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The Zen Studies Podcast

Religion & Spirituality Podcas

Learn about traditional Zen and Buddhist teachings, practices, and history through episodes recorded specifically for podcast listeners. Host Domyo Burk is a Soto Zen priest and teacher.


United States


Learn about traditional Zen and Buddhist teachings, practices, and history through episodes recorded specifically for podcast listeners. Host Domyo Burk is a Soto Zen priest and teacher.






248 - Are the Buddha’s Teachings on Renunciation Relevant for Householders? – Part 1

The Buddha was pretty clear. If you wanted to experience complete liberation, it was best practice renunciation - to leave all worldly things behind: Family, sex, alcohol, fancy food, music, entertainment, frivolity, etc. Why did the Buddha recommend this? Why do fully ordained Buddhist monks and nuns still live this way? Are the Buddha’s teachings on renunciation relevant for householders?


247 - Sangha Challenges: How and Why to Open Up to the Treasure of Sangha – Part 3

In Part 3 of my “Sangha Challenges” discussion, I finish my list of reasons you may resist joining a Buddhist community or find it challenging to maintain your relationship with one over time. I present each challenge as an opportunity for growth and learning.


Two Episodes Recommended by Listeners

This is my third and final post during my 2023 sabbatical month. I'll be back soon with a full episode, but in the meantime I wanted to share two past episodes with you that multiple listeners have said were important to them.


Recommended Episodes on Zazen

Here again with recommended episodes for you to listen to while I'm on my August sabbatical from Zen teaching and writing. Your chosen form of meditation may be what I call "Directed Effort" meditation, or "Letting Go" meditation (I discuss Directed Effort versus letting go in Episodes 83 and 84: Two Paths to Meditative Concentration: Directed Effort Versus Letting Go – Part 1 and Part 2). In either case, you may find some useful tips in Episodes 184 and 185: 14 Ways to Enliven Your Zazen. When my zazen gets dull, lazy, restless, or distracted, these are the ways I try to engage my meditation more wholeheartedly.


Announcement and Recommendation

I take a sabbatical from my Zen teaching one month a year, and this year it’s in August. In this announcement I explain (and thank you for your patience), and recommend one of my 236 past episodes to listen to (published six years ago!).


246 - Sangha Challenges: How and Why to Open Up to the Treasure of Sangha – Part 2

In Part 2 of my “Sangha Challenges” discussion, I talk about various reasons you may resist joining a Buddhist community or find it challenging to maintain your relationship with one over time. I present each challenge as an opportunity for growth and learning. I will finish up my list of challenges in the next episode, Part 3.


245 - Sangha Challenges: How and Why to Open Up to the Treasure of Sangha – Part 1

Should you join a Sangha? Sangha, or community, is one of the “Three Treasures” of Buddhism, but is it really necessary? How important is it? There are many "Sangha Challenges" - reasons you might feel resistance to joining a community, or difficulties you might face as you practice with one. I discuss ways to relate to various Sangha challenges as opportunities for practice and growth.


244 - Zazen as a Religious Act

Seated Zen meditation – zazen – is less like the meditative practices of many other spiritual traditions, and more like prayer in theistic traditions. This is not because we believe in God (although we might), but because zazen can be seen as a “religious” act – if we define religion in one of the ways philosopher William James offered, as “our total response to life.”


243 - The Buddha’s Life Story as Archetype and Teaching

Understanding the teachings of Buddhism starts with becoming familiar with the Buddha's life story. This isn't because he is believed to have been divine, or even a prophet. Instead, his story is important because it serves as an archetype for the Buddhist vision of spiritual seeking and development. There are many teachings embedded in the story of the Buddha, who is regarded as having been a remarkable human being – but just a human being, like you or me.


242 - Reflections on Sansuikyo, Dogen’s Mountains and Waters Sutra

One of Zen master Dogen’s most beloved writings is a relatively short essay called “Sansuikyo,” or the Mountains and Waters Sutra. In this episode, I reflect on two aspects this work: The statement that mountains and waters are, in of themselves, words of the Buddha, and the fantastic imagery of “mountains walking.” I only cover a few paragraphs of the Sansuikyo, but it is enough to open up a profound spiritual inquiry.


241 - What Does It Mean to Waste Time?

Buddhist and Zen masters through the ages have begged us not to “waste time.” What does this really mean? How do we know if we’re wasting time, and does it really matter?


240 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 4: Buddha-Nature 2

This is part four of my series called “One Reality, Many Descriptions,” Buddha-Nature Part 2. I first talk about Buddha-Nature as trust. Then I offer the requisite discussions of what Buddha-Nature is not, and how it is necessary for us to awaken to our own Buddha-Nature in order to fully partake of the associated joy, redemption, and faith.


239 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 3: Buddha-Nature 1

This is part three of my series called “One Reality, Many Descriptions.” While experiences of Emptiness and Suchness (or Thusness) may be liberating and transformative, we may be left with the question of how our limited, embodied existence relates to these profound truths. Our natural inclination toward self-preservation, our appetites and shortcomings, our ingrained habits, our complacency – these things can seem at odds with the greater Reality we have started to perceive. The teaching of Buddha-Nature points to the marvelous and redemptive fact that we too – just as we are – are Thus: Luminous and miraculous in and of ourselves.


238 - Eco-Anxiety and Buddhism – Part 2

It's natural to feel some eco-anxiety as the earth’s natural life-support systems break down. Buddhism clearly admonishes us to refrain from killing, to actively care for all life, and see ourselves as being in the “same boat” with all beings. In what ways can our practice help us stay strong, and how can it help us respond to our climate and ecological crisis in a way that’s consistent with our Buddhist values?


237 - Eco-Anxiety and Buddhism – Part 1

Eco-anxiety is fear that our earth’s natural life-support systems are in the process of a collapse that will be catastrophic to life as we know it. This fear may range in intensity between a vague, pervasive sense of worry to a debilitating condition. What does Buddhism have to say about eco-anxiety, and what does it offer us if we want to be responsible citizens and true to our aspirations as Buddhists – but we also want to avoid being overwhelmed with fear, despair, or a sense of powerlessness?


236 - Spiritual Inquiry Part 5: Koans and Awakening

Awakening Inquiry is aimed at awakening to what I’ve been calling Reality-with-a-Capital-R. How do we inquire into aspects of Reality we have not yet even imagined? How do we even know what we don’t know? How can we see what we have not yet seen? How do we even know where to look? In Zen, we do this through the use of koans, whether those are traditional koans or natural ones. I discuss the nature of awakening inquiry and how to find koans to focus your practice.


235 – One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 2: Suchness or Thusness

What do Buddhists mean by the terms “Suchness” or “Thusness”? Over the millennia, Buddhists have employed many concepts to point us toward Reality-with-a-Capital-R, because awakening to Reality is profoundly liberating. This series of episodes discusses five classic descriptions of Reality. In Episode 229 I talked about the first of these, Emptiness (One Reality, Many Descriptions Part 1: Emptiness). In this episode I explore Suchness, or Thusness.


234 – Spiritual Inquiry Part 4: Investigating and Resolving Karmic Issues

In the last episode I discussed “karma work,” or the process of noticing the underlying reasons for our selfish, harmful, or less-than-enlightened behaviors of body, speech, and mind, and then working to resolve them. I talked about how to identify our karmic issues. In this episode I discuss what to do once you’ve identified a karmic issue you’d like to work on, taking you through the process of delving into the underlying causes of your negative karmic patterns, and then finding greater freedom through insight and through habit change.


233 – Spiritual Inquiry Part 3: Identifying our Karmic Issues

An important part of Buddhist practice is spiritual inquiry. Buddhism teaches us that there are underlying reasons for every selfish and neurotic thing we do, and that we can discern what those reasons are and work on them. This karma work can lead to lasting and transformative change. In this episode I describe karma work and discuss how to identify your karmic issues. In the next episode I will talk about the process of karmic inquiry once you have identified a karmic issue you would like to resolve.


232 – Spiritual Inquiry Part 2: Resistance to Questions and Karma Work Versus Awakening

In this episode, my second in a short series on spiritual questions, I talk about various reasons for resistance to coming up with or asking spiritual questions. Then I discuss the relationship between karma work and awakening, because in my next episode or two I’ll explore in depth how to come up with karmic questions, and then how to come up with awakening questions.