The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

44 – The Value of Buddhist Prayer Part 2: Aid-Seeking If There’s No God

I continue our exploration of Buddhist prayer with a discussion of "aid-seeking" prayer, or prayer for a positive result. In particular, in this episode I cover the long-established traditions of Buddhist prayer for positive physical or external results, such as protection from danger, recovery from illness, or plentiful rain for crops. (In the next episode I'll talk about prayer to affect change in our own practice, experience, or behavior.)

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43 – The Value of Buddhist Prayer Part 1: Paradox of Prayer in a Nontheistic Spiritual Tradition

You might be surprised to know many Buddhists pray, given that Buddhism is fundamentally a nontheistic religion. It’s possible to be an avowed atheist and a devout Buddhist at the same time. In fact, such a Buddhist might even pray! I’ll explain more about how this works in this episode, which will be the first of two. I’ll introduce you to three basic reasons Buddhists pray, take you through the first two reasons, and then finish up next week by going into more detail about the third type of prayer.

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42 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 4: Right Speech – Factual, Helpful, Kind, Pleasant, and Timely

Right speech is an essential part of Shakyamuni Buddha’s very first teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path, his prescription for spiritual liberation and insight. This teaching can be very useful to us in daily life, and recommends we avoid lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle (unmindful) chatter. The Buddha also gave us five things to consider before speaking: Is what we're about to say factual, helpful, kind (spoken with good-will), pleasant ("endearing"), and timely?

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40 – Being Beneficial Instead of Right: The Buddhist Concept of Skillful Means

The Buddhist concept of “upaya,” skillful or expedient means, arose around the dawn of the common era – about 2,000 years ago. It emphasizes that even if we possess wisdom, when we want to share it with other beings and help them, it’s not so easy to do so. We need to be patient, creative, and compassionate so they will be able to hear, accept, and act on what we have to share.

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39 – Buddhist History 7: Indian Buddhism After the Buddha – The First 200 Years

This episode, the 7th in my sequential Buddhist History series, covers the first 200 years or so of Buddhism, beginning with the traditional account of events immediately after the Buddha’s passing. Then I describe how the ordained Sangha met to compile and codify his teachings and their code of discipline, and eventually began dividing into different sects and schools. This is a fascinating story that reflects what really mattered to early Buddhists.

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38 – The Two Sides of Practice: Samadhi Power and Karma Relationship

Buddhist practice can be seen as consisting of two sides, and both are essential. The first side is cultivating “samadhi power,” or our ability to perceive – or be awake to – the absolute aspect of reality. We do this through practices including meditation, mindfulness, and studying teachings such as impermanence and emptiness. The second side of our overall practice is working on “karma relationship,” or learning to live our daily lives in an enlightened way. We do this by working with our karma, keeping precepts, honoring relationships, and understanding how the absolute aspect of reality corresponds to the relative aspect. If we neglect either side, our practice can stagnate or go awry.

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33 – Buddhist History 6: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 4 – More Teachings and Stories

This episode finishes up my story of Shakyamuni Buddha's life. It continues with the development of the early Sangha, including the ordination of women and the establishment of a code of discipline for monastics. It also covers teachings given by the Buddha not already mentioned in earlier episodes, and some of the more dramatic and colorful stories about the Buddha and the early Buddhist community.

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32 – The Practice of Not-Knowing: Relief, Intimacy, and Ground for Effective Action

The Zen practice of "not-knowing," or "don't-know mind," is a way of honoring the absolute dimension of our lives - even as we engage in "knowing," as necessary, in the relative dimension. We center ourselves in the here-and-now, and recognize all "knowing" is ultimately an abstraction and not reality itself. It's not a cop-out; it's medicine we apply when we get attached to our opinions, caught in judgment, stressed, or overwhelmed, ironically allowing us be more responsible, responsive, compassionate, and effective.

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