The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

228 – Skillful Self-Discipline Part 2: Clarity of Purpose and Patient Determination

If we live without self-discipline – without clarifying aspirations, forming intentions, or training ourselves – our lives are unlikely to go in the direction we would like them to. Unfortunately, self-discipline is notoriously difficult! In the last episode I discussed the importance of self-discipline and some of the mistakes we make when applying it. In this episode I talk about what skillful self-discipline looks like.

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227 – Skillful Self-Discipline Part 1: Balancing Discipline and Gentleness

If we live without self-discipline – without clarifying aspirations, forming intentions, or training ourselves – our lives are unlikely to go in the direction we would like them to. Unfortunately, self-discipline is notoriously difficult! In this episode I will discuss the importance of self-discipline and some of the mistakes we make when applying it. In the next episode (Part 2), I’ll talk about what skillful self-discipline looks like.

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226 – How to Relate to Worldly Pleasure as a Buddhist – Part 2

In the first episode I defined what I mean by “worldly pleasure,” and then discussed five drawbacks of such pleasure as described in Buddhist teachings, and in our own experience. In this episode I talk about how, if we can engage worldly things with the mind that sees impermanence, we are not only inoculated against the many usual drawbacks of worldly pleasures, we can use every encounter we have with the world as an opportunity to practice deeply. Not only that, we actually end up engaging worldly pleasures with more appreciation and awareness.

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225 – How to Relate to Worldly Pleasure as a Buddhist – Part 1

Traditionally, the ideal of Buddhism is the renunciate monastic who forgoes worldly pleasures because they are fleeting and distract us from practice. How should a serious practitioner relate to worldly pleasures if they’re not living a renunciate lifestyle? Is it possible to fully enjoy the pleasures in our lives while maintaining a strong Buddhist practice, or are we fooling ourselves when we try to do so? In this episode I define what I mean by “worldly pleasure,” and then discuss five drawbacks of such pleasure as described in Buddhist teachings, and in our own experience.

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223 – Integrating Insights

On the meditation seat and off, we may experience significant insights - realizations that shift our perceptions of ourselves and world, and help relieve suffering. Insights may be sudden or gradual, major or minor, but we naturally want to be able to hold on them instead of forgetting them and going back to our previous way of thinking or being. Yet sometimes these insights seem to slip away or fade with time. Our effort to hold on to them sometimes causes them to recede even further. How can we integrate insights into our lives and practice?

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220 – Being the Only Buddhist in Your Family – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my discussion about being the only Buddhist in your family. I continue discussing ways to create more harmony between your spiritual practice and your family relationships, and then talk about the special case of being in and intimate relationship with someone who doesn’t share your passion for Buddhist practice.

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219 – Being the Only Buddhist in Your Family – Part 1

Many – if not most – English-speaking Buddhists are converts to Buddhism. Even if you were raised in a Buddhist family, chances are good that as an adult you are surrounded by non-Buddhists, or that as an active Buddhist practitioner you are surrounded by people for whom Buddhism is largely a cultural matter. I discuss the challenges of being the only Buddhist in your family or intimate relationship, and ways to create more harmony between your spiritual practice and your close relationships.

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213 – Deconstructing Self: Which Aspects Are Fine, and Which Cause Suffering?

The core teaching of Zen is that understanding the true nature of self is of the utmost importance to living a life that is liberated, compassionate, generous, wise, and skillful. Mindful examination of a subject like the self classically involves something akin to deconstruction; once we recognize the component parts of something, our sense of it as monolithic thing or force is undermined. I parse "the self" into six aspects, and discuss how each relates to our practice.

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212 – The Wisdom of Play

When we play wholeheartedly, we engage the world with energy, joy, lightheartedness, and enthusiasm, welcoming challenge and enjoying our activity for its own sake. We rarely have the same attitude toward our work, responsibilities, difficulties, or even our Buddhist practice. What if we did? Zen Master Hongzhi suggests a playful attitude might actually be an enlightened one.

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208 – Nine Benefits of Buddhist Practice in Difficult Times

How can practice help us deal with the strong negative emotions we experience in difficult times, such as anger, hatred, fear, or despair? Fortunately, Buddhist practice is a powerful way to decrease our pain, agitation, reactivity, and preoccupation no matter what difficulties we’re facing, whether the challenges are in our personal lives or out in the world. I talk about nine benefits of Buddhist practice that are especially helpful when you’re facing difficult times. 

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205 – Motivation for Practice: What Do You Love Most Deeply?

In order to find motivation for diligent practice, it can help to identify and connect with what you love more than anything else in the whole world. What love makes your life worth living? Love for your children, grandchildren, animals, nature, music, beauty, justice, knowledge? What or who arouses an unconditional sense of affinity and inspiration in the core of your being? Then practice for the subject of your love, because practice makes you better able to access, express, and manifest your love.

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200 – Story of My Spiritual Journey Part 4: Enlightenments

This episode is the story of my spiritual journey, part 4. I start sharing a series of what I’m calling “enlightenments” I experienced over the course of the first ten years or so of my monastic training. These “enlightenments” were transformational insights that allowed me, slowly but surely, to find the happiness and peace of mind I was searching for.

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199 – Is My Practice Languishing? If So, What Can I Do About It?

It’s not unusual for our practice to languish at times. “Languish” means to be or become weak or feeble, to lose vigor or vitality, to be subjected to neglect or prolonged inactivity. How do we recognize when our practice is languishing and revitalize it, without falling into the dualistic trap of striving? How do we avoid the trap of striving without then falling into the opposite trap of complacency?

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198 – Renunciation as an Act of Love

Buddhism is a path of renunciation. Many people assume this means we aim to separate ourselves from the things and beings of the world and work ourselves into a state where we no longer care about them – at least not to the point where it might hurt or upset us. Fortunately, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Renunciation leaves us much more capable of sincere and open-handed love.

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