The Zen Studies Podcast

Recent Episodes

250 – In Zazen We Stop Imposing Ourselves on the World and Meet It Instead

In zazen we stop imposing ourselves on the world either through our habitual thinking or through any effort to control or judge our meditative experience. Only then can we meet the world us it is unfolding around, within, and through us - but this meeting requires energy and participation. This episode addresses the two essential aspects of zazen practice: What we are not doing, and what we are doing. Both are equally important and both are easily misunderstood.

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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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Recommended Episodes on Zazen

Your chosen form of meditation may be what I call "Directed Effort" meditation, or "Letting Go" meditation (I discuss Directed Effort versus letting go in Episodes 83 and 84: Two Paths to Meditative Concentration: Directed Effort Versus Letting Go – Part 1 and Part 2). In either case, you may find some useful tips in Episodes 184 and 185: 14 Ways to Enliven Your Zazen. When my zazen gets dull, lazy, restless, or distracted, these are the ways I try to engage my meditation more wholeheartedly.

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245 – Sangha Challenges: How and Why to Open Up to the Treasure of Sangha – Part 1

Should you join a Sangha? Sangha, or community, is one of the “Three Treasures” of Buddhism, but is it really necessary? How important is it? There are many "Sangha Challenges" - reasons you might feel resistance to joining a community, or difficulties you might face as you practice with one. I discuss ways to relate to various Sangha challenges as opportunities for practice and growth. 

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244 – Zazen as a Religious Act

Seated Zen meditation – zazen – is less like the meditative practices of many other spiritual traditions, and more like prayer in theistic traditions. This is not because we believe in God (although we might), but because zazen can be seen as a “religious” act – if we define religion in one of the ways philosopher William James offered, as “our total response to life.”

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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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242 – Reflections on Sansuikyo, Dogen’s Mountains and Waters Sutra

One of Zen master Dogen’s most beloved writings is a relatively short essay called “Sansuikyo,” or the Mountains and Waters Sutra. In this episode, I reflect on two aspects this work: The statement that mountains and waters are, in of themselves, words of the Buddha, and the fantastic imagery of “mountains walking.” I only cover a few paragraphs of the Sansuikyo, but it is enough to open up a profound spiritual inquiry.

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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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