The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

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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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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167 – If You’re Not Making Mistakes, You’re Not Practicing

How can practice with mistakes - so we make fewer mistakes, but also so we aren't paralyzed by fear of mistakes, stressed out trying to avoid them, or stuck in regret or self-recrimination once we've made them? It helps to understand how mistakes are viewed in Zen. They're a sign you're actually practicing, and there's a sense in which this is no such thing as a mistake.

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166 – The Wesak Ceremony: Celebrating and Expressing Gratitude for Our Teachers

The annual Buddhist festival of Wesak celebrates the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha. The ceremony takes inspiration from the Buddha's mythological birth story, and I describe a version of the ceremony and share some chanting from it. Then I discuss the way Wesak helps awaken our gratitude for the Dharma, for teachers, and for all of those beings who have made our lives possible.

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165 – The Buddhist Moral Precepts as a Practice for Studying the Buddha Way

The Buddhist precepts aren't just guidelines help us live moral and beneficial lives, they are also practice tools for studying the self. And, as Zen master Dogen wrote, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be verified by all things. To be verified by all things is to let the body and mind of the self and the body and mind of others drop off.” When we're tempted to break precepts, it's a sign that our "small self" has arisen, and we have the opportunity to observe what's happening and explore new ways to respond.

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164 – Gratitude as a Dharma Gate

Gratitude can be used as a practice to shift our attention from self-centered problems and complaints to an awareness of the miracle of simply being alive. It can help us be less reactive, depressed, anxious, and irritable, and more mindful and - frankly - happy. I explore the practice of gratitude and traditional Buddhist teachings about it.

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162 – Am I a Good Buddhist?

If you practice Buddhism, it's natural to ask yourself, at some point, "Am I a Good Buddhist?" It's difficult to see ourselves as a good Buddhist when we fail to act in accord with our own deeper aspirations. And yet, according to Zen, no amount of practice is going make us into a Buddha, any more than you can polish a tile and make it into a jewel. So what is practice about? Ultimately, it's about radically accepting ourselves while simultaneously honoring the call of our Buddha nature to work hard toward greater wisdom and compassion.

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161 – The Parinirvana Ceremony and the Teaching of the Buddha’s Dying and Death

Parinirvana, the death of the Buddha Shakyamuni, is commemorated by a ceremony in mid-February in most Buddhist communities throughout the world. The Buddha gave several important teachings right before his death, and there is teaching contained in the very manner and fact of his passing. In this episode I describe the Parinirvana (Nehan) ceremony in my lineage and discuss what we can learn from it.

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160 – Bearing Witness without Burning Out

For the sake of ourselves and others, we need to learn to Bear Witness without burning out. Bearing Witness means exposing ourselves to the suffering in the world in all its forms out of compassion. At the root of all suffering are the three poisons of greed, hate, and delusion, so Bearing Witness also means being aware of those forces in the world and the effects they have. This practice can be agitating and emotionally exhausting, so we need to learn how to do it without burning out.

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157 – Bodhicitta: The Critical Importance of Dissatisfaction

Dissatisfaction can lead to Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is a Buddhist term literally meaning “awakened mind” that can translated as “the mind that seeks the way.” It’s the part of us which aspires to free ourselves and others from suffering – arising, ironically, from dissatisfaction. We think, “There must be a better way,” or, “There must be more to life than this.” Then we arouse the determination to find out, and this propels us down the path of practice. Therefore, it is critically important for you be dissatisfied with your life.

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156 – Ebb and Flow in Buddhist Practice: Cycles of Energy, Inspiration, and Focus

You can expect your Buddhist practice to go through a cycle of ebb and flow in terms of energy, inspiration, and focus. At times, hopefully, you feel motivated and determined, and experience a period of learning and growth. Then there will inevitably be periods where your practice loses momentum. It may feel dull or aimless, or you may fall back into old, not-so-healthy habits. It’s important you don’t give up practice in times of low ebb, but instead recognize this as part of a natural cycle.

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