The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

214 – How Do You DO Zazen, Anyway?

Offering you another episode on zazen risks me repeating myself, but I don’t think it hurts to offer a fresh new talk on zazen periodically. The practice – while profoundly simple – also can be frustratingly elusive. What are you supposed to do during zazen, anyway? We’re told to just sit, and then allow thoughts to come and go, neither chasing them nor pushing them away. Is that it? In this episode I explore exactly what we’re supposed to be doing in zazen, and how to know if we’re doing it correctly.

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213 – Deconstructing Self: Which Aspects Are Fine, and Which Cause Suffering?

The core teaching of Zen is that understanding the true nature of self is of the utmost importance to living a life that is liberated, compassionate, generous, wise, and skillful. Mindful examination of a subject like the self classically involves something akin to deconstruction; once we recognize the component parts of something, our sense of it as monolithic thing or force is undermined. I parse "the self" into six aspects, and discuss how each relates to our 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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211 – Book Review – Kosho Uchiyama’s “Opening the Hand of Thought”

Uchiyama Roshi's Opening the Hand of Thought is a great book for the beginner as well as the advanced practitioner of Zen. Uchiyama manages to balance philosophical discussion of the most challenging Zen topics - the nature of zazen, and awakening to universal self - with a compassionate, down-to-earth, creative (and sometimes humorous) style that makes you think, "I just might get it this time!"

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208 – Nine Benefits of Buddhist Practice in Difficult Times

How can practice help us deal with the strong negative emotions we experience in difficult times, such as anger, hatred, fear, or despair? Fortunately, Buddhist practice is a powerful way to decrease our pain, agitation, reactivity, and preoccupation no matter what difficulties we’re facing, whether the challenges are in our personal lives or out in the world. I talk about nine benefits of Buddhist practice that are especially helpful when you’re facing difficult times. 

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207 – Dirt Zendo, Cloud Zendo, One Sangha: Buddhist Community in the Digital Age – Part 2

In the last episode, I talked about the new phenomenon of a virtual space for practice, including its merits and benefits. In this episode, I talk about the merits of practicing in a "Dirt Zendo" - a physical practice space, in-the-flesh. I then describe, at Bright Way Zen, we are attempting to create a sense of Sangha that connects and includes anyone who practices with us, regardless of whether they participate in-the-flesh, online (in our Cloud Zendo), or both.

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206 – Dirt Zendo, Cloud Zendo, One Sangha: Buddhist Community in the Digital Age – Part 1

Since COVID lockdown, Buddhist communities have greatly expanded their online practice opportunities. Virtual spaces are surprisingly effective for practice and building a sense of Sangha. Many Buddhist and Zen centers are now facing the prospect of permanently including options for virtual participation, which brings many opportunities but also many challenges. I discuss how the virtual and physical practice spaces look at my Zen center, and how we structure hybrid meetings. Then I talk about the merits of what we call the “Cloud Zendo.” In my next episode, I’ll discuss the merits of a good old-fashioned physical practice space, which we call the “Dirt Zendo,” and the ways my Zen center is trying to integrate and care for both of our Zendos and create a sense of being one Sangha.

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205 – Motivation for Practice: What Do You Love Most Deeply?

In order to find motivation for diligent practice, it can help to identify and connect with what you love more than anything else in the whole world. What love makes your life worth living? Love for your children, grandchildren, animals, nature, music, beauty, justice, knowledge? What or who arouses an unconditional sense of affinity and inspiration in the core of your being? Then practice for the subject of your love, because practice makes you better able to access, express, and manifest your love.

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204 – Buddha-Nature: What the Heck is It and How Do We Realize It? Part 2

This is my second episode on one of the central teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, that all beings have Buddha-Nature (buddhata). In the first episode I discussed the view of human nature in original Buddhism and why the teaching of Buddha-Nature may have arisen in response to it. Then I talked about the beauty of the Buddha-Nature teaching along with some of its potential pitfalls. In this episode I discuss more about what Buddha-Nature is and is not, how we can benefit from this teaching, and in what sense having Buddha-Nature is a good thing even before you awaken to it.

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203 – Buddha-Nature: What the Heck is It and How Do We Realize It? Part 1

One of the central teachings of Mahayana Buddhism is that all beings have Buddha-Nature (buddhata). Awakening to this Buddha-Nature allows one to attain unsurpassed enlightenment, so it is clearly pure, good, and redemptive. But what is Buddha-Nature? Sometimes it is presented as our potential for awakening. Sometimes it is associated with our bodhi-mind – that which causes us to seek the Buddha Way. Not surprisingly, the teaching of buddhata is difficult to grasp. Even so, we can have a sense of it, and this offers an experience of personal redemption and deep faith in the Dharma.

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202 – Two Truths: Everything is Okay and Everything is NOT Okay at the Same Time

Reality has two dimensions. Along the dependent dimension, our world is unequivocally full of greed, hate, delusion, and suffering, and any moral person should feel compelled to do something to make things better. Along the independent dimension, things are just as they are, and when we don’t impose our expectations and preconceived notions on the world, it’s a miracle anything exists at all. The two dimensions do not conflict with one another but are simultaneously true. The challenge is to be awake to, and live in harmony with, both dimensions, without clinging to either one.

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200 – Story of My Spiritual Journey Part 4: Enlightenments

This episode is the story of my spiritual journey, part 4. I start sharing a series of what I’m calling “enlightenments” I experienced over the course of the first ten years or so of my monastic training. These “enlightenments” were transformational insights that allowed me, slowly but surely, to find the happiness and peace of mind I was searching for.

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