The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

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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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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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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102 – Nine Fields of Zen Practice 3: Nyoho, Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity

Buddhist practice can permeate every aspect of our lives. To help practitioners appreciate this outside the full-immersion experience of residential training, I’ve defined Nine Fields of Zen Practice: Zazen, Dharma Study, Cultivating Insight, Precepts, Opening the Heart, Connecting with the Ineffable, Nyoho, Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity. In this episode I cover Nyoho, Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity.

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101 – The Koan of Awakening: Do You Know the Essential Truth Yet, Or Not?

From the beginning, it’s been clear that the highest rewards of Buddhism are experienced through a fundamental and radical shift in the way you understand the world and your place in it. Throughout time, and among different forms of Buddhism, this shift in understanding has been called different things, including awakening, enlightenment, Right View or Right Understanding, realization, satori, or kensho (a Japanese term which means “seeing one’s true nature”). In this episode I explore “awakening” in Buddhism: What’s meant by the term, attitudes we take toward awakening, why it’s so elusive, and how we can make the process of seeking less painful.

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99 – Nine Fields of Zen Practice: A Framework for Letting Practice Permeate Your Life – Part 2

Zen practice can permeate every aspect of our lives. To help lay practitioners appreciate this outside the full-immersion experience of residential training, I’ve defined Nine Fields of Zen Practice: Zazen, Dharma Study, Cultivating Insight, Precepts, Opening the Heart, Connecting with the Ineffable, Nyoho, Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity. In this episode I cover Precepts, Opening the Heart, and Connecting with the Ineffable.

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98 – Nine Fields of Zen Practice: A Framework for Letting Practice Permeate Your Life – Part 1

Zen practice can permeate every aspect of our lives. To help lay practitioners appreciate this outside the full-immersion experience of residential training, I’ve defined Nine Fields of Zen Practice: Zazen, Dharma Study, Cultivating Insight, Precepts, Opening the Heart, Connecting with the Ineffable, Nyoho (according with the Dharma in everyday activities), Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity.

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95 – Lineage in Buddhism: The Intersection Between the Individual and the Collective Tradition

In many forms of Buddhism, particularly in Zen, we have the concept of “lineage:” the essential aspects of our collective religious tradition have been passed down through the generations from one real, live person to another, teacher to a student. However, lineage isn’t just about preserving a collective tradition, it’s a valuable part of our practice – self-attachment and pre-conceived notions get challenged as the individual aligns her/himself with the collective tradition.

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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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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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