The Zen Studies Podcast

Episodes on Buddhist Practice (what Buddhists do)

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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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114 – Why Your (Real) Happiness Benefits Others

Real happiness is unconditional, and is achieved by releasing our suffering. Even though things are rarely how we would like them to be - within, or in our personal lives, or in the greater world - we have the potential to let go of our resistance, grief, or anger, and feel more relaxed, at ease, grateful, and enthusiastic. In this sense, working towards real happiness is far from selfish; it makes us much more able to respond compassionately and skillfully, and therefore it benefits others.

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112 – Dogen’s “Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings” – Part 3 – Loving Words

In this episode I continue our study of 12th-century Zen master Dogen’s essay, Bodaisatta Shishobo, or what I’m calling the "Four Ways Bodhisattvas Embrace Living Beings." In Episode 105 I gave you an overview of the essay and briefly defined the bodhisattva’s four “embracing actions,” which are practicing nongreed, loving words, beneficial action, and “being in the same boat” as other beings. In Episode 106 I took us line by line through the part of Dogen’s essay about nongreed, or giving. Today I’ll pick up where we left off, and cover the section of the essay on loving words, or kind speech.

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111 – You Can’t Hold on to Stillness: Practice in Activity

If we're lucky, our practices of meditation and mindfulness give us some sense of spaciousness, stillness, and silence. But what about when we get up from the meditation seat? What about when we engage in activities more complicated and demanding than potentially calming manual tasks like weeding the garden, sweeping, or washing the dishes? Zen master Dogen teaches us a better way to practice in the midst of activity: maintaining joyful mind, nurturing mind, and magnanimous mind. These qualities have the potential to grow even stronger as we get busier.

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107 – Active Hope 1: Finding and Enacting Our Best Response to the World’s Suffering

Buddhism includes values of Right Action and Right Livelihood, generosity, goodwill, and compassion, and Mahayana Buddhists vow to free all beings from suffering. It's not easy to enact these values and aspirations in the modern world, which is so complex we find ourselves complicit in causes of suffering simply by participating in society, or by neglecting to stand up for change. How do we find and enact our best response to the world's suffering? 

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102 – Nine Fields of Zen Practice 3: Nyoho, Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity

Buddhist practice can permeate every aspect of our lives. To help practitioners appreciate this outside the full-immersion experience of residential training, I’ve defined Nine Fields of Zen Practice: Zazen, Dharma Study, Cultivating Insight, Precepts, Opening the Heart, Connecting with the Ineffable, Nyoho, Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity. In this episode I cover Nyoho, Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity.

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101 – The Koan of Awakening: Do You Know the Essential Truth Yet, Or Not?

From the beginning, it’s been clear that the highest rewards of Buddhism are experienced through a fundamental and radical shift in the way you understand the world and your place in it. Throughout time, and among different forms of Buddhism, this shift in understanding has been called different things, including awakening, enlightenment, Right View or Right Understanding, realization, satori, or kensho (a Japanese term which means “seeing one’s true nature”). In this episode I explore “awakening” in Buddhism: What’s meant by the term, attitudes we take toward awakening, why it’s so elusive, and how we can make the process of seeking less painful.

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99 – Nine Fields of Zen Practice: A Framework for Letting Practice Permeate Your Life – Part 2

Zen practice can permeate every aspect of our lives. To help lay practitioners appreciate this outside the full-immersion experience of residential training, I’ve defined Nine Fields of Zen Practice: Zazen, Dharma Study, Cultivating Insight, Precepts, Opening the Heart, Connecting with the Ineffable, Nyoho, Karma Work, and Bodhisattva Activity. In this episode I cover Precepts, Opening the Heart, and Connecting with the Ineffable.

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