It’s pretty typical to hear only one side of Buddhist history – that is, the side that focuses on what the Buddha taught, or the Dharma, and on the people who studied and practiced that Dharma. There’s a whole other side to Buddhism, present since the beginning: Devotional Practice. In this episode (Part 1 of 2) I introduce what it is, and talk about its origins in the Buddha’s own teachings – which included instructions for the creation of the first Buddhist stupas, or sacred burial mounds.
It’s natural and healthy to aspire to things like having more equanimity, being more generous, and overcoming negative habits – and, in fact, such aspiration is part of the Buddhist path. However, when we encounter aspects of ourselves that are difficult to change, we may be tempted to wage war on ourselves. This is not only counterproductive, it’s incompatible with our own aspirations. I’ll outline five steps to working on positive changes in your thoughts and behavior while ending the war with self.
In the last episode, I introduced the Four Foundations of Mindfulness as the Buddha taught them. Mindfulness means to remember something, or keep something in mind. The Four Foundations are the four categories of things you keep in mind if you want to walk the path to spiritual liberation. In this episode I talk about how the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are actually practiced, and then about how this teaching relates to Zen.
One of Buddha’s central teachings was the Four Foundations of Mindfulness – basically, how you walk the Eightfold Path to liberation. Mindfulness, or sati, means to remember or keep in mind, and the four foundations are the four things you should keep in mind (or focus on) if you want to progress on the spiritual path. In this first episode of two on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, I’ll introduce the teaching as given by the Buddha. In the next episode, I’ll reflect on actual practice of this teaching, and how all its elements are included in Zen but parsed out differently.
The Ten Oxherding pictures are a Zen teaching, but many Buddhist practitioners are familiar with the experience of trying to motivate yourself to practice without the rewards of explicit, tangible goals or markers of progress. The oxherding pictures describe – rather than prescribe – stages of practice we go through over a lifetime. They can be inspiring and encouraging as long as you don’t try too hard to evaluate which stage you’re in, or strive to get to the next stage.
This episode is the second part of a two-part series I’m calling “Western Zen Grows Up and Faces the Koan of Race.” It’s the story of my particular school, Soto Zen, in America, but even if you identify with a different type of Buddhism you may find it interesting because so many forms of Buddhism face a similar lack of racial diversity in the west – despite the diversity of our surrounding communities. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the development of western Buddhism, this is also the story of facing collective karma, and of a group questioning its collective “self-nature.”
In this episode I tell you the story of my lineage of Zen over the last 100 years or so – its birth in America, its growth, its rocky adolescence, and how it’s coming into an adulthood of sorts that gives it the strength to face the koan of race – particularly its own extreme lack of racial diversity. In the next episode, I’ll go into more detail about what’s involved in facing that koan and what a tremendous growth opportunity it is to do so, sharing with you some of the highlights from my recent priests’ conference.
This my second episode on the Sandokai, an ancient teaching poem composed by Chinese Zen master Sekito Kisen (Shitou Xiqian, 700-790). It’s recited daily in Soto Zen temples throughout the world – one of only a handful of Zen or Buddhist scriptures similarly honored. In the first episode I read the whole poem, discussed the “big deal” about absolute and relative (why Zen talks about this topic so much), and started exploring the Sandokai line by line. In this episode I finish up that exploration.
Sandokai is an ancient teaching poem composed by Chinese Zen master Sekito Kisen (Shitou Xiqian, 700-790). It’s recited daily in Soto Zen temples throughout the world. In the next two episodes I’ll explore the meaning of the Sandokai, and why it’s given such a central place in Soto Zen. In this first episode I discuss the “big deal” about absolute and relative (why Zen talks about this topic so much), read you the poem, and then explore it line by line. I only get part way through, so I finish up the exploration in the next episode.
Is Buddhism religious, spiritual, or secular? The short answer to that is all three – depending what questions you’re asking. In this episode I define religious, spiritual, and secular, and then examine how these terms apply to Buddhism – and how they don’t.
Samadhi power is about cultivating a direct, real-life experience of the nondual aspect of reality, while karma relationship is about taking care of our lives in order to reduce suffering and reflect the truth of the nondual in the midst of the relative. In this episode I focus on karma relationship – why it’s so important, what it involves, and the main Buddhist practices we do to work on our karma.
In this third episode of my series on the Four Brahmaviharas, I briefly talk about how to use them in daily practice without setting them up as unattainable ideals. Then I discuss what tends to get in the way of unlimited compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, and ways to work through those obstructions.
“Intrusive” thoughts and emotions arise repeatedly with enough intensity for them to be disturbing or distracting, even though they aren’t objectively relevant or helpful as they’re arising. In this episode I describe how to use Buddhist practice to reduce the intrusiveness of irrelevant or unhelpful thoughts and emotions by decreasing our identification with the content of our experience and increasing our identification with our natural, spacious awareness.
The goal of Buddhism, including Zen, is to awaken to what’s true, because the truth is liberating. And yet my tradition, Soto Zen, points us toward the “goal of goallessness,” telling us we’ll awaken if only we give up our desire for anything else (including achieving some “goal” called awakening). Our Soto Zen practice is just sitting, without making any effort to influence our meditative experience. In this episode I’ll [TK] explore how the “goal of goallessness” points to the fact that if we willfully try to awaken, we create duality and get in our own way. Fortunately, Zen offers us ways to awaken without trying.
From the perspective of most Buddhist lineages, including Zen, study is essential. In this episode I’ll get into why that is and present a practical way you can engage with Buddhist teachings in a fruitful, transformative way that isn’t just intellectual. Then I’ll talk about how you go about studying the teachings – where do you start, and what should you study?
If you’ve spent any time at all studying Buddhism, you’ve discovered there are lots of Buddhist teachings and texts. What should you choose to study? Where do you begin? How much do you really need to know? How should you relate to the teachings, some of which may end up seeming contradictory? In this episode I give you an overview of the Buddhist teachings as a whole, and how the authority of a given text is measured and viewed by Buddhists. In the next episode I’ll explain why it’s important to study.
In Part 2 of my series on the Four Brahmaviharas, or the Sublime Social Attitudes, I explore teachings specifically about how to cultivate Metta, or goodwill, in an unlimited or boundless way. (Which is the idea.) As we try to extend Metta to everyone, we quickly recognize our internal resistance to feeling unqualified goodwill toward many people. I discuss the recommendations of Buddhaghosa, a 5th century monk and author of the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification) regarding cultivating Metta for someone when it’s very difficult to feel it naturally.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to announce the launch of the Zen Studies Sangha. I’ve received many inquiries over the past year about how to connect with a teacher and Sangha, particularly if you live far from a Zen/Buddhist center. The Zen Studies Sangha can allow you to do just that.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people about dealing with fear, anger, and hatred as a Buddhist – our own as well that of others, especially at a time when people are so divided, and doing so much damage to one another. I discuss the Buddhist view of fear, anger, and hatred – what they are, why they arise, and why we end up acting on them even though they end up causing suffering for self and other. Then I’ll talk about the implications of these teachings to our everyday lives.
I’ve been sitting zazen for over 20 years, but only recently have I had the guts to really do shikantaza, or “just sitting,” and it feels profoundly liberating. In this kind of zazen, you utterly let go of doing anything except just sitting there. Really. I discuss why beginners are usually taught to count or follow breaths instead of do shikantaza, and why I think this is unfortunate. I also discuss the surprising results of a practice in which you don’t try to control your experience in any way.