The Zen Studies Podcast

Episodes on Buddhist Practice (what Buddhists do)

148 – Three Ingredients for a Generous Life in a Crazy World

To create a generous life in a crazy world, I suggest a recipe for practice containing three essential ingredients. A skillful balance of these ingredients helps you sustain energy, motivation, positivity, and equanimity even when so many things are falling apart, corrupt, unjust, discouraging, even frightening. It helps you maintain compassion and take responsibility as a citizen of the world without being overwhelmed and disheartened by the scale of the suffering, and helpf you take joy in your precious life without denying or ignoring suffering and injustice.

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147 – Loving-Kindness (Metta) Practice as an Antidote to Fear and Anxiety

When we call suffering beings to mind and extend metta, we face reality while centering ourselves in our true self, which is boundless and interdependent with all of life. We recognize the wellbeing of others is not separate from our own wellbeing. This might seem like metta practice would open us up to even more suffering, thereby increasing our own fear and anxiety, but this is not the case. In fact, metta helps us face reality – an absolutely essential part of our Buddhist practice – while aligned with our deeper nature. This alignment results in a sense of plenty – of having resources to share. It results in a sense of strength, because we are centered in our boundless self and have given up our self-centered concern and defensiveness. Metta practice also counteracts our sense of powerlessness in the face of tragedy or difficult circumstances, and awakens our compassionate impulses to help.

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146 – Unconditional Respect for Terrible People: What Does It Mean?

Buddhism, as well as many other religions, teach that we should treat each and every human being with respect, regardless of their behavior or off-putting manifestation. What does this really mean? Sometimes people are hateful, manipulative, cruel, selfish, irresponsible, or downright violent and destructive. Surely, in being asked to respect such people, we’re not being asked to ignore or condone their behavior, so how does respect for them actually look? And why is it important to cultivate this unconditional respect?

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145 – No Matter What Happens to You, You Have Choice in the Matter

Buddhism teaches that no matter what happens to us, we always have some degree of choice about how we respond, and what we do next. At those critical, precious moments when your perspective widens and you become more aware of yourself, you can act in accordance with your aspiration to relieve suffering for self and other. This is what practice is: Taking advantage of our moments of choice, which arise countless times throughout the day and night, never losing faith that each of those little choices matter.

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143 – The Experience of Enlightenment and Why It’s for All of Us

Whether you are personally intrigued by the concept of enlightenment or not, it is absolutely central to Buddhism. However, enlightenment – to use a kind of corny phrase – is not what you think. I’ll discuss sudden and gradual experiences of enlightenment, the changes such experiences bring about in us, and why it’s important for all of us to seek enlightenment.

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141 – The Practice of Vow 2: Choosing the Direction We Want Our Lives to Take

Vow is a central practice in Buddhism, as I’ve discussed before. Vows – alternatively aspirations, intentions, or commitments, formal or informal – are a conscious choice we make about the kind of life we want to live, and the kind of person we want to be. Clarifying the vows we are already living, and the vows we still want to take on, can help give direction and meaning to our lives. 

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140 – Sustainable Buddhist Practice: Creating Form But Keeping It Flexible

How do we create a strong and sustainable Buddhist practice outside of a monastery? It takes determination, creativity, and flexibility. In some ways practice outside of a monastery is harder. We need to create structure for ourselves and build up good habits, but then the circumstances of our lives change, and our practice has to change. There are many competing demands on our attention and time, so we need to consistently maintain our practice (can’t just “set it and go”). We’re mostly doing this alone, relying on our own self-discipline instead of social support (or even “positive peer pressure”). The key is giving our practice form, but also accepting that it will change, sometimes constantly; learning to hold it together like clay on a potter’s wheel but recognizing this is a dynamic process.

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137 – Sustainable Bodhisattva Practice when the World is (Literally) on Fire

Many American cities are on fire - literally - as tensions over systemic racism erupt. How do we enact our bodhisattva vows in the face of all of this suffering - caused by racism, the global pandemic, the breakdown of earth's natural life support systems, and global heating? Our vow is to "save all beings" but - at least in terms of an individual's goal - is impossible. How do we honor our bodhisattva vow in a vital and authentic way, as opposed to it being a largely irrelevant ideal?

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136 – Grief in Buddhism 2: Some Buddhist Practices Helpful for Facing and Integrating Grief

Grief is love in the face of loss; do you want to stop loving in order to stop feeling grief? Of course not. But we also don't want to be controlled or overwhelmed by it. There are a number of Buddhist practices that can help us as we practice with grief – trying to face it, and making sure we don’t impede our own grief process. What I’ll share in this episode isn’t by any means a developed or exhaustive process of grief work, it’s just a short list of Buddhist practices that can be beneficial.

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135 – Grief in Buddhism 1: Buddhist Teachings on Grief and the Danger of Spiritual Bypassing

Grief in Buddhism: What are the teachings about it, and how are we supposed to practice with it? It's often easy to suppress or bypass our grief. This may leave us stuck in one of the early stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, or depression), or unable to face reality or live with a fully open heart. Unfortunately, some Buddhist teachings may seem to suggest it's better if we don't feel grief. I explore the question of grief and how we can practice with it in Buddhism in a fruitful and beneficial way.

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131 – Facing Impermanence? Fortunately, Buddhism Is All About Life and Death

Buddhism’s central point is nothing other than impermanence, or the "Great Matter of Life-and-Death." Our practice goes far beyond platitudes or beliefs meant to make you feel better about the whole affair. Instead, the essence of our practice is a direct and personal exploration of the experience and implications of being alive in a world where there is absolutely nothing unchanging for us to hold on to. Except, of course, that very fact, and the fact that being fully alive means we don’t hold on to anything at all.

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130 – Practicing with Fear in Buddhism

Fear is a natural response that helps us protect ourselves and our loved ones, but it can also be inappropriate and debilitating. Buddhist practice offers many ways to help us manage our fear. We start with mindfulness of fear in and of itself, and then become mindful of what feeds it versus what decreases it. We then act in ways that increase our equanimity. We also let go of expectations, assumptions, and narratives in order to decrease suffering and ground ourselves in the absolute aspect of reality.

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129 – Why Is Self-Esteem Essential When the Self is Empty?

Self-esteem is absolutely essential in Buddhist practice, but it may seem like self-esteem has no place in Buddhism. The Buddha taught us to stop identifying anything as I, me, or mine, because doing so leads to suffering. In Mahayana Buddhism we say the self is empty of any inherently-existing, enduring, independent self-nature. What exactly is it we’re supposed to hold in esteem, or have confidence in? If the main point is to transcend self-concern, isn’t self-esteem the opposite of what we’re going for?

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128 – Taking Action: Getting Out of the House and Helping Others (Crisis Buddhism Part 3)

Taking Action is the second area of practice in Crisis Buddhism. It means working to help alleviate or prevent the suffering we witness in the world by leaving our homes, interacting with others, and engaging in bodhisattva activity in an active, tangible way. In this episode I begin addressing three reasons we resist Taking Action: We don't think it's "our thing," we don't have the time or energy, or we don't see anything we do that's also worth doing.

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127 – Bearing Witness: Exposing Ourselves to the Suffering in the World (Crisis Buddhism Part 2)

Crisis Buddhism requires us to mindfully balance three essential areas of practice: Bearing Witness, Taking Action, and Taking Care. In this episode I discuss Bearing Witness, or exposing ourselves to the suffering of the world in all its forms in order to make wise decisions, activate our natural compassion, and awaken a sense of urgency. How do we Bear Witness without becoming overwhelmed, depressed, or despairing? We embrace it as a noble practice of compassion and wisdom.

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126 – Crisis Buddhism: Sustainable Bodhisattva Practice in a World on Fire – Part 1

Crisis Buddhism is a new formulation of Buddhist practice I’ve come up with that I hope will help you navigate your everyday life as we face ecological and climate breakdown. It asks us to mindfully balance three essential areas of practice: Bearing Witness, or learning about the suffering of the world in all its forms in order to make wise decisions, activate our natural compassion, and awaken a sense of urgency; Taking Action, or participating in a tangible way to help alleviate or prevent the suffering we witness, and Taking Care, or engaging in activities, relationships, and practices that sustain us.

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125 – Liberation Through Understanding the Five Wisdom Energies

The Vajrayana teaching of the five wisdom energies is a about five types of energy we all have within us, or five tendencies within a human being. Within each of us, one or two energies tend to predominate, resulting in what we might call “personality,” but at a deeper level these five energies are about five characteristic orientations to the conundrum of human life.

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124 – The Buddhist Practice of Vow: Giving Shape to Our Lives

Vows guide our decisions, help us prioritize how we spend our time, resources, and energy, and allow us to discern whether our actions are in harmony with our deeper aspirations - helping us live intentionally instead of letting our decisions be determined by habit energy, inertia, fear, selfishness, or a lack of imagination. I first discuss why it can be so hard to stay true to our intentions, and then I present five aspects of the Buddhist practice of vow that make it a powerful way to shape our lives.

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121 – The Practical Value of Awakening to the Absolute Aspect of Reality

Next week I’ll take a break from my busy life and projects in order to attend a silent meditation retreat. After spending the half-a-year since my last retreat immersed in the relative aspect of life, the absolute aspect of life will come to the fore. I hope to regain balance and see everything in a much larger context. In this episode, I talk about what that feels like, and the value of awakening to the absolute aspect of reality if you want be an effective agent for positive change in the relative world.

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116 – Do You Need a Zen or Buddhist Teacher?

Every few weeks or so, I get an email from a listener who feels they need a Zen teacher. Some people have asked whether I might be able to function as a teacher for them long distance. I’m never sure what to say… I mean, what does it mean for someone to “have” a Zen or Buddhist teacher? Do you need a teacher? I’m going to explore these questions in this episode, and I imagine you won’t be surprised that the gist of my answer is, “It depends.”

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