The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

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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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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