The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

19 – The Heart Sutra Part 1: Introduction to the Most Common Mahayana Text

The Heart Sutra is probably the best-known Buddhist text in the world. It's less than 250 words long and considered to present the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. However, its meaning – and its attraction to Buddhists – may not be immediately evident! In this episode, I first recite the Heart Sutra for you and give you a brief overview of its history to provide you with a little context. Then I start working my way through the text line by line, offering definitions of terms, explaining references, and giving you a sense of the teaching being conveyed. I'll finish the line-by-line analysis in the next episode.

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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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17 – Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 3: Buddha’s First Sermons and Students, and the Early Sangha

This is the first episode of two on the Buddha's 45-year teaching career and the establishment of the Buddhist community. I’ll talk about the Buddha’s first sermons, the enlightenment of the first disciples, the first lay students of the Buddha and how lay practice figures into early Buddhism, and the initial formation of the ordained Sangha and how they practiced on a daily basis.

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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

In this second episode on the Buddha's life, I tell the story of his spiritual struggle and search, and the circumstances around his enlightenment. Then I summarize his teaching career, and tell the story of his passing, in order to give you a sense of the arc of his entire life. In Episode 9: Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment: What Did He Realize? I go into more detail about the content of the Buddha's enlightenment, and in Episode 17: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 3: Buddha’s First Sermons and Students, and the Early Sangha I return to the subject of the Buddha's teaching career, which requires 1-2 episodes on its own.

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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. In this first episode on his life, I first explain in detail the sources of biographical information we have on the Buddha - their historicity and significance. Then I tell the story of the Buddha's life from just before his birth until he decides to leave home as a spiritual mendicant. 

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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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