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Buddhist Teachings Can Help Anyone Who Is in the Right Headspace to Receive Them

“From the standpoint of endowed trust, one should listen to the teachings as if for the first time, even though it has been heard before. People want to hear new and interesting information all the time, but no matter how often one listens to the teachings, one should hear it as if it were a rare first occasion.”  

— Rennyo Shonin

I think, in a lot of ways, I’ve taken the teachings for granted. I grew up surrounded by Buddhism, I went to church every Sunday, and when you’re bombarded with the same ideas over and over, it tends to happen that the words blur together and you start tuning things out. Or at least that’s how it went for me. The funny thing is you don’t even realize it’s happening. It wasn’t until very recently that I even understood that I was doing this.

I’ve struggled with my mental health for a great many years. A series of very unfortunate events landed me in Children’s Hospital of Orange County’s IOP or Intensive Outpatient Program, which is basically intense group therapy for several weeks. CHOC’s IOP was focused on DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Some time after I graduated, someone from the program texted me and said, “Hey did you know DBT was created by a Zen Buddhist?”

And then things started to click like the fact that we did Loving Kindness Metta meditation. When I learned that the ideas I had been getting pounded into my head for those eight weeks was Zen Buddhism, it made sense why the therapy wasn’t working for me. At the back of my brain somewhere, I had the thought that I could absorb the teachings by passively listening.  

The problem with this is twofold. One, I had heard the teachings, or at least the ones that would help me, so many times that I kind of tuned them out. Two, I wasn’t really listening.

Here's what I mean. If I heard that I should do something and I agree with that advice, but then I don’t do what I was told to, was I really listening? I don’t think so. It’s the equivalent of saying “yeah, yeah” to someone. To listen, to understand fully, would be to put into practice what you had heard.

This past year, I was hospitalized, and while I had no way of actually listening to the Dharma while I was there, I think I finally was able to solve the problems I had with listening. I stopped tuning out the Buddhist teachings I had learned in IOP which would float around mindlessly in my brain. When those thoughts came by, I would start to reflect on them and try to implement them into my life. Things like dialectical thinking. I practiced mindfulness by folding cranes and staying in the present. I would even start to chant little bits of the sutras that I had remembered because it was something familiar and comforting. I started to truly listen and view the teachings as if they were new and exciting pieces of information. When I did, life was made a little more bearable.

Buddhism, and religion as a whole, aren’t replacements for therapy or proper medication. Rather, Buddhist teachings can help anyone who is in the right headspace to receive them. But this starts with listening in earnest.


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