The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

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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223 – Integrating Insights

On the meditation seat and off, we may experience significant insights - realizations that shift our perceptions of ourselves and world, and help relieve suffering. Insights may be sudden or gradual, major or minor, but we naturally want to be able to hold on them instead of forgetting them and going back to our previous way of thinking or being. Yet sometimes these insights seem to slip away or fade with time. Our effort to hold on to them sometimes causes them to recede even further. How can we integrate insights into our lives and practice?

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221 – Confronting the Buddha’s Sexist Discourse – Part 1

I introduce the text that describes the Buddha’s negative words and actions in response to the question of ordaining women into what was called the “homeless life” of his monastic community. Then I’ll talk about various ways we can explain, dismiss, or justify the story contained in this text. In the next episode I’ll explore how, for some of us, explaining, dismissing, or justifying the story of the Buddha’s sexist discourse does not completely neutralize the discouraging effect of this story’s presence in the Buddhist canon, and how we can relate to the story without losing our faith in this path of practice.

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220 – Being the Only Buddhist in Your Family – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my discussion about being the only Buddhist in your family. I continue discussing ways to create more harmony between your spiritual practice and your family relationships, and then talk about the special case of being in and intimate relationship with someone who doesn’t share your passion for Buddhist practice.

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219 – Being the Only Buddhist in Your Family – Part 1

Many – if not most – English-speaking Buddhists are converts to Buddhism. Even if you were raised in a Buddhist family, chances are good that as an adult you are surrounded by non-Buddhists, or that as an active Buddhist practitioner you are surrounded by people for whom Buddhism is largely a cultural matter. I discuss the challenges of being the only Buddhist in your family or intimate relationship, and ways to create more harmony between your spiritual practice and your close relationships.

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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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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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