The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

93 – Buddha’s Teachings 12: The Five Hindrances – Part 2

The Buddha taught that there are five main “hindrances” we encounter in our spiritual practice. In this 2nd episode of 3, I start going into detail about each hindrance and recommended ways to abandon them. I get through worldly desire and ill-will. In the next episode I'll cover sloth-and-torpor, restlessness-and-worry, and uncertainty (or skeptical doubt).

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2019-03-15 Off-Week Book Review: Why Buddhism Is True

I review Robert Wright's Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. While it's not necessary to know the "why" of things in order for Buddhist practice to be effective (and it can actually be a distraction), sometimes it can help us gain additional freedom from our subjective experiences.

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92 – Buddha’s Teachings 11: The Five Hindrances – Part 1

We all know meditation and other aspects of Buddhist practice can be difficult. According to the Buddha, it’s useful to pay attention to exactly what’s going on when we’re feeling challenged. Any obstacle can be characterized as one of five hindrances: 1) Sense desire; 2) ill-will; 3) sloth-and-torpor; 4) restlessness-and-worry, or 5) uncertainty (or skeptical doubt). By identifying our hindrance, we get a better sense of what caused it to arise and how we can best overcome it, because the Buddha offered a number of teachings on the subject.

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91 – Unethical Buddhist Teachers: Were They Ever Really Enlightened?

The list of supposedly-highly-realized Buddhist teachers who have abused their power and acted in harmful ways – particularly in the realm of sex – is long, and getting longer all the time. Unethical and selfish behavior is incompatible with our Buddhist ideal of true enlightenment, and transgressing teachers are often exactly those held up as especially inspiring examples of realization and practice, so what does all of this say about realization and practice? Were the teachers ever really enlightened?

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90 – Buddhist History 11: Early Indian Buddhism – Stupas and Devotional Practice – Part 2

In Part 1 (Episode 82), I defined Devotional Practice as extending beyond demonstrations of respect, gratitude, and reverence to practices believed to result in real benefits – perhaps intangible but often tangible – to the devotee, especially when performed in proximity to a holy person, his/her relics, or some other center or object of spiritual power. In this episode I talk about what early Buddhist Devotional Practice looked like, and then discuss the theology – or religious philosophy – behind it.

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89 – Buddhist Practice as a Lifelong Path of Growth and Transformation

Like it or not, Buddhist practice has traditionally been more than something you do to make everyday life more pleasant; it’s a path of training and study aimed at becoming an awakened, liberated, wise, compassionate, and skillful person. The ideals of Buddha and bodhisattva are not something most of us have any hope of achieving in this lifetime, but the idea is to think beyond our limited ideas of self in terms of both space and time. We ennoble our lives, and benefit others, by committing wholeheartedly to walking the path – approaching embodiment of the Buddha Way as closely as we possibly can.

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88 – Nyoho: Making Even Our Smallest, Mundane Actions Accord with the Dharma – Part 2

Nyoho practice is looking for opportunities to act in accord with the Dharma in the midst of our daily lives, in very practical, physical ways. We view no act as too mundane or insignificant to perform with care, and no object or being we encounter as beneath our respect or attention.  In this episode I hope to convey the significance and beauty of Nyoho practice, and the wonderful opportunity it presents in terms of how we can incorporate it in into our everyday lives.

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87 – Nyoho: Making Even Our Smallest, Mundane Actions Accord with the Dharma – Part 1

We have a practice in Zen of trying to make even our smallest actions reflect the deep truths of the Dharma, including interdependence, impermanence, no-self, suchness, and Buddha-nature. I’m going to call this practice “Nyoho,” a Japanese term which means doing something “in accord with” (nyo) the Dharma (ho): Treating each and every thing we encounter with respect and care, and performing even the most mundane actions in a considerate, gracious, but efficient manner.

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86 – Samvega and Pasada: Two Buddhist Emotions Indispensable for Practice

Samvega and pasada keep our practice alive and on course. Samvega is spiritual urgency arising three things: A sense of distress and disillusionment about life as it's usually lived, a sense of our own complicity and complacency, and determination to find a more meaningful way. Contrary to society at large, Buddhism encourages the cultivation of samvega - as long as you balance it with pasada, a serene confidence that arises when you find a reliable way to address samvega.

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85 – I Shouldn’t Feel Like This: A Practitioner’s Conundrum

Buddhism teaches that you can change the nature of your experience by changing your own mind and behaviors - increasing the proportion of your life spent feeling calm, confident, positive,and compassionate. Sometimes, after many years of effort, we experience negative thoughts and emotions and find ourselves thinking, “I shouldn’t feel like this.” I discuss how to practice with this conundrum, and suggest that sometimes our internal experience can’t or shouldn’t be changed, but simply tolerated.

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83 – Two Paths to Meditative Concentration: Directed Effort Versus Letting Go – Part 1

I believe some of our struggles in meditation could be eased if we recognized there are two paths to meditative concentration, or samadhi – directed effort, and letting go – and what works well for one person may be frustrating and fruitless for another. In this episode I briefly discuss what samadhi is, and then describe the two very different ways to achieve it. In the next episode I'll describe the “letting go” approach in more detail.

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82 – Buddhist History 10: Early Indian Buddhism – Stupas and Devotional Practice – Part 1

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.

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81 – Five Steps for Positive Change without Waging War on the Self

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.

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80 – Four Foundations of Mindfulness Practice and Similarities in Zen

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.

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