The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

52 – Profound, Practical, Mutable: Dharma Transmission in Zen – Part 2

In Soto Zen Buddhism, “Dharma Transmission” is a ritual in which a qualified Zen teacher acknowledges the ability of one of their students to carry on the lineage tradition of Zen. In this episode I give you a sense of the significance of Dharma Transmission in the history and development of Chan and Zen Buddhism, and the ongoing utility of the tradition in terms of teacher authorization.

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51 – Profound, Practical, Mutable: Dharma Transmission in Zen – Part 1

In Soto Zen Buddhism, “Dharma Transmission” is a ritual in which a qualified Zen teacher acknowledges the ability of one of their students to carry on the lineage tradition of Zen. In this episode I introduce you to the practice, including a description of my own experience of it, the criteria for giving it, the great variability in how it’s viewed and used, and the sense in which it’s about  two individuals mutually recognizing awakened mind in each other.

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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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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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25 – Work as Spiritual Practice According to Dogen’s “Instructions to the Cook” – Part 1

Zen demands that we engage our everyday activities, particularly work, as spiritual practice. Few writings describe Zen work practice as well as Zen master Dogen’s “Tenzokyokun,” or “Instructions to the Tenzo” (a tenzo being the head cook in a monastery), so I’ll use this short text to frame my presentation. Although the Tenzokyokun describes the work of a specialized role within a Zen monastery, its teachings about taking care, serving others, appreciating everything, and becoming one with your work are relevant to everyone, no matter what their work or life circumstances.

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23 – How Buddhists Should Behave: Evolution of the Buddhist Precepts Part 2

In this episode, I continue with the story of the Theravadin precepts (see Part 1 for the first part of the story) - particularly how the Vinaya has affected the ordination of monks and nuns, and how lay people participate in precept practice. Then we move on to China, and I talk about how the Chinese dealt with the question of how to establish an authentic Buddhist lineage while adapting the Vinaya to China, and avoiding the trap of "hinayana" practice that Mahayana sutras warned about (was the Vinaya "hinayana" practice?). They responded by creating additional Mahayana precepts, and elaborate sets of monastic regulations.

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18 – Zen Forms (Customs and Rituals) and Why They Matter

In traditional Zen practice, we have a lot of what we call “forms.” Forms are the established ways we enact our practice with our bodies… they include the ways we move in the meditation hall, sit in the meditation posture, place our shoes outside the door, chant and offer incense, show respect for one another, eat communal meals, and enact our rituals and ceremonies. Why do we have so many forms instead of just going with the flow and letting people do things the way they want to?

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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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