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The Zen Studies Podcast
40 minutes | 8 days ago
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're also practice tools for studying the self. 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...” 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.
48 minutes | a month ago
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.
33 minutes | a month ago
163 - Lotus Sutra 4: Parable of the Plants - Superior, Middling, or Inferior Beings and the Dharma
The Lotus Sutra Parable of the Plants says that just as rain falls equally on plants big and small and each plant takes up what they need, so the Buddha shares the Dharma with all beings without any judgment or preference regarding their capacity, and each being receives what they need. I explore this message as well as the implication that there are indeed superior, middling or inferior practitioners and how this can challenge our ego.
26 minutes | 2 months ago
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?
31 minutes | 2 months ago
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.
37 minutes | 2 months ago
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.
28 minutes | 3 months ago
159 – Active Receptivity in Zazen: Surrounded by a Symphony
Active receptivity is what we're aiming to cultivate in zazen, and in the rest of our practice. Despite the emphasis on what we’re NOT doing in zazen, it should lively and energetic activity, not passive. Think of putting aside your physical and mental activities in order to become incredibly quiet and receptive. Shhh! What's that? It’s like we’re surrounded by the music of a whole symphony that we usually can’t even hear because of our internal and external chatter.
42 minutes | 3 months ago
158 – Social Strife and the Forgotten Virtue of Decorum
Recent events show how deep a divide has developed within the United States. Those guilty of crimes need to be held accountable, but how do we repair the social fabric of our nation? It may help to renew cultural respect for the value of decorum: Dignified behavior according to social standards for what demonstrates a basic respect for one another’s humanity and acknowledges our mutual dependence. I discuss the teachings on decorum in Buddhism, and how critical it is to social harmony.
29 minutes | 4 months ago
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.
36 minutes | 4 months ago
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.
25 minutes | 4 months ago
155 - Avatamsaka Sutra - Each One of Us Has Unique Bodhisattva Gifts to Offer - 2
Part of our bodhisattva path is embracing our uniqueness and finding our own particular, special bodhisattva capacity, talent, and calling. Each of us has our own unique way, or ways, of serving in this world. It just takes some imagination to discover them. Teachings from Avatamsaka Sutra can help stimulate our imaginations in this regard. In this episode I tell five more bodhisattva stories and reflect on how they might manifest in real life.
40 minutes | 5 months ago
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.
25 minutes | 5 months ago
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.
23 minutes | 5 months ago
152 - Lotus Sutra 3: This Means YOU - The Parable of the Lost Son
The Lotus Sutra parable of the Lost Son perfectly conveys the difference between hinayana and Mahayana practice. Despite what we may think of ourselves, we already have everything we need - including the capacity for great liberation and service. At the same time, we need to practice in order to grow into our inheritance.
32 minutes | 6 months ago
151 - The Emptiness of Self and Why It Matters
The emptiness of self is a Zen teaching that may seem rather abstract and philosophical, or even kind of nihilistic, depressing, or disorienting. Why does this matter? In brief, knowing the true nature of our self is what liberates us from fear and suffering.
30 minutes | 6 months ago
150 - Zazen as the Dharma Gate of Joyful Ease
In this episode I focus on how zazen is the dharma gate of joyful ease, because experiencing it as such is so profoundly restorative at a time when our lives tend to be stressful in many ways. I also think it’s necessary to explore the way in which zazen is the dharma gate of joyful ease because that dharma gate is subtle and can be elusive because to enter it we have to let go of all of our normal ways of operating.
43 minutes | 6 months ago
149 - Understanding People's Actions Through the Six Realms Teaching
Understanding people's actions can be difficult. Sometimes we can't help but feel disbelief, judgment, or disgust toward people based on how they respond to the suffering of others. The Buddhist teaching about the Six Realms of existence can help us understand people's mind states and motivations, hopefully leading us to greater patience, less judgment, and – most importantly – insight into what might work best to get through to people and help them change.
32 minutes | 7 months ago
148 – Three Ingredients for a Generous Life in a Crazy World
Bearing Witness, Taking Care, and Taking Action: 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 helps you take joy in your precious life without denying or ignoring suffering and injustice.
33 minutes | 7 months ago
147 - Loving-Kindness (Metta) Practice as an Antidote to Fear and Anxiety
When we call suffering beings to mind and extend metta - or loving-kindness - it might seem like we'd be opening up to more suffering and thereby increase our own fear and anxiety, but this is not the case. In fact, metta helps us face reality while aligned with our deeper nature. This alignment results in a sense of sufficiency and strength as we perform an act of generosity, give up our self-centered concerns, and become anchored in our boundless self.
28 minutes | 7 months ago
146 - Respect Even for Terrible People: What Does It Mean?
Buddhism, like other religions, teaches 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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