The Zen Studies Podcast


Episodes on Buddhist Teachings

243 – The Buddha’s Life Story as Archetype and Teaching

Understanding the teachings of Buddhism starts with becoming familiar with the Buddha's life story. This isn't because he is believed to have been divine, or even a prophet. Instead, his story is important because it serves as an archetype for the Buddhist vision of spiritual seeking and development. There are many teachings embedded in the story of the Buddha, who is regarded as having been a remarkable human being – but just a human being, like you or me.

read more

239 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 3: Buddha-Nature 1

This is part three of my series called “One Reality, Many Descriptions.” While experiences of Emptiness and Suchness (or Thusness) may be liberating and transformative, we may be left with the question of how our limited, embodied existence relates to these profound truths. Our natural inclination toward self-preservation, our appetites and shortcomings, our ingrained habits, our complacency – these things can seem at odds with the greater Reality we have started to perceive. The teaching of Buddha-Nature points to the marvelous and redemptive fact that we too – just as we are – are Thus: Luminous and miraculous in and of ourselves.

read more

235 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 2: Suchness or Thusness

What do Buddhists mean by the terms “Suchness” or “Thusness”? Over the millennia, Buddhists have employed many concepts to point us toward Reality-with-a-Capital-R, because awakening to Reality is profoundly liberating. This series of episodes discusses five classic descriptions of Reality. In Episode 229 I talked about the first of these, Emptiness (One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 1: Emptiness). In this episode I explore Suchness, or Thusness.

read more

229 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 1: Emptiness

Teachings like Emptiness, Buddha-Nature, Suchness, Absolute and Relative, and Mind-with-a-capital-M are challenging, and sometimes people wonder if they’re all just terms for the same thing, more or less, or whether they’re part of a long list of difficult-to-comprehend concepts we need to master as Buddhists . It may be helpful to realize that each of these classic Buddhist concepts describes Reality-with-a-capital-R, and there’s only one Reality. The concepts, therefore, are intimately related to one another, and each one emphasizes different aspects of Reality in a very useful way. In this episode I discuss Buddhist descriptions of Reality in general, and then talk about Sunyata, or Emptiness.

read more

224 – Human Nature: Why Aren’t We Born Enlightened?

Why aren't we just all born enlightened and avoid suffering? Or, we could ask: Why are human beings the way they are? Why did they evolve to cause so much suffering for themselves and others? If we all have Buddha-Nature, why isn’t that manifest from the beginning, and why does it get obscured so completely? Why is practice so hard if, as the teachings say, we have everything we need from the beginning?

read more

216 – The Fourfold Bodhisattva Vow Part 1: Freeing All Beings

In this episode I review the meaning of the Fourfold Bodhisattva Vow, and then explore the first of the vows in detail: Beings are numberless, I vow to free them. What does it mean to free beings, and what does it mean to our practice that we vow to free every last one of an infinite number of beings? In the next couple episodes I will similarly explore the second, third, and fourth vows.

read more

215 – We Will Die Soon: Contemplating Impermanence to Motivate Practice

From the time of the Buddha, Buddhists have spent time contemplating impermanence - often by deliberately meditating on their own mortality and eventual death. This practice isn't for everyone, but it can help motivate us stay motivated to practice, focus on our deepest aspirations, take responsibility for our karma, maintain equanimity, and remember the preciousness of this moment. It can also lead to profound insights about the nature of the self.

read more