The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

119 – Brightening the Mind: Refusing to be Tyrannized by Negative States

This episode is a Dharma Talk about how practice can help us “brighten the mind” when we’re feeling trapped in negativity, hopelessness, despair, discouragement, depression, lack of confidence, etc. We practice four steps: 1) Acknowledging (noticing and admitting how we’re feeling); 2) Taking some time to fully experience whatever it is we’re feeling, without trying to change it; 3) Exploring what’s going on within us, gently and nonjudgmentally, and 4) Engaging in an activity, like zazen, you know is calming and restorative.

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Facing Extinction 1: A Personal Journal (Nov 3-9, 2019)

This episode is a part of series I’m trying, “Facing Extinction: Trying to do the right thing in a climate emergency.” What does it have to do with Zen and Buddhism? The connection may not be so explicit, but my own practice feels inauthentic unless I talk about the crisis we’re facing. Maybe I can make a bigger difference as a Zen teacher and writer by honestly sharing my own struggles and experiences with “trying to do the right thing in a climate emergency,” than by trying offer answers to others.

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118 – Buddha’s Teachings 15: Nibbana (Nirvana) as the Ultimate Goal

Nirvana, or nibbana, is the ultimate goal of original Buddhism and its modern representative, Theravadin Buddhism. Nibbana means "extinguished," and attaining it means you have extinguished the "outflows" of sensuality, ignorance, and the desire for further existence. Someone who attains nibbana experiences ineffable peace and freedom, and a permanent state of human perfection. Achieving nibbana, however, is supremely difficult and usually takes many lifetimes. This episode familiarizes you the teachings about nibbana, discusses some of the implications for Buddhist practice, and points out how views of nibbana are one of the fundamental differences between Theravada and Mahayana forms of Buddhism.

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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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116 – Do You Need a Zen or Buddhist Teacher?

Every few weeks or so, I get an email from a listener who feels they need a Zen teacher. Some people have asked whether I might be able to function as a teacher for them long distance. I’m never sure what to say… I mean, what does it mean for someone to “have” a Zen or Buddhist teacher? Do you need a teacher? I’m going to explore these questions in this episode, and I imagine you won’t be surprised that the gist of my answer is, “It depends.”

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115 – Dogen’s Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings – Part 4 – Beneficial Action

In this episode I continue our study of 13th-century Zen master Dogen’s essay, “Bodaisatta Shishobo,” or what I’m calling the “Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings.” I cover "beneficial action," which means to use skillful means to benefit beings without discriminating among them, considering their near and distant future, and to do so selflessly.

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114 – Why Your (Real) Happiness Benefits Others

Real happiness is unconditional, and is achieved by releasing our suffering. Even though things are rarely how we would like them to be - within, or in our personal lives, or in the greater world - we have the potential to let go of our resistance, grief, or anger, and feel more relaxed, at ease, grateful, and enthusiastic. In this sense, working towards real happiness is far from selfish; it makes us much more able to respond compassionately and skillfully, and therefore it benefits others.

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113 – Clarification: It’s Okay to Use Multiple Types of Meditation

Two clarifications about my teaching on meditation: First, in my enthusiastic endorsement of shikantaza or, "just sitting," I may have given the impression I think a real Zen student would only sit shikantaza. I want to go on record saying it's fine to use multiple types of meditation in your practice. Second, I seem to have communicated the idea there’s no place in Zen for paying attention to, learning from, and working with your thoughts and feelings, at least not in meditation. In my tradition we tend to do this work off the meditation seat, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t devote some or all of your meditation time to it, if you find that fruitful.

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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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111 – You Can’t Hold on to Stillness: Practice in Activity

If we're lucky, our practices of meditation and mindfulness give us some sense of spaciousness, stillness, and silence. But what about when we get up from the meditation seat? What about when we engage in activities more complicated and demanding than potentially calming manual tasks like weeding the garden, sweeping, or washing the dishes? Zen master Dogen teaches us a better way to practice in the midst of activity: maintaining joyful mind, nurturing mind, and magnanimous mind. These qualities have the potential to grow even stronger as we get busier.

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110 – How Understanding Impermanence Can Lead to Great Appreciation

We do not have retreat from appreciation of conditional or material things in order to live an enlightened life. However, we must diligently turn the lens of practice onto all of our relationships to things and to beings. Learning to see and accept the impermanence of all things and yet to “enjoy them incredibly” is a wonderful practice opportunity.

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109 – What Does Buddhism Have to Say About Mass Shootings?

What does Buddhism have to say about mass shootings? Of course, traditional Buddhism doesn’t say anything about mass shootings per se, but it does present teachings on human nature, behavior, and choices. In this episode I discuss the Buddhist of view of how and why people do horrible things, pointing out how Buddhism is realistic but also optimistic, and how a Buddhist view can help relieve some of our fear and despair.

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108 – Buddha’s Teachings 14: The Five Skandhas as Focus for the Practice of Not-Self (Anatta)

There are many places in the Pali Canon where the Buddha mentions the “Five Skandhas,” or aggregates, which are basically the five aspects of a human being: Form, or the body; Feelings, or our basic positive, negative, or neutral reactions to stimuli; Perception, the basic process of labeling or identifying things; Consciousness, our awareness of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and thoughts; and Mental Fabrications, all of our active processes of mind. The Five Skandhas, as I’ll explain, aren’t so much a teaching in and of themselves as they are a tool for exploring the teaching of Anatta, or not-self.

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107 – Active Hope 1: Finding and Enacting Our Best Response to the World’s Suffering

Buddhism includes values of Right Action and Right Livelihood, generosity, goodwill, and compassion, and Mahayana Buddhists vow to free all beings from suffering. It's not easy to enact these values and aspirations in the modern world, which is so complex we find ourselves complicit in causes of suffering simply by participating in society, or by neglecting to stand up for change. How do we find and enact our best response to the world's suffering? 

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