The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

118 – Buddha’s Teachings 15: Nibbana (Nirvana) as the Ultimate Goal

Nirvana, or nibbana, is the ultimate goal of original Buddhism and its modern representative, Theravadin Buddhism. Nibbana means "extinguished," and attaining it means you have extinguished the "outflows" of sensuality, ignorance, and the desire for further existence. Someone who attains nibbana experiences ineffable peace and freedom, and a permanent state of human perfection. Achieving nibbana, however, is supremely difficult and usually takes many lifetimes. This episode familiarizes you the teachings about nibbana, discusses some of the implications for Buddhist practice, and points out how views of nibbana are one of the fundamental differences between Theravada and Mahayana forms of Buddhism.

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109 – What Does Buddhism Have to Say About Mass Shootings?

What does Buddhism have to say about mass shootings? Of course, traditional Buddhism doesn’t say anything about mass shootings per se, but it does present teachings on human nature, behavior, and choices. In this episode I discuss the Buddhist of view of how and why people do horrible things, pointing out how Buddhism is realistic but also optimistic, and how a Buddhist view can help relieve some of our fear and despair.

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108 – Buddha’s Teachings 14: The Five Skandhas as Focus for the Practice of Not-Self (Anatta)

There are many places in the Pali Canon where the Buddha mentions the “Five Skandhas,” or aggregates, which are basically the five aspects of a human being: Form, or the body; Feelings, or our basic positive, negative, or neutral reactions to stimuli; Perception, the basic process of labeling or identifying things; Consciousness, our awareness of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and thoughts; and Mental Fabrications, all of our active processes of mind. The Five Skandhas, as I’ll explain, aren’t so much a teaching in and of themselves as they are a tool for exploring the teaching of Anatta, or not-self.

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94 – Buddha’s Teachings 13 – The Five Hindrances – Part 3

The Buddha taught that there are five main “hindrances” we encounter in our spiritual practice: 1) Worldly desire; 2) ill-will; 3) sloth-and-torpor; 4) restlessness-and-worry, and 5) uncertainty (or skeptical doubt). In this 3rd episode of 3, I go into detail about sloth-and-torpor, restlessness-and-worry, and uncertainty, and recommended ways to abandon them.

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93 – Buddha’s Teachings 12: The Five Hindrances – Part 2

The Buddha taught that there are five main “hindrances” we encounter in our spiritual practice. In this 2nd episode of 3, I start going into detail about each hindrance and recommended ways to abandon them. I get through worldly desire and ill-will. In the next episode I'll cover sloth-and-torpor, restlessness-and-worry, and uncertainty (or skeptical doubt).

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92 – Buddha’s Teachings 11: The Five Hindrances – Part 1

We all know meditation and other aspects of Buddhist practice can be difficult. According to the Buddha, it’s useful to pay attention to exactly what’s going on when we’re feeling challenged. Any obstacle can be characterized as one of five hindrances: 1) Sense desire; 2) ill-will; 3) sloth-and-torpor; 4) restlessness-and-worry, or 5) uncertainty (or skeptical doubt). By identifying our hindrance, we get a better sense of what caused it to arise and how we can best overcome it, because the Buddha offered a number of teachings on the subject.

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86 – Samvega and Pasada: Two Buddhist Emotions Indispensable for Practice

Samvega and pasada keep our practice alive and on course. Samvega is spiritual urgency arising three things: A sense of distress and disillusionment about life as it's usually lived, a sense of our own complicity and complacency, and determination to find a more meaningful way. Contrary to society at large, Buddhism encourages the cultivation of samvega - as long as you balance it with pasada, a serene confidence that arises when you find a reliable way to address samvega.

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79 – Buddha’s Teachings 10: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

One of Buddha's central teachings was the Four Foundations of Mindfulness - basically, how you walk the Eightfold Path to liberation. Mindfulness, or sati, means to remember or keep in mind, and the four foundations are the four things you should keep in mind (or focus on) if you want to progress on the spiritual path. In this first episode of two on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, I’ll introduce the teaching as given by the Buddha. In the next episode, I’ll reflect on actual practice of this teaching, and how all its elements are included in Zen but parsed out differently.

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68 – Relating to Buddhist Teachings 2: Wrestling with the Teachings

From the perspective of most Buddhist lineages, including Zen, study is essential. In this episode I’ll get into why that is and present a practical way you can engage with Buddhist teachings in a fruitful, transformative way that isn’t just intellectual. Then I’ll talk about how you go about studying the teachings – where do you start, and what should you study?

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67 – Relating to Buddhist Teachings 1: Their Abundance, Diversity & Authenticity

If you’ve spent any time at all studying Buddhism, you’ve discovered there are lots of Buddhist teachings and texts. What should you choose to study? Where do you begin? How much do you really need to know? How should you relate to the teachings, some of which may end up seeming contradictory? In this episode I give you an overview of the Buddhist teachings as a whole, and how the authority of a given text is measured and viewed by Buddhists. In the next episode I'll explain why it's important to study.

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66 – Buddha’s Teachings 8: The Four Brahmaviharas, or Sublime Social Attitudes – Part 2

In Part 2 of my series on the Four Brahmaviharas, or the Sublime Social Attitudes, I explore teachings specifically about how to cultivate Metta, or goodwill, in an unlimited or boundless way. (Which is the idea.) As we try to extend Metta to everyone, we quickly recognize our internal resistance to feeling unqualified goodwill toward many people. I discuss the recommendations of Buddhaghosa, a 5th century monk and author of the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification) regarding cultivating Metta for someone when it's very difficult to feel it naturally.

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65 – Dealing with Fear, Anger, and Hatred as a Buddhist

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people about dealing with fear, anger, and hatred as a Buddhist – our own as well that of others, especially at a time when people are so divided, and doing so much damage to one another. I discuss the Buddhist view of fear, anger, and hatred - what they are, why they arise, and why we end up acting on them even though they end up causing suffering for self and other. Then I’ll talk about the implications of these teachings to our everyday lives.

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63 – Buddha’s Teachings 7: The Four Brahmaviharas, or Sublime Social Attitudes – Part 1

The Buddha taught the importance of the four Brahmaviharas, or sublime attitudes: Goodwill, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. These are the emotions we should cultivate toward other beings in order establish a strong foundation for spiritual practice, and are also the best attitudes to have toward people if we want our relationships to be harmonious and beneficial. In this episode I introduce the Brahmaviharas as a whole, including how they fit within the context of other Buddhist teachings.

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59 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 6: The Three Poisons as the Root of All Evil

In this episode I introduce the Buddha’s teaching of the three poisons. According to the Buddha, the root of all evil – that is, all unskillful, selfish, harmful actions of body, speech, and mind – is greed, hate, delusion, or some combination these three negative states. Taken together, these are called the “three poisons” and are our unhelpful response to things we like (greed or craving), things we don’t like (hate or aversion), and our fundamental – mistaken – belief in the inherent existence of self.

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