Scholar Daniel Cozort studied and taught Buddhism for years, however he actually discovered what the dharma meant when he wanted it most. He shares how Buddhist teachings saved him, and the way they may also help us too when life will get tough.
This summer time, I noticed the tenth anniversary of a life-changing occasion. In July 2011 I used to be struck head-on by a automobile as I used to be using my bicycle on a rustic street in Pennsylvania. A helicopter took me to Hershey, the place surgeons repaired and strengthened my backbone. However the accident made me a paraplegic, unable to really feel or use my legs.
After three and a half months in hospitals and nursing houses, I started a brand new life from a wheelchair. My ache, now power, was barely tamped down by an anti-seizure medicine that additionally works on neuropathy. An condo tailored for a handicapped particular person, a modified minivan that I might drive with hand controls, and modifications to my workplace and the constructing that housed it enabled me to return to work as a professor of spiritual research specializing in Buddhism.
Many individuals remarked on my resiliency and lack of self-pity throughout these tough months, as if it was one thing uncommon. I don’t know whether or not that was true, however I believe I do know the supply of my energy: the holy buddhadharma, which for forty-five years has been my touchstone.
I name the buddhadharma “holy” as a result of I do know from my very own expertise that it saved me, and continues to avoid wasting me. Nearly a half-century of absorbing dharma teachings from Tibetans and others, and a few years of educating undergraduate college students and typically older adults, ingrained in me methods of considering and performing that emerged once I wanted them most.
Whereas nonetheless hospitalized I used to be visited by a psychiatrist (on the instigation of a good friend who felt I used to be not reacting usually to my scenario). He requested me whether or not I used to be indignant or unhappy.
Was I indignant? I assumed in regards to the girl who had struck me. I assumed she made an error of inattentiveness or poor judgment. However what number of occasions had I pushed with lapses of consideration, or rushing, or worse? She too was within the accident, and I had little doubt it was onerous on her. I mirrored on the Buddha’s most basic educating—that every one issues are impermanent and that the modifications we expertise are the results of the coalescence of causes and circumstances. Stuff occurs if you end up within the fallacious place on the fallacious time. No, I wasn’t indignant.
Was I unhappy? I considered how fortunate I used to be to have survived in any respect. I felt lucky to have been in a position to reside with my full bodily capability for fifty-seven years, longer than many human beings have in a whole lifespan. I used to be particularly grateful to not have mind harm. On daily basis I noticed guys within the “gymnasium”—the remedy room—who have been in bike accidents with out helmets. Though they may stroll, and I couldn’t, it was clear from the best way they stared and drooled that their lives have been successfully over. I mirrored on the dharma educating in regards to the fragility of life, its inevitable finish, and the marvel of a human life blessed with luck and alternatives. No, I wasn’t unhappy.
However I admitted to the psychiatrist that my hospitalization was deeply humbling. I used to be helpless to regulate my bowels or urination. I needed to be rolled to show over. I needed to be lifted into mattress. Within the nursing house, I used to be simply one other hunched determine in a wheelchair, ready to be taken to remedy or to be bathed or have his mattress modified. The ache, and drugs to regulate it, have been exhausting.
I instructed the psychiatrist that my delight had taken successful, however that I felt that I wanted it. As a tenured school professor, I used to be an excessive amount of in an ivory tower, an excessive amount of my very own boss, residing and dealing in a privileged setting. I had been delivered to earth with a wealthy weight-reduction plan of humble.
The psychiatrist left, and I didn’t see him once more. However I continued to consider the questions he’d posed. On the time, I used to be in a sort of existential trough: I used to be separated from my spouse, my kids have been having issues, and I used to be not sure of my future skilled route. The accident shook me like a rag doll and requested me onerous questions: What do you actually imagine? What do you worth? What sort of life do you wish to reside?
I grew to become deeply skeptical of faith as a youngster. In school I grew to become serious about Buddhism, however I took an instructional strategy in order that I might proceed to carry it at arm’s size, with out full dedication. As a important pupil of the Buddhist teachings, I attempted my finest to seek out fault with them. However once I started graduate research on the College of Virginia, my mentor was Jeffrey Hopkins, who taught me the subtle Gelukpa tackle vacancy and dependent arising. It hooked me, as a result of I felt it instructed the reality. It was just like the Western existentialism I’d come to embrace, however with out its angst. Nonetheless, my understanding was mental, not existential.
Then I started to fulfill the lamas. At UVA there was virtually all the time an important Tibetan scholar in residence. I used to be deeply moved by the intelligence and kindness of those males, who regardless of having misplaced their nation and being destitute have been all the time laughing and speaking about compassion for others. I went to India for my dissertation analysis and was lucky sufficient to have periods in Dharamsala with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to ask questions on it. I used to be touched by his down-to-earth humanity and his heat, however most of all by his honesty. He exemplified the Buddhist custom of eschewing dogma in pursuit of the reality, even when means abandoning myths and rituals of lengthy standing. My skepticism started to recede.
Nonetheless, I’d by no means been within the sort of deep hassle I used to be in now, the place the lama’s teachings can be put to the check. I knew “the whole lot is impermanent” in a normal method and had thought I used to be accepting my very own modifications as I aged. However my radical transformation right into a paraplegic confirmed me that I might not grasp on to my self-image of “Strolling Dan,” who favored to climb mountains and swim within the sea. Certainly one of my favourite sayings of the Buddha is, “Contentment is the best wealth.” I knew that I might solely trigger myself extra anguish if I have been to disclaim impermanence. My solely path to serenity was to simply accept and modify to my new actuality.
My best impediment was ache, my near-constant companion. It degraded the standard of my life way over the lack of mobility. I recalled one thing the Dalai Lama has usually mentioned: “Ache is inevitable; struggling is elective.” As I perceive this, ache—bodily or psychological—is sensation. How it’s interpreted and dealt with is a matter of notion, which is at the least partly beneath our management. Therefore, ache doesn’t essentially grow to be struggling.
In saying this, His Holiness was drawing on the knowledge of the eighth-century Mahayana poet and instructor Shantideva. In The Bodhisattva’s Means of Life (Bodhicaryavatara) he suggested three methods for stopping the feeling of ache from turning into the notion of struggling.
The primary technique is just to watch out about how we label our expertise. If one thing shouldn’t be very painful and of restricted period, we’re higher off paying it no heed. Or, as His Holiness says: when you can repair it, there isn’t a want to fret; when you can’t repair it, it doesn’t assist to fret. Worrying about ache serves solely to accentuate it.
The second technique is to simply accept the advantages of experiencing ache. Shantideva thought that ache would push us to hunt enlightenment, which I consider because the maturity to simply accept what occurs to us with out bitterness or nervousness. He additionally thought that ache permits us to grow to be extra compassionate. We actually can’t comprehend and enter the ache of others till now we have skilled it ourselves. And it counteracts delight, exhibiting us that we’re in the identical boat as everybody else.
The third technique is to regularly accommodate to ache. As soon as we be taught that ache or deprivation shouldn’t be as unhealthy as we feared, or that now we have better sources to bear it than we anticipated, we’re girded for extra challenges.
These strategies have been all useful. I acknowledged within the first technique one thing emphasised in Mindfulness-Based mostly Stress Discount, the coaching program devised by Jon Kabat-Zinn for individuals affected by power ache. Kabat-Zinn advises us to “put out the welcome mat” for the sensations we really feel, viewing them nonjudgmentally (i.e., not speeding to label them as “ache”).
We observe our sensations and see simply how intense they’re and whether or not, in actuality, they’re growing. After we notice that they’re bearable and that we needn’t concern them, we start to alter our baseline tolerance for ache. I’ve discovered that though once in a while I could also be seized by a wave of ache that stops me from speaking or performing, it is going to cross inside twenty seconds. I consider it as my “business break.”
In step with the second technique, recognizing that there could be advantages to experiencing struggling, I attempt to domesticate gratitude. Gratitude is a strong counter to self-pity, principally as a result of it reminds us of the interdependent internet of existence. I consider how blessed my life has been by the circumstances of my beginning and by all of the love and compassion others have proven me.
This was simple within the weeks following the accident, once I was lifted by a digital ocean of visits, calls, playing cards, letters, and acts of kindness from individuals who had recognized me in all of the far-flung locations I had ever lived. My again had been damaged, however my coronary heart was damaged open too, and their fixed infusion of affection stored me buoyant. It gave me an expertise just like the one George Bailey had in It’s a Fantastic Life—an opportunity to know, when you are nonetheless alive, that you’ve got meant one thing to others. I contrasted these blessings with the horrible conditions of many different people and animals. Like Bailey, once I mirrored on these presents, I felt like “the richest man on the town.”
I additionally perceive higher the universality of struggling. The truth that I’m in a wheelchair has inspired many individuals I’ve simply met to share their very own bodily and psychological challenges, usually recognized solely to a handful of intimates. A good friend as soon as quipped, “Everybody will get whacked. That’s a truth,” and I’ve begun to see how true that’s.
From the third technique, that of regularly accommodating to ache, I’ve tried to embrace my new actuality and use it to grow to be a greater particular person. I’ve accepted that my stamina is decrease and that I need to get extra sleep, together with naps. I do know that I can’t enter the homes of many mates and kin, could not have the ability to use a toilet in a restaurant, and can’t do many different issues I used to. I usually have bodily misery.
However I do know that indulging in feelings like self-pity, anger, or frustration is “not useful,” and I attempt to make that my mantra. I take into consideration the best way the Buddha described nonvirtues as “unskillful” slightly than “fallacious.” Most individuals wouldn’t regard it as “fallacious” to be indignant or morose, however I can see that these attitudes are as counterproductive on the emotional stage as fearing ache is counterproductive on the bodily stage.
Lastly, I’ve gained a better appreciation for the straightforward however highly effective Tibetan educating about dying: that it’s sure; it isn’t sure when it is going to occur; and when it comes, solely religious follow will assist. And as one in all my Tibetan lecturers mentioned, “The causes of dying are numerous; the causes of life, few.”
Coming near my very own dying has modified my perspective. I not count on to reside a very long time, though I hope that I can proceed to be a husband, father, grandfather, and good friend for so long as it will be useful. And I really feel otherwise about life itself. I don’t suppose that life is sacred. Life is simply life, the response of chemical substances on the cooled-off floor of a ball of molten rock to a fireball within the sky, one in all 100 billion or extra. Life is a fleeting mixture of historic parts, crackling with electrical energy till it flames out.
However can’t or not it’s candy? Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Buddhism is a intelligent strategy to reside a happier life.” In my expertise, that’s true. In a method they hadn’t beforehand, the Buddha’s fundamental teachings have grow to be my refuge.