The Zen Studies Podcast

Episodes on Buddhist Practice (what Buddhists do)

171 – Five Requirements for Effective Practice with Any Issue

I propose that effective practice with any issue we face requires five things: Recognition of the issue that is causing stress or suffering; Faith that change is possible though practice; Willingness to do what it takes to bring about change; Practice in the sense of actually doing something we think might help bring about that change, and Patience in the sense of the perfection (paramita), or a determination to keep walking the path of practice even if it takes longer than we’d like, or the results aren’t exactly what we’d hoped for.

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170 – Looking to Buddhism to Support Values and Beliefs We Already Hold – Part 2

Continuing with the case study of social action, I follow the discussion of Donald S. Lopez's article on whether Buddhism - in particular, the bodhisattva ideal - has much to offer in the domain of social action. Then I discuss why it matters to some of us that our faith tradition – whatever it is – encourages and supports the values we already hold, and what we might do about it when that isn’t the case.

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167 – If You’re Not Making Mistakes, You’re Not Practicing

How can practice with mistakes - so we make fewer mistakes, but also so we aren't paralyzed by fear of mistakes, stressed out trying to avoid them, or stuck in regret or self-recrimination once we've made them? It helps to understand how mistakes are viewed in Zen. They're a sign you're actually practicing, and there's a sense in which this is no such thing as a mistake.

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165 – The Buddhist Moral Precepts as a Practice for Studying the Buddha Way

The Buddhist precepts aren't just guidelines help us live moral and beneficial lives, they are also practice tools for studying the self. And, as Zen master Dogen wrote, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be verified by all things. To be verified by all things is to let the body and mind of the self and the body and mind of others drop off.” When we're tempted to break precepts, it's a sign that our "small self" has arisen, and we have the opportunity to observe what's happening and explore new ways to respond.

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164 – Gratitude as a Dharma Gate

Gratitude can be used as a practice to shift our attention from self-centered problems and complaints to an awareness of the miracle of simply being alive. It can help us be less reactive, depressed, anxious, and irritable, and more mindful and - frankly - happy. I explore the practice of gratitude and traditional Buddhist teachings about it.

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162 – Am I a Good Buddhist?

If you practice Buddhism, it's natural to ask yourself, at some point, "Am I a Good Buddhist?" It's difficult to see ourselves as a good Buddhist when we fail to act in accord with our own deeper aspirations. And yet, according to Zen, no amount of practice is going make us into a Buddha, any more than you can polish a tile and make it into a jewel. So what is practice about? Ultimately, it's about radically accepting ourselves while simultaneously honoring the call of our Buddha nature to work hard toward greater wisdom and compassion.

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161 – The Parinirvana Ceremony and the Teaching of the Buddha’s Dying and Death

Parinirvana, the death of the Buddha Shakyamuni, is commemorated by a ceremony in mid-February in most Buddhist communities throughout the world. The Buddha gave several important teachings right before his death, and there is teaching contained in the very manner and fact of his passing. In this episode I describe the Parinirvana (Nehan) ceremony in my lineage and discuss what we can learn from it.

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160 – Bearing Witness without Burning Out

For the sake of ourselves and others, we need to learn to Bear Witness without burning out. Bearing Witness means exposing ourselves to the suffering in the world in all its forms out of compassion. At the root of all suffering are the three poisons of greed, hate, and delusion, so Bearing Witness also means being aware of those forces in the world and the effects they have. This practice can be agitating and emotionally exhausting, so we need to learn how to do it without burning out.

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157 – Bodhicitta: The Critical Importance of Dissatisfaction

Dissatisfaction can lead to Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is a Buddhist term literally meaning “awakened mind” that can translated as “the mind that seeks the way.” It’s the part of us which aspires to free ourselves and others from suffering – arising, ironically, from dissatisfaction. We think, “There must be a better way,” or, “There must be more to life than this.” Then we arouse the determination to find out, and this propels us down the path of practice. Therefore, it is critically important for you be dissatisfied with your life.

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156 – Ebb and Flow in Buddhist Practice: Cycles of Energy, Inspiration, and Focus

You can expect your Buddhist practice to go through a cycle of ebb and flow in terms of energy, inspiration, and focus. At times, hopefully, you feel motivated and determined, and experience a period of learning and growth. Then there will inevitably be periods where your practice loses momentum. It may feel dull or aimless, or you may fall back into old, not-so-healthy habits. It’s important you don’t give up practice in times of low ebb, but instead recognize this as part of a natural cycle.

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154 – Avatamsaka Sutra – Each One of Us Has Unique Bodhisattva Gifts to Offer – Part 1

Part of our bodhisattva path is embracing our uniqueness and finding our own particular, special bodhisattva capacity, talents, and calling. Each of us has our own unique gifts to offer the world which will determine what kind of service we should devote ourselves to, it just takes some imagination to discover them. A teaching from Avatamsaka Sutra can help stimulate our imaginations in this regard.

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153 – Kshanti, The Perfection of Endurance: Life’s Not Always a Bed of Roses

Kshanti is the Buddhist perfection (paramita) of endurance. Practice can relieve suffering, but it takes work; it isn’t a magic pill that brings instant peace and bliss. An essential part of our practice is learning how to endure - but not in a passive way, but in a determined refusal to be beaten down, defeated, deflated, or stopped in our efforts to relieve suffering for self and other and bring about a better world.

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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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