The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

14 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 1: The Three Marks and the Teaching of Not-Self (Anatta)

This episode explains several of the Buddha's first teachings: the Three Marks and the teaching of Anatta, or Not-Self. From the beginning, the Buddha's teachings featured the Three Marks, or Characteristics, of Existence: anicca (impermanence), dukkha (dissatisfactoriness), and anatta (not-self). Here I introduce the Three Characteristics and then go into the teaching of not-self in detail - what it means and doesn't mean. For example, did you know the Buddha did not teach that we have no self?

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13 – What Zen “Acceptance” and “Non-Attachment” Really Are

The practices of acceptance and non-attachment are critical to Zen and Buddhist practice, but they are easily misunderstood. It can sound like we're being asked not to care about things, or not to try to change things for the better. Fortunately, this is not what Zen means by acceptance or non-attachment, because 1) it's impossible (or psychologically and spiritually damaging) not to care, and 2) trying to change things for the better is the bodhisattva path itself!

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12 – Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 2: Spiritual Struggle, Enlightenment, Teaching, and Death

Buddhism began when Siddhartha Gautama experienced a spiritual awakening over 2,500 years ago in India, and became an “awakened one,” or Buddha. Over the course of two episodes, I tell the story of the Buddha’s life from birth to death, while carefully explaining the sources of information we have about his life - because that’s an important part of the history, too!

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11 – Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 1: Source Texts, and Birth Through Homeleaving

Buddhism began when Siddhartha Gautama experienced a spiritual awakening over 2,500 years ago in India, and became an “awakened one,” or Buddha. Over the course of two episodes, I tell the story of the Buddha’s life from birth to death, while carefully explaining the sources of information we have about his life - because that’s an important part of the history, too!

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10 – What Is “Zen Practice” Anyway?

If you've spent any time in a Zen community, or reading Zen books, you will have encountered the term “practice” countless times. Buddhist teachers throughout the centuries have told us to “practice” diligently. Students of Zen are called “practitioners” and we talk to one another about our “practice.” What Is "Zen Practice," anyway? In this episode I present three important meanings of "practice," and how you can define practice in a traditional sense (Zen teachings, methods, conventions, etc.) or an experiential sense (how you face your life right here, right now).

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9 – Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment: What Did He Realize?

According to tradition, Buddhism began with the Buddha's enlightenment. This was the spiritual awakening of one man, Siddhartha Gautama, somewhere between 528 and 445 BCE, who afterwards was called the "Buddha," or "awakened one." He then taught others what he realized, along with the methods he used to achieve that realization, and those teachings have been passed down to the present day. What exactly did Siddhartha comprehend in his enlightenment?

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8 – It-with-a-Capital-I: The Zen Version of God

Zen Buddhism is a non-theistic religious tradition. However, it's not entirely correct to say that there is no God in Zen. While we don’t conceive of, or worship, an omnipotent personification of the Divine, at the heart of our tradition is the teaching that reality itself is luminous, precious, and infused with compassion. We don’t ascribe an agenda, personality, or gender to That-Which-Is-Greater, but we long to live in harmony with It, and personally experience intimacy with It. These longings infuse our spiritual practice with meaning.

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6 – Arising of Buddhism Part 2: New Religious Developments in India Around 500 BCE

At the time of the Buddha around 500 BCE, social and economic changes had paved the way for new schools of religious thought and practice. In this episode, I talk about these new religious movements, including Buddhism - particularly, their major spiritual questions and how they answered them. This gives you a sense of how Buddhism compared to the other new religions of its time, and how the Buddha’s approach differed from those of his contemporary spiritual teachers.

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5 – Arising of Buddhism Part 1: Historical and Religious Context in India

The first episode in my “Buddhist History and Seminal Texts” series, about the historical and religious context for the beginnings of Buddhism in India around 500 BCE. I give you a brief overview of the history of civilization in India, and a sense of the dominant religious traditions of northern India from around 2000 BCE through the time of the Buddha. Then I describe the period of social and economic changes starting around 800 BCE that apparently paved the way for new schools of religious thought and practice, including Buddhism.

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4 – Zazen Part 2: How to Deal with Thinking, Stay Engaged, and Maintain a Practice

If you’ve tried zazen (or any other kind of meditation), you’ll know that even if you really want to meditate, and you fully intend to be present without agenda for the whole period of meditation, you’re still liable to get caught up in thinking – usually many, many times over the course of a meditation period. What can you do about it? In this episode, I cover how to deal with stimulus-independent thinking during meditation, how to stay engaged and energetic while doing a practice that’s essentially doing nothing, and how to maintain a zazen practice over time.

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