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.
The Buddha taught the importance of the four Brahmaviharas, or sublime attitudes: Goodwill, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. These are the emotions we should cultivate toward other beings in order establish a strong foundation for spiritual practice, and are also the best attitudes to have toward people if we want our relationships to be harmonious and beneficial. In this episode I introduce the Brahmaviharas as a whole, including how they fit within the context of other Buddhist teachings.
I share and answer three questions from listeners about practicing with mental illness. I talk about when still, silent meditation might be unhelpful and propose alternative practices, and the Buddhist take on medication for mental illness. I also give an example of how to approach a particular condition as practice, even while you receive treatment for it from mental health professionals.
This is the second of two episodes on the practice of formally making vows – typically taking refuge and precepts – and becoming a Buddhist as a lay person, in which I introduce you to two more ways of approaching lay vows in Buddhism. As promised, I’ll describe the practice at two different local Buddhist centers in my area – one Theravadin, and one Vajrayana, and wrap up by talking about what motivates people to take this step.
Many religions have initiation rituals in which adherents formally commit themselves to their tradition – baptism, confirmation, and Bar or Bat Mitzvah, for example. Buddhism has its own initiation rituals which usually involve “taking refuge” in the three treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), but beyond that vary widely. I introduce this tradition and then describe this ritual at my own Zen center. Next week I’ll describe rituals at a local Theravadin center, and a Vajrayana center.
In this episode I introduce the Buddha’s teaching of the three poisons. According to the Buddha, the root of all evil – that is, all unskillful, selfish, harmful actions of body, speech, and mind – is greed, hate, delusion, or some combination these three negative states. Taken together, these are called the “three poisons” and are our unhelpful response to things we like (greed or craving), things we don’t like (hate or aversion), and our fundamental – mistaken – belief in the inherent existence of self.
This episode is the second of two on the first part of “Bendowa,” Zen master Dogen’s “Soto Zen in a Nutshell.” I discuss two more important subjects in Bendowa: The ubiquitous and unconditioned nature of the “inconceivable dharma,” and the importance of practice in allowing us to actualize and experience it.
Zen master Dogen wrote Bendowa in 1231 to introduce his Japanese students to Soto Zen. In a sense, then, it’s “Soto Zen in a nutshell.” In this episode I introduce the text and the context in which it was written, and talk about how and why Dogen recommends zazen – seated meditation – above all other Buddhist practices. I also talk about how Soto Zen elevates zazen far above a mere method for achieving awakening to enactment of enlightenment itself.
Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion (also called Guanyin, Kannon, or Kanzeon), is hands-down the most popular of the Buddhist archetypal bodhisattvas. The many teachings and stories around Avalokiteshvara express the Buddhist view that compassion is a force unto itself; it isn’t merely a feeling or an ideal for personal conduct, it’s a reflection of universal interdependence and something that functions freely when we simply get ourselves out of the way.
You don’t need to improve one iota, change anything about yourself, or obtain anything you don’t already have, in order to fulfill the Buddha Way and directly experience the ultimate goal of Zen. This is because the nature of awakening is wonderfully ironic. It’s not about gaining or experiencing anything you don’t already have. It’s about realizing the indescribable preciousness of exactly the way things are – exactly the way you are – right here and now.
Karma may be the most widely mentioned – and misunderstood – Buddhist concept outside Buddhist circles. You might, “Well, that’s karma!” when someone more or less gets their comeuppance. This view of karma isn’t entirely off base, but Buddhist karma is subtle and complex: It’s about the state of your mind when you form an intention, perform an action, and experience the consequences, and how you can affect this process in order to avoid causing suffering for yourself and others.
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.
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.
Legends of King Aśoka, the first Buddhist emperor (3rd century BCE), have long guided and inspired Buddhists, particularly rulers. In this second episode of two, I continue the story of Aśoka’s exploits: sending missionaries to spread the Dhamma, building a large number of stupas, and sponsoring the Third Buddhist Council. I also discuss the debate about whether Aśoka championed and spread Buddhism as a religion, or kept his public life non-sectarian and used the term “Dhamma” to refer to general principles of morality and righteousness.
King Aśoka was an Indian emperor in the 3rd century BCE. According to legend, he was a devout Buddhist who explicitly and publicly governed in accord with the Dhamma, or Buddhist teachings. Aśoka has been important to Buddhists – particularly Buddhist rulers – ever since his reign. In this episode I tell you the story of Aśoka according to legend, and then contrast that with what we know from his extant rock edicts (deciphered in the 19th century). In the next episode I’ll continue with the stories of Aśoka’s exploits.
In this second episode of two on “How to Guide Your Own Meditation,” I illustrate the process by sharing four first-person narratives about meditation experiences. In each story, someone turns their attention toward their meditative experience itself, and finds a way to adjust their effort in order to improve it.