The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

242 – Reflections on Sansuikyo, Dogen’s Mountains and Waters Sutra

One of Zen master Dogen’s most beloved writings is a relatively short essay called “Sansuikyo,” or the Mountains and Waters Sutra. In this episode, I reflect on two aspects this work: The statement that mountains and waters are, in of themselves, words of the Buddha, and the fantastic imagery of “mountains walking.” I only cover a few paragraphs of the Sansuikyo, but it is enough to open up a profound spiritual inquiry.

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221 – Confronting the Buddha’s Sexist Discourse – Part 1

I introduce the text that describes the Buddha’s negative words and actions in response to the question of ordaining women into what was called the “homeless life” of his monastic community. Then I’ll talk about various ways we can explain, dismiss, or justify the story contained in this text. In the next episode I’ll explore how, for some of us, explaining, dismissing, or justifying the story of the Buddha’s sexist discourse does not completely neutralize the discouraging effect of this story’s presence in the Buddhist canon, and how we can relate to the story without losing our faith in this path of 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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187 – Lotus Sutra 5: Step Right Up to Get YOUR Prediction of Buddhahood

In the Lotus Sutra, thousands of the Buddha's disciples line up, each requesting their own, personal prediction of buddhahood. What is this about? Shouldn't advanced practitioners of the Buddha way be beyond any concern about themselves? I share the stories from the Lotus Sutra and discuss the teaching contained in them - namely, that we all have self-doubt, and that spiritual liberation is about transcending the self but only manifests through unique, individual sentient beings.

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168 – Is This IT? Dogen’s Everyday Activity (Kajo) – Part 1

In Zen we say practice is nothing other than your everyday activity. As long as you view the Dharma as something special – a particular activity you view treat as more sacred, or a state you hope to attain that will be of an entirely different nature than the mundane existence you currently endure – you’re missing the point. At the same time, if we think practice is nothing other than just continuing our half-awake, habitual way of living, we’re also missing the point! What is the nature of our life and practice? Zen Master Dogen explores this koan in his essay “Kajo,” or “Everyday Activity.”

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163 – Lotus Sutra 4: Parable of the Plants – Superior, Middling, or Inferior Beings and the Dharma

The Lotus Sutra Parable of the Plants says that just as rain falls equally on plants big and small and each plant takes up what they need, so the Buddha shares the Dharma with all beings without any judgment or preference regarding their capacity, and each being receives what they need. I explore this message as well as the implication that there are indeed superior, middling or inferior practitioners and how this can challenge our ego.

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155 – Avatamsaka Sutra – Each One of Us Has Unique Bodhisattva Gifts to Offer – Part 2

Part of our bodhisattva path is embracing our uniqueness and finding our own particular, special bodhisattva capacity, talent, and calling. Each of us has our own unique way, or ways, of serving in this world. It just takes some imagination to discover them. Teachings from Avatamsaka Sutra can help stimulate our imaginations in this regard. In this episode I tell five more bodhisattva stories and reflect on how they might manifest in real life.

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154 – Avatamsaka Sutra – Each One of Us Has Unique Bodhisattva Gifts to Offer – Part 1

Part of our bodhisattva path is embracing our uniqueness and finding our own particular, special bodhisattva capacity, talents, and calling. Each of us has our own unique gifts to offer the world which will determine what kind of service we should devote ourselves to, it just takes some imagination to discover them. A teaching from Avatamsaka Sutra can help stimulate our imaginations in this regard.

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144 – Lotus Sutra 2: Wake Up! The Parable of the Burning House

The Parable of the Burning House is one of five main parables of the Lotus Sutra, a classic Mahayana Buddhist text. I go through the parable paragraph by paragraph, stopping to reflect on each part of the story along the way and encouraging you to imagine yourself within the story as if it were a dream. I finish up by discussing the relevance of this teaching for our everyday lives and practice.

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