The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

184 – 14 Ways to Enliven Your Zazen – Part 1

When we sit zazen, it can be difficult to remain wholehearted and attentive. Because of the momentum of habit energy, we get wrapped up in thoughts about the past and future, or we fall asleep, fantasize, or brood in worry or negative judgements. Our meditative practice (zazen) gives us nothing to concentrate on, nothing to do, so how can we enliven our zazen? In this episode I’ll discuss how to avoid duality and struggle in our zazen, and why we want to do so. Then I’ll share five ways to enliven your zazen. In the next episode I’ll describe nine more approaches, so you’ll have a nice repertoire of methods and may end up with some ideas of your own.

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183 – Natural Koans: Engaging Our Limitations as Dharma Gates

Formal Zen koans are short stories or statements by past Chan/Zen masters which have been passed down through the generations for study and contemplation by Zen students. Each koan contains a Dharma teaching, and until you personally experience and digest that teaching, the koan remains a closed gate you need to pass through. On the other side of that gate is greater freedom, wisdom, and compassion. In this episode, I discuss “natural koans,” or Dharma gates that arise in our everyday lives, and how to work with them.

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182 – Answers to Interview Questions from Eastern Horizon Magazine

In this episode, I share with you questions and answers from my 2020 written interview for Eastern Horizon, a tri-annual magazine of the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia (YBAM). There are some basic questions about Zen, and then some questions about what Buddhism has to offer with respect to understanding and coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. Thought you might enjoy hearing a different kind of presentation, where I have kept my answers very succinct.

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181 – Bodhicitta: Way-Seeking Mind, or the Mind of Enlightenment

Bodhicitta can be translated as Way-Seeking Mind, or the Mind of Enlightenment. Bodhicitta is the part of us that recognizes and seeks truth and goodness, inspiring our spiritual search and motivating our practice. In a sense, bodhicitta is the part of us that is already awakened, because without it we wouldn’t recognize or seek truth and goodness in the first place. In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhicitta is essential to the path and a cause for gratitude. It also can be seen as the primary source of redemption for humankind, even when it seems the world is dominated by greed, hate, and delusion.

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180 – The Dharma of Staying Calm When Facing Challenges

When we can't - or don't want to - avoid facing challenges (our own or those of others), what does the Dharma offer us in terms of preventing anxiety, fear, overwhelm, burnout, depression, or despair? I talk about what is really means to stay calm, the value of staying calm, and some practices that can help us do this.

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179 – Inadequacy to Abundance: Rewriting Our Self-Narrative

As human beings we have a self-narrative, and for most - if not all - of us, this narrative includes a sense of inadequacy. When we conceive of ourselves as a "small self against the world" we will always feel inadequate, and consequently our generosity is inhibited. Fortunately, we can rewrite our self-narrative to include our buddha-nature, because the "boundless self with the world" is a conduit for abundance. The world needs and wants what you have to offer.

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178 – Declaring a Climate War and What That Means to a Buddhist

It may seem strange for a Buddhist to suggest we declare war on anything, but I think it is the most natural and constructive way for us to shift into the mindset we need. In Buddhism, we wage war on the three poisons of greed, hate, and delusion, not on people. We wage war out of love for all beings. In wartime we come together for the common good. We sacrifice with dignity, and help one another summon all the strength and hope we can. We all contribute to the war effort, whether it is by serving on the frontlines, darning socks for those on the frontlines, or broadcasting messages to keep up morale.

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177 – Unconditional Strength and Gratitude: The Medicine of Suchness

The medicine of suchness is life-saving, because even the happiest and most fortunate human life inevitably contains suffering. And sometimes – in our personal lives or in the wider world – we face terrible things that arouse anxiety, depression, fear, despair, or rage. Our climate and ecological emergency is one such terrible thing, bringing us face to face with loss on a scale never before contemplated by human beings. Our Zen practice offers us suchness as a medicine that can alleviate our despair and help us access strength and gratitude.

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176 – A Story of My Spiritual Journey Part 3: A Phoenix Rises from the Ashes of Despair

This is the third installment of a story about my personal spiritual journey, covering my path to ordination as Zen monk and the next several years of junior training, including a time I call my “dark night of the soul" and my experience of a life-affirming phoenix rising from the ashes of my despair. Check out episodes 174 and 175 for the first and second parts of the story, which took me up to the point I left home to move into a Zen center. I’ll need a fourth episode to tell you about the remainder of my junior training, up to my transmission as a Zen priest and my decision to start my own Zen center.

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173 – True Satisfaction: Dogen’s Everyday Activity (Kajo) – Part 2

The nature of true satisfaction is something explored by Zen master Dogen in his essay "Kajo," or "Everyday Activity." Using the imagery of having had rice, taking a leisurely nap, and living contentedly in a grass hut, Dogen emphasizes how true satisfaction is unconditional, and that we are nourished by the universe whether we are able to appreciate that fact or not.

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172 – The Profound and Difficult Practice of Putting Everything Down

Putting everything down is what we do in meditation and when we're practicing mindfulness in daily life. Caught up in things like worry, excitement, or anger, we often find it nearly impossible to put things down, but it is essential we create time and space to do so. It can help to remember that Zen practice is about getting comfortable repeatedly putting things down, picking them back up, putting them down, and picking them up.

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171 – Five Requirements for Effective Practice with Any Issue

I propose that effective practice with any issue we face requires five things: Recognition of the issue that is causing stress or suffering; Faith that change is possible though practice; Willingness to do what it takes to bring about change; Practice in the sense of actually doing something we think might help bring about that change, and Patience in the sense of the perfection (paramita), or a determination to keep walking the path of practice even if it takes longer than we’d like, or the results aren’t exactly what we’d hoped for.

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170 – Looking to Buddhism to Support Values and Beliefs We Already Hold – Part 2

Continuing with the case study of social action, I follow the discussion of Donald S. Lopez's article on whether Buddhism - in particular, the bodhisattva ideal - has much to offer in the domain of social action. Then I discuss why it matters to some of us that our faith tradition – whatever it is – encourages and supports the values we already hold, and what we might do about it when that isn’t the case.

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