The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

255 – The Medicine of Emptiness When Witnessing Suffering and Injustice

When we witness - or experience - suffering or injustice, the medicine of emptiness can give us strength and equanimity. It should also increase our compassion, allowing us to be open, sensitive, and responsive without getting overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, fear, anger, or hatred. I talk about what the "medicine of emptiness" is - and isn't - and how to access it.

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249 – Are the Buddha’s Teachings on Renunciation Relevant for Householders? – Part 2

In this second half of a two-episode discussion, I briefly review the limitations of sensual or worldly pleasures. Then I explore how engagement with the world, contrary to simply being a compromise, can be its own path of practice. Finally, I talk about how the Buddha’s teachings on renunciation are not only relevant but deeply meaningful and useful for householders.

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248 – Are the Buddha’s Teachings on Renunciation Relevant for Householders? – Part 1

The Buddha was pretty clear. If you wanted to experience complete liberation, it was best to leave all worldly things behind: Family, sex, alcohol, fancy food, music, entertainment, frivolity, etc. Why did the Buddha recommend this? Why do fully ordained Buddhist monks and nuns still live this way? Are the Buddha’s teachings on renunciation relevant for householders?

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243 – The Buddha’s Life Story as Archetype and Teaching

Understanding the teachings of Buddhism starts with becoming familiar with the Buddha's life story. This isn't because he is believed to have been divine, or even a prophet. Instead, his story is important because it serves as an archetype for the Buddhist vision of spiritual seeking and development. There are many teachings embedded in the story of the Buddha, who is regarded as having been a remarkable human being – but just a human being, like you or me.

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239 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 3: Buddha-Nature 1

This is part three of my series called “One Reality, Many Descriptions.” While experiences of Emptiness and Suchness (or Thusness) may be liberating and transformative, we may be left with the question of how our limited, embodied existence relates to these profound truths. Our natural inclination toward self-preservation, our appetites and shortcomings, our ingrained habits, our complacency – these things can seem at odds with the greater Reality we have started to perceive. The teaching of Buddha-Nature points to the marvelous and redemptive fact that we too – just as we are – are Thus: Luminous and miraculous in and of ourselves.

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235 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 2: Suchness or Thusness

What do Buddhists mean by the terms “Suchness” or “Thusness”? Over the millennia, Buddhists have employed many concepts to point us toward Reality-with-a-Capital-R, because awakening to Reality is profoundly liberating. This series of episodes discusses five classic descriptions of Reality. In Episode 229 I talked about the first of these, Emptiness (One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 1: Emptiness). In this episode I explore Suchness, or Thusness.

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229 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 1: Emptiness

Teachings like Emptiness, Buddha-Nature, Suchness, Absolute and Relative, and Mind-with-a-capital-M are challenging, and sometimes people wonder if they’re all just terms for the same thing, more or less, or whether they’re part of a long list of difficult-to-comprehend concepts we need to master as Buddhists . It may be helpful to realize that each of these classic Buddhist concepts describes Reality-with-a-capital-R, and there’s only one Reality. The concepts, therefore, are intimately related to one another, and each one emphasizes different aspects of Reality in a very useful way. In this episode I discuss Buddhist descriptions of Reality in general, and then talk about Sunyata, or Emptiness.

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224 – Human Nature: Why Aren’t We Born Enlightened?

Why aren't we just all born enlightened and avoid suffering? Or, we could ask: Why are human beings the way they are? Why did they evolve to cause so much suffering for themselves and others? If we all have Buddha-Nature, why isn’t that manifest from the beginning, and why does it get obscured so completely? Why is practice so hard if, as the teachings say, we have everything we need from the beginning?

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218 – The Fourfold Bodhisattva Vow Part 3: Entering Dharma Gates & Attaining Buddhahood

I discuss the third and fourth vows of the Fourfold Bodhisattva Vow, about entering all Dharma Gates and embodying the unsurpassed Buddha Way. For some of us, these seem less accessible and relevant than the first two, about freeing all beings and ending all delusions. I talk about what the third and fourth vows mean and why making them is valuable to our practice.

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216 – The Fourfold Bodhisattva Vow Part 1: Freeing All Beings

In this episode I review the meaning of the Fourfold Bodhisattva Vow, and then explore the first of the vows in detail: Beings are numberless, I vow to free them. What does it mean to free beings, and what does it mean to our practice that we vow to free every last one of an infinite number of beings? In the next couple episodes I will similarly explore the second, third, and fourth vows.

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215 – We Will Die Soon: Contemplating Impermanence to Motivate Practice

From the time of the Buddha, Buddhists have spent time contemplating impermanence - often by deliberately meditating on their own mortality and eventual death. This practice isn't for everyone, but it can help motivate us stay motivated to practice, focus on our deepest aspirations, take responsibility for our karma, maintain equanimity, and remember the preciousness of this moment. It can also lead to profound insights about the nature of the self.

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