The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

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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56 – Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva and the Power of Compassion

Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion (also called Guanyin, Kannon, or Kanzeon), is hands-down the most popular of the Buddhist archetypal bodhisattvas. The many teachings and stories around Avalokiteshvara express the Buddhist view that compassion is a force unto itself; it isn’t merely a feeling or an ideal for personal conduct, it’s a reflection of universal interdependence and something that functions freely when we simply get ourselves out of the way.

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53 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 5: Karma, the Law of Moral Cause-and-Effect

Karma may be the most widely mentioned - and misunderstood - Buddhist concept outside Buddhist circles. You might, “Well, that’s karma!” when someone more or less gets their comeuppance. This view of karma isn’t entirely off base, but Buddhist karma is subtle and complex: It’s about the state of your mind when you form an intention, perform an action, and experience the consequences, and how you can affect this process in order to avoid causing suffering for yourself and others.

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42 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 4: Right Speech – Factual, Helpful, Kind, Pleasant, and Timely

Right speech is an essential part of Shakyamuni Buddha’s very first teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path, his prescription for spiritual liberation and insight. This teaching can be very useful to us in daily life, and recommends we avoid lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle (unmindful) chatter. The Buddha also gave us five things to consider before speaking: Is what we're about to say factual, helpful, kind (spoken with good-will), pleasant ("endearing"), and timely?

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36 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 3: The Noble Eightfold Path

In his very first sermon, delivered over 2,500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path. In this episode I describe this teaching and each of the eight aspects of the path. I also explain why Buddhism resists being summed up even by the simple and elegant formula of the Eightfold Path, because this teaching just one “lens” among many with which to view Buddhist practice.

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31 – Six Realms of Existence Part 3: Hungry Ghost and Human Realms

In this third episode of a 3-part series on the Buddhist teaching of the Six Realms of Existence, I describe the Hungry Ghost and Human Realms. I continue offering a traditional, mythological account of the realms, followed by a section about how to practice with each realm as a particular mind state you might experience in the course of your daily life.

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30 – Six Realms of Existence Part 2: Asura, Beast, and Hell Realms

In this 2nd episode of a 3-part series, I cover the Asura (fighting demigod), Beast, and Hell Realms. I continue offering a traditional, mythological account of the realms, followed by a section about how to practice with each realm as a particular mind state you might experience in the course of your daily life.

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