The Zen Studies Podcast

Episodes on Meditation

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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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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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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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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194 – Pain in Meditation 2: Adjustments to Posture and When to Tolerate Discomfort

This is episode 2 in my discussion of physical discomfort in seated meditation. I discuss how to do it with a minimum of discomfort, including tips on spinal position and different kinds of meditation equipment. I try to call attention to specific practices that lead to discomfort or pain, and what the alternatives are. Because it’s rare to be able to meditate entirely without pain, I talk about when to tolerate pain, and when to adjust your meditation posture instead. Finally, I’ll share some options for you if seated meditation is not possible.

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193 – Pain in Meditation 1: Why the Seated Posture?

Many – if not most – meditators experience physical discomfort during seated meditation. This discomfort ranges from restlessness to severe pain. It’s worth exploring how to sit more comfortably, because otherwise you might be inclined to fidget when you sit, to sit less, or even to stop doing seated meditation entirely. In this episode I talk about why the seated meditation posture is so important, despite its tendency to cause some measure of discomfort. I also discuss the idea that mind and body are not separate, and in what way our discomfort always has both a physical and a psychological component.

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185 – 14 Ways to Enliven Your Zazen – Part 2

As I discussed in the last episode, if our zazen (seated meditation) practice is shikantaza, or just sitting, it can be difficult to remain wholehearted and attentive. I share nine more ways to enliven your zazen without employing methods that introduce dualism and struggle into your sitting. See Episode 184 for why this is important, and for my first five approaches.

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184 – 14 Ways to Enliven Your Zazen – Part 1

When we sit zazen, it can be difficult to remain wholehearted and attentive. Because of the momentum of habit energy, we get wrapped up in thoughts about the past and future, or we fall asleep, fantasize, or brood in worry or negative judgements. Our meditative practice (zazen) gives us nothing to concentrate on, nothing to do, so how can we enliven our zazen? In this episode I’ll discuss how to avoid duality and struggle in our zazen, and why we want to do so. Then I’ll share five ways to enliven your zazen. In the next episode I’ll describe nine more approaches, so you’ll have a nice repertoire of methods and may end up with some ideas of your own.

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172 – The Profound and Difficult Practice of Putting Everything Down

Putting everything down is what we do in meditation and when we're practicing mindfulness in daily life. Caught up in things like worry, excitement, or anger, we often find it nearly impossible to put things down, but it is essential we create time and space to do so. It can help to remember that Zen practice is about getting comfortable repeatedly putting things down, picking them back up, putting them down, and picking them up.

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159 – Active Receptivity in Zazen: Surrounded by a Symphony

Active receptivity is what we're aiming to cultivate in zazen, and in the rest of our practice. Despite the emphasis on what we’re NOT doing in zazen, it should lively and energetic activity, not passive. Think of putting aside your physical and mental activities in order to become incredibly quiet and receptive. Shhh! What's that? It’s like we’re surrounded by the music of a whole symphony that we usually can’t even hear because of our internal and external chatter.

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150 – Zazen as the Dharma Gate of Joyful Ease

In this episode I focus on how zazen is the dharma gate of joyful ease, because experiencing it as such is so profoundly restorative at a time when our lives tend to be stressful in many ways. I also think it’s necessary to explore the way in which zazen is the dharma gate of joyful ease because that dharma gate is subtle and can be elusive because to enter it we have to let go of all of our normal ways of operating.

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Mini Episode – A Four “S” Approach to Shikantaza: Sit Upright, Still, Silent, Simply Be

Shikantaza, or the practice of "just sitting," can be challenging. We're asked not to try to control our meditative experience, but are we just supposed to sit there like a sack of potatoes and let habit energy have its way? I present a simple approach to returning to your intention whenever you have a moment of awareness in your sitting, and making that intention very simple and free from expectation of results. We simply intend four "S's": To sit upright, still, silent, and simply be.

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122 – Meditation Is NOT About Stopping Thoughts

Non-meditators, beginners, and long-time Buddhist practitioners alike tend to believe meditation is all about stopping our thoughts. This is a serious misunderstanding, and, sadly, keeps many people from embracing the practice of meditation. It’s very important to understand the true purpose and function of meditation, because the vast majority of us find it impossible to stop our thoughts, at least through willful effort. In this episode, I talk about why we long to be thought-free. Then I discuss how meditation is not about stopping thought, but instead is a practice of diligently and repeatedly turning our attention to something beyond thought, thereby realigning our whole being. Meditation requires diligence and determination, but also patience, humility, and faith.

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113 – Clarification: It’s Okay to Use Multiple Types of Meditation

Two clarifications about my teaching on meditation: First, in my enthusiastic endorsement of shikantaza or, "just sitting," I may have given the impression I think a real Zen student would only sit shikantaza. I want to go on record saying it's fine to use multiple types of meditation in your practice. Second, I seem to have communicated the idea there’s no place in Zen for paying attention to, learning from, and working with your thoughts and feelings, at least not in meditation. In my tradition we tend to do this work off the meditation seat, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t devote some or all of your meditation time to it, if you find that fruitful.

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96 – A Zazen Pamphlet: Essential (and Brief) Instructions for the Practice of Zazen

I challenged myself to write instructions for the practice of zazen that would fit on letter-sized, tri-fold brochure – 8 ½ by 11 inches, two sided. I figured I’d share it here on the podcast – and if this episode is too short for you, I recommend listening to it twice, because this “pamphlet” really does, to my mind, capture the essence of shikantaza! (At least as I think of it right now).

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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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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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69 – The Soto Zen Goal of Goallessness: How to Awaken Without Trying

The goal of Buddhism, including Zen, is to awaken to what’s true, because the truth is liberating. And yet my tradition, Soto Zen, points us toward the “goal of goallessness,” telling us we’ll awaken if only we give up our desire for anything else (including achieving some “goal” called awakening). Our Soto Zen practice is just sitting, without making any effort to influence our meditative experience. In this episode I’ll [TK] explore how the “goal of goallessness” points to the fact that if we willfully try to awaken, we create duality and get in our own way. Fortunately, Zen offers us ways to awaken without trying.

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