The Zen Studies Podcast

Episodes on Buddhist Texts

144 – Lotus Sutra 2: Wake Up! The Parable of the Burning House

The Parable of the Burning House is one of five main parables of the Lotus Sutra, a classic Mahayana Buddhist text. I go through the parable paragraph by paragraph, stopping to reflect on each part of the story along the way and encouraging you to imagine yourself within the story as if it were a dream. I finish up by discussing the relevance of this teaching for our everyday lives and practice.

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134 – Lotus Sutra 1: What Is Devotion, and How Does It Fulfill the Buddha Way?

The Lotus Sutra is one of the oldest and most central sutras in Mahayana Buddhism. The sutra states repeatedly that people who perform small acts of devotion, such as making an offering at memorial to the Buddha, “have fulfilled the Buddha Way.” What does this mean? I think the Lotus Sutra, and Mahayana Buddhism more generally, is saying that we can transform the universe in an instant, that the smallest of our actions matters, and that the key to all of it is the state of our own mind and heart.

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133 – Restoring Wonder: Hongzhi’s Guidepost of Silent Illumination – Part 2

I continue in a second episode with my reflections on Chan master Hongzhi's "Guidepost of Silent Illumination. I discuss the interdependence of absolute and relative and why that matters in real life; how skillful bodhisattva action arises out of zazen; how silence is the supreme mode of communication, and how serenity and illumination - calm and insight - are both contained in zazen.

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132 – Restoring Wonder: Hongzhi’s Guidepost of Silent Illumination – Part 1

In this episode and the next, I’m going to riff off of 12th-century Chan master Hongzhi’s short text, “Guidepost of Silent Illumination,” one of the most positive and encouraging Zen teachings a know. By “riff” I mean I’ll play off of, and spontaneously elaborate on, Hongzhi’s words, as opposed to explaining or analyzing them in an exhaustive or comprehensive way. I take this approach because it’s more fun, but also because “Guidepost of Silent Illumination,” like most Chan and Zen writings, is essentially poetry.

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120 – Dogen’s Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings – Part 5 – Identity Action

In this episode I finish up our study of 13th-century Zen master Dogen’s essay, “Bodaisatta Shishobo,” or what I’m calling the “Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings,” with a discussion of "identity action," or "being in the same boat" with living beings. Even if you’re not a big fan of Zen texts, or of Dogen, I hope you’ll stick around because this episode is on the importance of a bodhisattva – the importance of any of us – making a practice of seeing ourselves as “being in the same boat” with other beings. Can you imagine how different our societies would be if we all tried to do this?

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117 – Clarifying the Mind Ground According to Keizan’s “Zazen-Yojinki”

In his essay "Zazen Yojinki," or "Points to Keep in Mind When Practicing Zazen," 13th-century Zen master Keizan Jokin presents “clarify[ing] the mind-ground and dwell[ing] comfortably in [your] original nature”[i] as our fundamental job as Buddhists if we’re seeking liberation. I explore the meaning of this phrase in this Dharma Talk, reflecting on a nondual experience beyond words, and why Zen and Mahayana so often use terms like "mind" or "actual nature" when pointing to it.

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112 – Dogen’s “Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings” – Part 3 – Loving Words

In this episode I continue our study of 12th-century Zen master Dogen’s essay, Bodaisatta Shishobo, or what I’m calling the "Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings." In Episode 105 I gave you an overview of the essay and briefly defined the bodhisattva’s four “embracing actions,” which are practicing nongreed, loving words, beneficial action, and “being in the same boat” as other beings. In Episode 106 I took us line by line through the part of Dogen’s essay about nongreed, or giving. Today I’ll pick up where we left off, and cover the section of the essay on loving words, or kind speech.

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106 – Dogen’s “Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings” – Part 2 – Giving

In the last episode I introduced an essay by Zen master Dogen called Bodaisatta-Shishobo, or the Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings. I briefly defined the bodhisattva’s four embracing actions: Giving, kind speech, beneficial action, and “sharing the same aim.” Then I started working through Dogen’s essay line by line. In this episode I finish the section of the Shishobo on giving.

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105 – Dogen’s Shishobo: The Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings – Part 1

Given the many stressful and sad things happening in the world right now, I thought it would be nice to spend a couple episodes on a beautiful and inspiring essay by 13th century Zen master Dogen called “Bodaisatta-Shishobo,” or the “Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings.” (I briefly mentioned this Dogen essay in my Nine Fields episode on Opening the Heart, Episode 99).The bodhisattva’s four embracing actions are giving, kind speech, beneficial action, and sharing the same aim. In this episode I’ll briefly introduce the text and define the four actions, and start delving more deeply into Dogen’s essay, section by section.

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103 – Twelve Pali Canon Suttas Every Buddhist Should Know – Part 3

This is the third episode of three covering my “Twelve Pali Canon Suttas Every Buddhist Should Know,” and I cover the Kalama, Sallatha, Metta, and Maha Parinibbana Suttas. The Pali Canon is a vast collection of the oldest Buddhist texts and teachings, and is a valuable resource for any Buddhist. However, the canon is so large it can be a little overwhelming to approach, and it can be difficult to know where to begin if you want to study it. I worked hard to create a short list of Pali Canon suttas – or discourses – that I recommend you study in order to get a sense of the canon, and exposure to its central teachings.

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100 – Twelve Pali Canon Suttas Every Buddhist Should Know – Part 2

Theravadin and Vipassana Buddhists tend to be familiar with the Pali Canon, particularly the suttas, or discourses of the Buddha. Other Buddhists don’t tend to spend as much time exploring Pali texts. When we aim to do so, it can be a difficult to know where to start - given the printed versions of the suttas end up being about five times the size of the Christian bible! In the interest of encouraging study of the Pali Canon suttas, I’ve come up with a list of twelve I think every Buddhist should know.

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97 – Twelve Pali Canon Suttas Every Buddhist Should Know – Part 1

Theravadin and Vipassana Buddhists tend to be familiar with the Pali Canon, particularly the suttas, or discourses of the Buddha. Other Buddhists don’t tend to spend as much time exploring Pali texts. When we aim to do so, it can be a difficult to know where to start - given the printed versions of the suttas end up being about five times the size of the Christian bible! In the interest of encouraging study of the Pali Canon suttas, I’ve come up with a list of twelve I think every Buddhist should know.

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75 – Sekito Kisen’s Sandokai: The Identity of Relative and Absolute – Part 2

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.

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74 – Sekito Kisen’s Sandokai: The Identity of Relative and Absolute – Part 1

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.

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57 – Dogen’s Bendowa Part 1: What’s the Big Deal about Zazen?

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.

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46 – Dogen’s Genjokoan Part 5: Birds Fly, Fish Swim, a Zen Master Waves a Fan

In this episode we finish up the Genjokoan, focusing first on the rather long passage comparing our path of practice to the way a fish swims in the water, or a bird flies in the sky. Then I’ll talk about the story at the end of the essay, where a monk asks a Zen master why he uses a fan when the nature of wind permeates everywhere, which is really a question about why we practice if reality ultimately lacks nothing.

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