked by a monk, 'What is my self?' he at once replied, 'What would you do with a self?' When this is intellectually analysed, he means that when we begin to talk about self we immediately and inevitably establish the dualism of self and not-self, thus falling into errors of intellectualism. We are in the water -- this is the fact, and let use remain so, Zen would say, for when we begin to beg for water we put ourselves in an external relation to it and what has hitherto been our own will be taken away from us. p293

Life delineates itself on the canvas called time; and time never repeats: once gone, forever gone; and so is an act: once done, it is never undone. Life is a sumiye-painting, which must be executed once and for all time and without hesitation, without intellection, and no corrections are permissible or possible. Life is not like an oil-painting, which can be rubbed out and done over time and again until the artist is satisfied. With a sumiye-painting, any brush stroke painted over a second time results in a smudge; the life has left it. All corrections show when the ink dries. So is life. p300.

The idea of direct method appealed to by the masters is to get hold of this fleeting life as it flees and nor after it has flown. While it is fleeing, there is no time to recall memory or to build ideas. No reasoning avails here. Language may be used, but this has been associated too long with ideation, and has lost directness or being by itself. As soon as words are used, they express meaning, reasoning; they represent something not belonging to themselves; they have no direct connection with life, except being a faint echo or image of something that is no longer here. p300.

The direct method is thus not always the violent assertion of life-force, but a gentle movement of the body, the responding to a call, the listening to a murmuring stream, or to a singing bird, or any of our most ordinary everyday assertions of life. p301.

As some Zen masters remarked, Zen is our 'ordinary mindedness'; that is to say, there is in Zen nothing supernatural or unusual or highly speculative that transcends our everyday life. When you feel sleepy, you retire; when you are hungry, you eat, just as much as the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, taking 'no thought for our life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; not yet for your body, what ye shall put on'. This is the spirit of Zen. p302.

At all the Meditation Halls work is thus considered a vital element in the life of a monk. It is altogether a practical one, and chiefly consists in manual labour, such as sweeping, cleaning, cooking, fuel-gathering, tilling the farm, or going about begging in the villages far and near. No work is considered beneath their dignity, and a perfect feeling of brotherhood and democracy prevails among them. However hard, or mean from the ordinary point of view, a work may be, they will not shun it. They believe in the sanctity of manual labour. They keep themselves busy in every way they can... p315.

The aim of Zen discipline is to attain to the state of 'non-attainment' as is technically expressed. All knowledge is an acquisition and accumulation, whereas Zen proposes to deprive one of all one's possessions. The spirit is to make one poor and humble -- thoroughly cleansed of inner impurities. Learning, on the contrary, makes one rich and arrogant. Because learning is earning, the more learned, the richer, and therefore 'in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow'. p351.




August 10, 2018

After a long flight

Hi there! I recently got to spend a month in my childhood hometown on the other side of the world. During my time there, I re-visited the courtyard housing unit where I grew up and the pre-school where I used to run around in. I grew up in a place without air conditioning for a long time, poor plumbing, and dirty sidewalks littered with trash. At the same time, I grew up with the freshest local fruit on the table after dinner, nighttime walks through the lit-up street markets, and a home filled with love and kindness.

And as I learn more about the ever-changing world I'm living in now, I realize there's never enough love and kindness to go around. Kindness towards ourselves, kindness towards others, and even kindness toward our earth. We grip so tightly onto material desires and markers of rank, that I think we're pushed into a tangled darkness of our own making. Stress, complaining, and always trying to fight -- against those who've wronged us and against our own bodily limitations -- we push away our own ability to love and heal ourselves.

These are the sort of thoughts I've been thinking of. Maybe I am too sensitive and take negative energy too personally. However, I think the world could be a better place to live in with a little more forgiveness and love.

June 28, 2018

A quiet end of June

Been a while since my last post! Third year has come and gone, and I have never been more happy to see it passing. There were many times this year where I felt like a robot, going through the motions of getting up, working, studying, going to sleep, without any time to think about leisure or working on my hobbies. I'm hoping to spend some more time next year savoring time for myself again.

On reflection, here are a couple things I did do though:

Shows:
- Fight My Way! (k-drama)
- Chicago Typewriter (k-drama)
- Mrs. Maisel (comedy series)
- Ali Wong's Hard Knock Wife (comedy)
- Sweet Bean (movie)
- In This Corner of the World (movie)
- Yotsuiro Biyori (slice-of-life anime)
- Hamilton (live! with Wayne Brady as Aaron Burr!!)

Books:
- Essays in Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki

Places:
- Daniel Boone National Forest!

This year's been hard in so many senses. I didn't always get the grades I hoped for, I offended some patients, I had trouble keeping in touch with friends and family, I gained weight from stress-eating and sitting around studying, and on and on. On the other hand, I've grown more as a person. I can handle more stress than I ever thought possible with minimal anxiety, I have become more forgiving of my own mistakes and learned how to recognize and work on my weaknesses, I have made so many patients smile, and I have given my best in almost every situation.

I certainly wish I could be better at carving out time for hobbies sometimes, but in the end, I'm pretty happy with how things have turned out. As I'm preparing materials for my residency application and thinking about the future, I realize I'm never going to not be busy and probably never going to not be under some stress, as long as I'm on this career path.

In the past few years of my life, I've picked something to hone in myself usually around the beginning of a new year, or during times of big transitions. Last year was becoming more forgiving of myself. The year before that was becoming more peaceful. Prior years have included becoming more efficient, more graceful (until I realized I'm graceful in my own way), and even included "having more opinions" (which I'm now okay with not having too many of them - better to be able to see both sides of the story than not). As you might see, the topics I pick are more like reflecting touchstones for thinking about questions like "what does being peaceful mean to me? why is peace important?" rather than strict goals.

So I think for my last year of medical school, I want to focus on developing who I am outside of medicine. Is there a nice, compressed word that encompasses that theme? Or can I call it "exploring beyond workaholicism", "embracing my weirdness", or "fighting for my right to be super quirky!"?

Sometimes, I feel like an empty shell when there's no work to do. I'm directionless and more often than not, a little cranky too. I'd like to fill that space with things I used to love like.... composting!! And knowing that my food waste will help grow tiny little plants into big plants! And visiting gardens, writing poems, allowing myself to be a little squirrel-y again, and so on. Maybe the word I'm looking for is just what's 'fun' again?





February 12, 2018

Having a relationship in medical school

Valentine's day is almost here, which I almost forgot about until our medical school sent out its monthly mental health newsletter. This month, its featured article was about falling in love, not with a person, but with medical school. What.

I've seen medical schools take sides in this 'maintaining personal relationships' issue. During a visit to one medical school, the dean promptly said "There is no time for relationships during medical school. And don't get married during medical school." Another school said, we understand that while medical school is rigorous, it certainly shouldn't be all-consuming. We want you to have support and live your life while in medical school.

I wish that our newsletter presented two sides of the relationship story too. Sharing with our class an article about focusing on medical school as your 'one true love' right before a day celebrating romantic relationships is sorta weird and gives me all sorts of unhealthy vibes. I guess it truly depends on your definition of what's unhealthy. I value family and my partner first, not the medical school community, and would go crazy trying to socialize with classmates outside of school. Then again, I'm a rather introverted person, and we're in the minority in the world and especially in medical school.

Basically, though, the author was right in the sense that you can't do everything in medical school. You can't balance schoolwork, maintain a social life, be optimally healthy, and maintain a relationship without something messing up sometimes or sacrificing a huge chunk of one of them.

February 9, 2018

What I've been reading

Re:sound
- #243 The Finally! Show
ASMR cooking

http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html
While there are days that I question whether I should have gone into medicine, I am grateful of how much this career has taught me about impartiality and test of remaining neutral in the face of disagreeableness - whether that be of treating a patient with different (and vocal) political viewpoints or treating a patient who has just soiled herself, urine splashing onto your shoes as well, and having to quickly dismiss my own visceral disgust in the face of human-ness.

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/mar/21/syrias-disappeared-the-case-against-assad-channel-4

The Minimalists movie
In Defense of Food movie
vs. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170606135754.htm
I left H alone this week to do the grocery shopping and he came back with Costco-sized amounts of canned tuna and white bread and 4 frozen cheese pizzas. (Along with cucumbers, spinach, and tomatoes) - food in moderation!

^pre-New Year's Eve
=====

Post-New Year's Eve

I've been keeping myself busy, busy, and busy! Just how I like to be -- learning new things every day and getting to practice how to care for patients.

Here's a list of animated movies I love and hope to re-watch soon:
1) Paprika
2) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
3) Summer Games
4) Kubo and the Two Strings
5) Wolf Children
6) Anything Studio Ghibli

I'm planning to watch The Boy and The Beast, also directed by Mamoru Hosoda who directed movies number 2, 3, and 5. Not to mention Digimon: The Movie, which was one of my favorite childhood movies ever!! That smooth animation, those colors, the action scenes. =^.^=

On the anime TV shows front, I am excited to hear that Aggretsuko is coming to Netflix!
http://comicbook.com/anime/2018/02/06/sanrio-aggretsuko-netflix-anime-first-look/

Other artists I love
1) https://www.instagram.com/hasya31/
2) https://www.instagram.com/jaredmuralt/
3) https://www.instagram.com/joyjoyang/ AND HER CAT!
4) https://www.instagram.com/samuelyounart/
5) https://www.instagram.com/makiko_j/
6) https://www.instagram.com/baotpham/
7) https://www.instagram.com/minortismay/
8) John Singer Sargent
9) A. J. Casson
10) Jeon JongUk
11) Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
12) Walter Everett
13) And a 19th century architecture illustrator that I cannot find the name of at this moment. It'll come up on my Tumblr sometime, I'm sure...

The snow has been coming down heavy. It remind me of Netter's classic picture for stable angina - middle-aged man clutching his chest in the wintery cold, gusts of snow blowing by as this coronary arteries vasoconstrict, oh no! A reminder to eat a heart-healthy diet!

Stay warm and safe to all those facing terrible weather. :)




October 7, 2017

Comparing yourself to others


Looking at the heavy-hitters in the medical field never fails to spark in me both a sense of admiration and of dread. Physicians who take time to teach the general public about medicine (Atul Gawande); physicians who devote their lives to the raising up communities (Paul Farmer); physicians who make the most out of their dual degrees (Anoop Raman, see article below). [For some reason, I'm unable to summon up a female physician's name. Whether this is due to my limited knowledge or some deeper challenge that women face, I don't know.]

Hearing their accomplishments makes me reflect on my own and I feel that I pale in comparison. My heart beats a little faster and I imagine that stomach drops an inch or two - anxiety starts to gnaw away at me. My brain starts to list out my every failure and a vicious cycle of feeling sorry for myself begins. A voice inside me says, "I don't work hard enough, I don't care for others enough, and I am certainly not smart enough!". I've been working on squelching this voice through journaling and mindfulness techniques, but I haven't faced it head on.

Because my current rotation is psychiatry, my concerns about comparing myself have been at the forefront of my mind. I recently learned about cognitive-behavior therapy, a technique for addressing distorted thoughts about yourself and breaking the vicious cycle of negativity. It's not enough to simply say to yourself, "Stop it! Stop comparing yourself with others." If this was the case, therapists and doctors could cure everyone within a month or two. "Stop deluding yourself!", "Stop late-night snacking!" And they'd probably stop wars too.

Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is based on a trifecta of thoughts, actions, and emotions. One way of looking at how it works is that our negative thoughts leads to actions (or poor behaviors) that reinforce our emotions of feeling bad about ourselves. CBT, combined often with pharmacotherapy, has been shown to have great success in treating those with anxiety disorders, a group of conditions that include OCD, social anxiety, and PTSD. Here are the general (and very logical) steps involved:

Step 1. Identify and challenge problematic thoughts and beliefs
Step 2. Create pleasant activities that challenge problematic beliefs, like calling a friend for someone who believes no one likes them
Step 3. Extended exposure to anxiety-eliciting stimuli to decrease our panic response

While I'm on this relevant rotation, I'll be trying out some self-CBT in order to work on my bad habit of comparing myself with others. In my last rotation, family medicine taught me about motivational interviewing, a technique for building up motivation in patients to change their habits for the better. By working on both these techniques, I hope that I'll be better at encouraging patients to take good care of themselves!


Few things I've been reading:

http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/05/family-medicine-choice.html

https://tinybuddha.com/blog/5-tips-to-stop-making-comparisons-and-feeling-bad-about-yourself/

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/1101/p807.html "Common Questions About Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Psychiatric Disorders"
*Note that it's likely that psychiatric disorders or mental illness is really a spectrum. There's no clear black or white status of yes, you're mentally ill vs. no, you're just maladjusted. We all have positive things to gain about becoming self-aware of our mental health. :)

September 30, 2017

What I've been reading

Hi, quick and messy message as I fly by the blogosphere. I've finished up my family med rotation and my thoughts have been trending more and more toward doing a family medicine residency, and less and less toward specializing. By becoming a family med doc, I'd be doing the type of medicine physicians centuries ago only wished they could do. There's so much information out there, so much new medicine and technology, that it's exciting to be someone that can synthesize all of that for patients.

1. https://orionmagazine.org/article/forget-shorter-showers/
True true, we humans make minor impact on day-to-day basis but we should still strive to be minimally impactful on our world's resources.

2. https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-promise-and-potential-of-fan-fiction
Woo!

3. http://mentalfloss.com/article/79912/15-writers-who-were-also-medical-doctors
I have this funny dream that one day I can publish a book of poems, so that led me down the Google rabbit-hole of checking who else balances writing and being a physician. Turns out, it's men for the most part.

4. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/11/nawal-el-saadawi-interview-do-you-feel-you-are-liberated-not
Which led to me to read this.

5. https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahallam/a-foreign-policy-expert-says-calling-out-trumps-hate-speech?utm_term=.gv54WXAvJ#.pwA92nEKV
The actions of our President continue to astound and shock me, and it seems to have placed many good folks in politics in tough situations.

6. 99% invisible
- El Gordo: expensive lottery tickets lead to whole towns being lifted economically upward, neat!

7. NYT The Daily
- Friday, Sept. 29, 2017: pleading insanity for murder and mental health stigma

8. This American Life - story on Proudboys

9. Finished Rumi and Slice of Life :) Going to try working on my speedreading because I am feeling that FOMO on missing out on knowledge!