The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

87 – Nyoho: Making Even Our Smallest, Mundane Actions Accord with the Dharma – Part 1

We have a practice in Zen of trying to make even our smallest actions reflect the deep truths of the Dharma, including interdependence, impermanence, no-self, suchness, and Buddha-nature. I’m going to call this practice “Nyoho,” a Japanese term which means doing something “in accord with” (nyo) the Dharma (ho): Treating each and every thing we encounter with respect and care, and performing even the most mundane actions in a considerate, gracious, but efficient manner.

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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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85 – I Shouldn’t Feel Like This: A Practitioner’s Conundrum

Buddhism teaches that you can change the nature of your experience by changing your own mind and behaviors - increasing the proportion of your life spent feeling calm, confident, positive,and compassionate. Sometimes, after many years of effort, we experience negative thoughts and emotions and find ourselves thinking, “I shouldn’t feel like this.” I discuss how to practice with this conundrum, and suggest that sometimes our internal experience can’t or shouldn’t be changed, but simply tolerated.

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83 – Two Paths to Meditative Concentration: Directed Effort Versus Letting Go – Part 1

I believe some of our struggles in meditation could be eased if we recognized there are two paths to meditative concentration, or samadhi – directed effort, and letting go – and what works well for one person may be frustrating and fruitless for another. In this episode I briefly discuss what samadhi is, and then describe the two very different ways to achieve it. In the next episode I'll describe the “letting go” approach in more detail.

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82 – Buddhist History 10: Early Indian Buddhism – Stupas and Devotional Practice – Part 1

It’s pretty typical to hear only one side of Buddhist history – that is, the side that focuses on what the Buddha taught, or the Dharma, and on the people who studied and practiced that Dharma. There’s a whole other side to Buddhism, present since the beginning: Devotional Practice. In this episode (Part 1 of 2) I introduce what it is, and talk about its origins in the Buddha’s own teachings – which included instructions for the creation of the first Buddhist stupas, or sacred burial mounds.

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81 – Five Steps for Positive Change without Waging War on the Self

It’s natural and healthy to aspire to things like having more equanimity, being more generous, and overcoming negative habits – and, in fact, such aspiration is part of the Buddhist path. However, when we encounter aspects of ourselves that are difficult to change, we may be tempted to wage war on ourselves. This is not only counterproductive, it’s incompatible with our own aspirations. I’ll outline five steps to working on positive changes in your thoughts and behavior while ending the war with self.

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80 – Four Foundations of Mindfulness Practice and Similarities in Zen

In the last episode, I introduced the Four Foundations of Mindfulness as the Buddha taught them. Mindfulness means to remember something, or keep something in mind. The Four Foundations are the four categories of things you keep in mind if you want to walk the path to spiritual liberation. In this episode I talk about how the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are actually practiced, and then about how this teaching relates to Zen.

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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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78 – The Ten Oxherding Pictures: Stages of Practice When You’re Going Nowhere

The Ten Oxherding pictures are a Zen teaching, but many Buddhist practitioners are familiar with the experience of trying to motivate yourself to practice without the rewards of explicit, tangible goals or markers of progress. The oxherding pictures describe - rather than prescribe - stages of practice we go through over a lifetime. They can be inspiring and encouraging as long as you don't try too hard to evaluate which stage you're in, or strive to get to the next stage.

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77 – Western Zen Grows Up and Faces the Koan of Race – Part 2

This episode is the second part of a two-part series I’m calling “Western Zen Grows Up and Faces the Koan of Race.” It’s the story of my particular school, Soto Zen, in America, but even if you identify with a different type of Buddhism you may find it interesting because so many forms of Buddhism face a similar lack of racial diversity in the west – despite the diversity of our surrounding communities. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the development of western Buddhism, this is also the story of facing collective karma, and of a group questioning its collective “self-nature.”

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76 – Western Zen Grows Up and Faces the Koan of Race – Part 1

In this episode I tell you the story of my lineage of Zen over the last 100 years or so – its birth in America, its growth, its rocky adolescence, and how it's coming into an adulthood of sorts that gives it the strength to face the koan of race - particularly its own extreme lack of racial diversity. In the next episode, I’ll go into more detail about what’s involved in facing that koan and what a tremendous growth opportunity it is to do so, sharing with you some of the highlights from my recent priests’ conference.

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75 – Sekito Kisen’s Sandokai: The Identity of Relative and Absolute – Part 2

This my second episode on the Sandokai, an ancient teaching poem composed by Chinese Zen master Sekito Kisen (Shitou Xiqian, 700-790). It’s recited daily in Soto Zen temples throughout the world - one of only a handful of Zen or Buddhist scriptures similarly honored. In the first episode I read the whole poem, discussed the “big deal” about absolute and relative (why Zen talks about this topic so much), and started exploring the Sandokai line by line. In this episode I finish up that exploration.

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74 – Sekito Kisen’s Sandokai: The Identity of Relative and Absolute – Part 1

Sandokai is an ancient teaching poem composed by Chinese Zen master Sekito Kisen (Shitou Xiqian, 700-790). It’s recited daily in Soto Zen temples throughout the world. In the next two episodes I’ll explore the meaning of the Sandokai, and why it’s given such a central place in Soto Zen. In this first episode I discuss the “big deal” about absolute and relative (why Zen talks about this topic so much), read you the poem, and then explore it line by line. I only get part way through, so I finish up the exploration in the next episode.

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73 – Is Buddhism Religious, Spiritual, or Secular?

Is Buddhism religious, spiritual, or secular? The short answer to that is all three – depending what questions you’re asking. In this episode I define religious, spiritual, and secular, and then examine how these terms apply to Buddhism - and how they don't.

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