The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

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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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 attention.

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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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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 – Buddhist History 5: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 3 – Early Teaching and 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 – Buddhist History 4: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 2 – Before and After Enlightenment

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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