The Zen Studies Podcast

Zen Teachings

46 – Dogen’s Genjokoan Part 5: Birds Fly, Fish Swim, a Zen Master Waves a Fan

In this episode we finish up the Genjokoan, focusing first on the rather long passage comparing our path of practice to the way a fish swims in the water, or a bird flies in the sky. Then I’ll talk about the story at the end of the essay, where a monk asks a Zen master why he uses a fan when the nature of wind permeates everywhere, which is really a question about why we practice if reality ultimately lacks nothing.

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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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32 – The Practice of Not-Knowing: Relief, Intimacy, and Ground for Effective Action

The Zen practice of "not-knowing," or "don't-know mind," is a way of honoring the absolute dimension of our lives - even as we engage in "knowing," as necessary, in the relative dimension. We center ourselves in the here-and-now, and recognize all "knowing" is ultimately an abstraction and not reality itself. It's not a cop-out; it's medicine we apply when we get attached to our opinions, caught in judgment, stressed, or overwhelmed, ironically allowing us be more responsible, responsive, compassionate, and effective.

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8 – It-with-a-Capital-I: The Zen Version of God

Zen Buddhism is a non-theistic religious tradition. However, it's not entirely correct to say that there is no God in Zen. While we don’t conceive of, or worship, an omnipotent personification of the Divine, at the heart of our tradition is the teaching that reality itself is luminous, precious, and infused with compassion. We don’t ascribe an agenda, personality, or gender to That-Which-Is-Greater, but we long to live in harmony with It, and personally experience intimacy with It. These longings infuse our spiritual practice with meaning.

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