The Zen Studies Podcast

Episodes on Buddhist Practice (what Buddhists do)

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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78 – The Ten Oxherding Pictures: Stages of Practice When You’re Going Nowhere

The Ten Oxherding pictures are a Zen teaching, but many Buddhist practitioners are familiar with the experience of trying to motivate yourself to practice without the rewards of explicit, tangible goals or markers of progress. The oxherding pictures describe - rather than prescribe - stages of practice we go through over a lifetime. They can be inspiring and encouraging as long as you don't try too hard to evaluate which stage you're in, or strive to get to the next stage.

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77 – Western Zen Grows Up and Faces the Koan of Race – Part 2

This episode is the second part of a two-part series I’m calling “Western Zen Grows Up and Faces the Koan of Race.” It’s the story of my particular school, Soto Zen, in America, but even if you identify with a different type of Buddhism you may find it interesting because so many forms of Buddhism face a similar lack of racial diversity in the west – despite the diversity of our surrounding communities. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the development of western Buddhism, this is also the story of facing collective karma, and of a group questioning its collective “self-nature.”

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76 – Western Zen Grows Up and Faces the Koan of Race – Part 1

In this episode I tell you the story of my lineage of Zen over the last 100 years or so – its birth in America, its growth, its rocky adolescence, and how it's coming into an adulthood of sorts that gives it the strength to face the koan of race - particularly its own extreme lack of racial diversity. In the next episode, I’ll go into more detail about what’s involved in facing that koan and what a tremendous growth opportunity it is to do so, sharing with you some of the highlights from my recent priests’ conference.

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73 – Is Buddhism Religious, Spiritual, or Secular?

Is Buddhism religious, spiritual, or secular? The short answer to that is all three – depending what questions you’re asking. In this episode I define religious, spiritual, and secular, and then examine how these terms apply to Buddhism - and how they don't.

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72 – Taking Care of Our Lives: More About the Karma Relationship Side of Practice

Samadhi power is about cultivating a direct, real-life experience of the nondual aspect of reality, while karma relationship is about taking care of our lives in order to reduce suffering and reflect the truth of the nondual in the midst of the relative. In this episode I focus on karma relationship – why it’s so important, what it involves, and the main Buddhist practices we do to work on our karma.

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70 – Buddhist Practice: Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions

“Intrusive” thoughts and emotions arise repeatedly with enough intensity for them to be disturbing or distracting, even though they aren’t objectively relevant or helpful as they’re arising. In this episode I describe how to use Buddhist practice to reduce the intrusiveness of irrelevant or unhelpful thoughts and emotions by decreasing our identification with the content of our experience and increasing our identification with our natural, spacious awareness.

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68 – Relating to Buddhist Teachings 2: Wrestling with the Teachings

From the perspective of most Buddhist lineages, including Zen, study is essential. In this episode I’ll get into why that is and present a practical way you can engage with Buddhist teachings in a fruitful, transformative way that isn’t just intellectual. Then I’ll talk about how you go about studying the teachings – where do you start, and what should you study?

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67 – Relating to Buddhist Teachings 1: Their Abundance, Diversity & Authenticity

If you’ve spent any time at all studying Buddhism, you’ve discovered there are lots of Buddhist teachings and texts. What should you choose to study? Where do you begin? How much do you really need to know? How should you relate to the teachings, some of which may end up seeming contradictory? In this episode I give you an overview of the Buddhist teachings as a whole, and how the authority of a given text is measured and viewed by Buddhists. In the next episode I'll explain why it's important to study.

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61 – Taking Refuge and Precepts: The Significance of Becoming a Buddhist – Part 2

This is the second of two episodes on the practice of formally making vows - typically taking refuge and precepts - and becoming a Buddhist as a lay person, in which I introduce you to two more ways of approaching lay vows in Buddhism. As promised, I’ll describe the practice at two different local Buddhist centers in my area – one Theravadin, and one Vajrayana, and wrap up by talking about what motivates people to take this step.

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60 – Taking Refuge and Precepts: The Significance of Becoming a Buddhist – Part 1

Many religions have initiation rituals in which adherents formally commit themselves to their tradition – baptism, confirmation, and Bar or Bat Mitzvah, for example. Buddhism has its own initiation rituals which usually involve "taking refuge" in the three treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), but beyond that vary widely. I introduce this tradition and then describe this ritual at my own Zen center. Next week I'll describe rituals at a local Theravadin center, and a Vajrayana center.

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52 – Profound, Practical, Mutable: Dharma Transmission in Zen – Part 2

In Soto Zen Buddhism, “Dharma Transmission” is a ritual in which a qualified Zen teacher acknowledges the ability of one of their students to carry on the lineage tradition of Zen. In this episode I give you a sense of the significance of Dharma Transmission in the history and development of Chan and Zen Buddhism, and the ongoing utility of the tradition in terms of teacher authorization.

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51 – Profound, Practical, Mutable: Dharma Transmission in Zen – Part 1

In Soto Zen Buddhism, “Dharma Transmission” is a ritual in which a qualified Zen teacher acknowledges the ability of one of their students to carry on the lineage tradition of Zen. In this episode I introduce you to the practice, including a description of my own experience of it, the criteria for giving it, the great variability in how it’s viewed and used, and the sense in which it’s about  two individuals mutually recognizing awakened mind in each other.

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44 – The Value of Buddhist Prayer Part 2: Aid-Seeking If There’s No God

I continue our exploration of Buddhist prayer with a discussion of "aid-seeking" prayer, or prayer for a positive result. In particular, in this episode I cover the long-established traditions of Buddhist prayer for positive physical or external results, such as protection from danger, recovery from illness, or plentiful rain for crops. (In the next episode I'll talk about prayer to affect change in our own practice, experience, or behavior.)

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43 – The Value of Buddhist Prayer Part 1: Paradox of Prayer in a Nontheistic Spiritual Tradition

You might be surprised to know many Buddhists pray, given that Buddhism is fundamentally a nontheistic religion. It’s possible to be an avowed atheist and a devout Buddhist at the same time. In fact, such a Buddhist might even pray! I’ll explain more about how this works in this episode, which will be the first of two. I’ll introduce you to three basic reasons Buddhists pray, take you through the first two reasons, and then finish up next week by going into more detail about the third type of prayer.

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42 – Buddha’s Teachings Part 4: Right Speech – Factual, Helpful, Kind, Pleasant, and Timely

Right speech is an essential part of Shakyamuni Buddha’s very first teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path, his prescription for spiritual liberation and insight. This teaching can be very useful to us in daily life, and recommends we avoid lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle (unmindful) chatter. The Buddha also gave us five things to consider before speaking: Is what we're about to say factual, helpful, kind (spoken with good-will), pleasant ("endearing"), and timely?

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38 – The Two Sides of Practice: Samadhi Power and Karma Relationship

Buddhist practice can be seen as consisting of two sides, and both are essential. The first side is cultivating “samadhi power,” or our ability to perceive – or be awake to – the absolute aspect of reality. We do this through practices including meditation, mindfulness, and studying teachings such as impermanence and emptiness. The second side of our overall practice is working on “karma relationship,” or learning to live our daily lives in an enlightened way. We do this by working with our karma, keeping precepts, honoring relationships, and understanding how the absolute aspect of reality corresponds to the relative aspect. If we neglect either side, our practice can stagnate or go awry.

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25 – Work as Spiritual Practice According to Dogen’s “Instructions to the Cook” – Part 1

Zen demands that we engage our everyday activities, particularly work, as spiritual practice. Few writings describe Zen work practice as well as Zen master Dogen’s “Tenzokyokun,” or “Instructions to the Tenzo” (a tenzo being the head cook in a monastery), so I’ll use this short text to frame my presentation. Although the Tenzokyokun describes the work of a specialized role within a Zen monastery, its teachings about taking care, serving others, appreciating everything, and becoming one with your work are relevant to everyone, no matter what their work or life circumstances.

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