The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

26 – Work as Spiritual Practice According to Dogen’s “Instructions to the Cook” – Part 2

This episode is part 2 of “Work as Spiritual Practice According to Dogen’s “Instructions to the Cook.” (“Instructions to the Cook” is an essay Dogen in 1237, known as the Tenzokyokun in Japanese – the head cook of the monastery is called a “tenzo.”) In the last episode, I introduced you to the concept of work practice and how it came to be so important in Zen. I also talked about the central teachings Dogen offers regarding work practice,...

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

Most people are aware that Zen involves meditation. Many are also aware – especially if they’ve spent any time practicing at a temple or Zen center – that it involves following a set of moral guidelines called the precepts. Fewer people are familiar with the way 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...

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24 – Deepen Your Zazen by Not Getting Stuck in Satisfaction or Dissatisfaction

It’s tempting, particularly in Mahayana Buddhism, to get stuck in a kind of superficial satisfaction with your zazen and practice. Of course, it’s possible to get stuck in dissatisfaction as well. In this episode I walk you through four steps to deepen your zazen by using your dissatisfaction as guide for your efforts. I also compare zazen to walking on a tightrope – the instructions are simple, but actually doing it is challenging and requires experience, effort, and...

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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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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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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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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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