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The Zen Studies Podcast
42 minutes | 6 days 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 | 20 days 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 | a month 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 | a month 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 | 2 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 | 2 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 | 2 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 | 3 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 | 3 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 | 3 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.
33 minutes | 4 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 | 4 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?
32 minutes | 5 months ago
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.
35 minutes | 5 months ago
144 - Lotus Sutra 2: Wake Up! The Parable of the Burning House
The Parable of the Burning House is one of five main parables of the Lotus Sutra, a classic Mahayana Buddhist text. I go through the parable paragraph by paragraph, stopping to reflect on each part of the story along the way and encouraging you to imagine yourself within the story as if it were a dream. I finish up by discussing the relevance of this teaching for our everyday lives and practice.
34 minutes | 6 months ago
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 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.
31 minutes | 6 months ago
142 - Direct Experience Is Liberation: When There Are No Stories, There Is No "You"
Humans evolved to make sense of their experience by explaining with a story, or narrative. Although our stories help us communicate and navigate our lives, they also can preoccupy and burden us. Sometimes they are distressing, depressing, or exhausting to maintain. This is why the Buddha said to train ourselves such that “in the sensed, there is only the sensed, in the cognized, only the cognized.” That is, we should train ourselves to experience things without our stories.
29 minutes | 6 months ago
141 - The Practice of Vow 2: Choosing the Direction We Want Our Lives to Take
The practice of vow is central 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.
40 minutes | 7 months ago
140 – Sustainable Buddhist Practice: Creating Form But Keeping It Flexible
How do we create a strong and sustainable Buddhist practice outside of a monastery? We create structure for ourselves and build good habits, but then the circumstances of our lives change. There are many competing demands on our attention and time. We have to mostly rely on our own self-discipline instead of social support. The key is giving our practice form but also accepting that it will constantly change, like learning to shape clay on a potter’s wheel.
45 minutes | 7 months ago
139 - Suchness: Awakening to the Preciousness of Things-As-It-Is
All religions and spiritual practices have one purpose: To relieve our suffering and give us hope. As Buddhists we sometimes emphasize “relieving suffering” and leave it unsaid that, after being freed from your suffering, you will perceive things in a way that gives you hope, inspiration, and solace. The Buddhist teaching of suchness arose a couple hundred years after the Buddha to address the need some of us feel to hear descriptions of the positive aspect of reality from the beginning of our practice.
37 minutes | 7 months ago
138 - Buddhist Images of Fierceness and Compassionate Anger
Despite the placid appearance of most Buddha statues and the Buddhist precept against indulging anger, there is a place for fierceness and compassionate anger in Buddhism. Especially when we're faced with injustice or need to protect others, we may need the energy of anger or fierceness to make ourselves heard. I discuss how respect for appropriate fierceness and anger appears in Buddhist iconography and mythology.
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