The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

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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173 – True Satisfaction: Dogen’s Everyday Activity (Kajo) – Part 2

The nature of true satisfaction is something explored by Zen master Dogen in his essay "Kajo," or "Everyday Activity." Using the imagery of having had rice, taking a leisurely nap, and living contentedly in a grass hut, Dogen emphasizes how true satisfaction is unconditional, and that we are nourished by the universe whether we are able to appreciate that fact or not.

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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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134 – Lotus Sutra 1: What Is Devotion, and How Does It Fulfill the Buddha Way?

The Lotus Sutra is one of the oldest and most central sutras in Mahayana Buddhism. The sutra states repeatedly that people who perform small acts of devotion, such as making an offering at memorial to the Buddha, “have fulfilled the Buddha Way.” What does this mean? I think the Lotus Sutra, and Mahayana Buddhism more generally, is saying that we can transform the universe in an instant, that the smallest of our actions matters, and that the key to all of it is the state of our own mind and heart.

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133 – Restoring Wonder: Hongzhi’s Guidepost of Silent Illumination – Part 2

I continue in a second episode with my reflections on Chan master Hongzhi's "Guidepost of Silent Illumination. I discuss the interdependence of absolute and relative and why that matters in real life; how skillful bodhisattva action arises out of zazen; how silence is the supreme mode of communication, and how serenity and illumination - calm and insight - are both contained in zazen.

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132 – Restoring Wonder: Hongzhi’s Guidepost of Silent Illumination – Part 1

In this episode and the next, I’m going to riff off of 12th-century Chan master Hongzhi’s short text, “Guidepost of Silent Illumination,” one of the most positive and encouraging Zen teachings a know. By “riff” I mean I’ll play off of, and spontaneously elaborate on, Hongzhi’s words, as opposed to explaining or analyzing them in an exhaustive or comprehensive way. I take this approach because it’s more fun, but also because “Guidepost of Silent Illumination,” like most Chan and Zen writings, is essentially poetry.

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120 – Dogen’s Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings – Part 5 – Identity Action

In this episode I finish up our study of 13th-century Zen master Dogen’s essay, “Bodaisatta Shishobo,” or what I’m calling the “Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings,” with a discussion of "identity action," or "being in the same boat" with living beings. Even if you’re not a big fan of Zen texts, or of Dogen, I hope you’ll stick around because this episode is on the importance of a bodhisattva – the importance of any of us – making a practice of seeing ourselves as “being in the same boat” with other beings. Can you imagine how different our societies would be if we all tried to do this?

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117 – Clarifying the Mind Ground According to Keizan’s “Zazen-Yojinki”

In his essay "Zazen Yojinki," or "Points to Keep in Mind When Practicing Zazen," 13th-century Zen master Keizan Jokin presents “clarify[ing] the mind-ground and dwell[ing] comfortably in [your] original nature”[i] as our fundamental job as Buddhists if we’re seeking liberation. I explore the meaning of this phrase in this Dharma Talk, reflecting on a nondual experience beyond words, and why Zen and Mahayana so often use terms like "mind" or "actual nature" when pointing to it.

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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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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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