The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

61 – Taking Refuge and Precepts: The Significance of Becoming a Buddhist – Part 2

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.

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60 – Taking Refuge and Precepts: The Significance of Becoming a Buddhist – Part 1

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.

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59 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 6: The Three Poisons as the Root of All Evil

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.

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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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56 – Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva and the Power of Compassion

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.

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54 – You Don’t Need to Improve or Get Anything to Fulfill the Buddha 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.

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53 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 5: Karma, the Law of Moral Cause-and-Effect

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.

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52 – Profound, Practical, Mutable: Dharma Transmission in Zen – Part 2

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.

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51 – Profound, Practical, Mutable: Dharma Transmission in Zen – Part 1

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.

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50 – Buddhist History 8: Aśoka, First Buddhist Emperor – Facts and Legend Part 2

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.

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49 – Buddhist History 8: Aśoka, First Buddhist Emperor – Facts and Legend – Part 1

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.

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47 – How to Guide Your Own Meditation Part 1: Do Something, Don’t Just Fall Asleep

We sometimes get stuck in simplistic meditation instructions and therefore sell our meditation short. It's valuable to learn how to guide your own meditation - being mindful of your experience, arousing determination to do your best, and then being creative and diligent in finding ways to stay alert and focused. In this episode I explain this approach to meditation, and in the next episode I'll offer first-person stories about meditative experiences to illustrate the process.

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