The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

23 – How Buddhists Should Behave: Evolution of the Buddhist Precepts Part 2

In this episode, I continue with the story of the Theravadin precepts (see Part 1 for the first part of the story) – particularly how the Vinaya has affected the ordination of monks and nuns, and how lay people participate in precept practice. Then we move on to China, and I talk about how the Chinese dealt with the question of how to establish an authentic Buddhist lineage while adapting the Vinaya to China, and avoiding the trap of “hinayana” practice that Mahayana sutras...

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19 – The Heart Sutra Part 1: Introduction to the Most Common Mahayana Text

The Heart Sutra is probably the best-known Buddhist text in the world. It's less than 250 words long and considered to present the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. However, its meaning – and its attraction to Buddhists – may not be immediately evident! In this episode, I first recite the Heart Sutra for you and give you a brief overview of its history to provide you with a little context. Then I start working my way through the text line by line, offering definitions of terms, explaining references, and giving you a sense of the teaching being conveyed. I'll finish the line-by-line analysis in the next episode.

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18 – Zen Forms (Customs and Rituals) and Why They Matter

In traditional Zen practice, we have a lot of what we call “forms.” Forms are the established ways we enact our practice with our bodies… they include the ways we move in the meditation hall, sit in the meditation posture, place our shoes outside the door, chant and offer incense, show respect for one another, eat communal meals, and enact our rituals and ceremonies. Why do we have so many forms instead of just going with the flow and letting people do things the way they want to?

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17 – Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 3: Buddha’s First Sermons and Students, and the Early Sangha

This is the first episode of two on the Buddha's 45-year teaching career and the establishment of the Buddhist community. I’ll talk about the Buddha’s first sermons, the enlightenment of the first disciples, the first lay students of the Buddha and how lay practice figures into early Buddhism, and the initial formation of the ordained Sangha and how they practiced on a daily basis.

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14 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 1: The Three Marks and the Teaching of Not-Self (Anatta)

This episode explains several of the Buddha's first teachings: the Three Marks and the teaching of Anatta, or Not-Self. From the beginning, the Buddha's teachings featured the Three Marks, or Characteristics, of Existence: anicca (impermanence), dukkha (dissatisfactoriness), and anatta (not-self). Here I introduce the Three Characteristics and then go into the teaching of not-self in detail - what it means and doesn't mean. For example, did you know the Buddha did not teach that we have no self?

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13 – What Zen “Acceptance” and “Non-Attachment” Really Are

The practices of acceptance and non-attachment are critical to Zen and Buddhist practice, but they are easily misunderstood. It can sound like we're being asked not to care about things, or not to try to change things for the better. Fortunately, this is not what Zen means by acceptance or non-attachment, because 1) it's impossible (or psychologically and spiritually damaging) not to care, and 2) trying to change things for the better is the bodhisattva path itself!

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12 – Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 2: Spiritual Struggle, Enlightenment, Teaching, and Death

Buddhism began when Siddhartha Gautama experienced a spiritual awakening over 2,500 years ago in India, and became an “awakened one,” or Buddha. Over the course of two episodes, I tell the story of the Buddha’s life from birth to death, while carefully explaining the sources of information we have about his life - because that’s an important part of the history, too!

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11 – Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 1: Source Texts, and Birth Through Homeleaving

Buddhism began when Siddhartha Gautama experienced a spiritual awakening over 2,500 years ago in India, and became an “awakened one,” or Buddha. Over the course of two episodes, I tell the story of the Buddha’s life from birth to death, while carefully explaining the sources of information we have about his life - because that’s an important part of the history, too!

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10 – What Is “Zen Practice” Anyway?

If you've spent any time in a Zen community, or reading Zen books, you will have encountered the term “practice” countless times. Buddhist teachers throughout the centuries have told us to “practice” diligently. Students of Zen are called “practitioners” and we talk to one another about our “practice.” What Is "Zen Practice," anyway? In this episode I present three important meanings of "practice," and how you can define practice in a traditional sense (Zen teachings, methods, conventions, etc.) or an experiential sense (how you face your life right here, right now).

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9 – Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment: What Did He Realize?

According to tradition, Buddhism began with the Buddha's enlightenment. This was the spiritual awakening of one man, Siddhartha Gautama, somewhere between 528 and 445 BCE, who afterwards was called the "Buddha," or "awakened one." He then taught others what he realized, along with the methods he used to achieve that realization, and those teachings have been passed down to the present day. What exactly did Siddhartha comprehend in his enlightenment?

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