The Wisdom Podcast

Bhikkhu Bodhi: The Buddha on Social Harmony

Bhikkhu Bodhi

This episode of the Wisdom Podcast features our second interview with renowned Buddhist scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi. Ven. Bodhi tells us about the process of creating his forthcoming book, The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony, and how it arose from a real need in various Buddhist communities. Bhikkhu Bodhi shares what “right view” means in the context of social harmony, explaining the meaning of “mundane right view” and its usefulness in promoting social harmony.

Ven. Bodhi then tells us how Buddhist teachings hold the key to promoting communal peace, tolerance, and understanding. He also reflects on how changing our consciousness can produce changes in our society. Then he tells us about the types of government at the time of the Buddha, and how that affected the development of the Buddha’s thoughts, including his ideal of the “wheel-turning king”–the king who ultimately serves the Dharma. Bhikkhu Bodhi then shares his thoughts on which of Buddhism’s three poisons is causing the most suffering in our time.

Bhikkhu Bodhi then advises us how to understand and use the teaching of “right speech” in the present day, and shares what the Buddha taught about how to be a good friend. He also imagines what advice the Buddha might give world leaders today, especially when dealing with conflict and social strife in their own countries. Ven. Bodhi reflects on what the Buddha might have thought about how to approach ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

Bhikkhu Bodhi then tells us how he came to found Buddhist Global Relief, a nonprofit organization that focuses on addressing global hunger. He also shares what he’s working on now: a translation of the Sutta Nipata, which includes advice for both lay life and monastic life. Bhikkhu Bodhi imagines, based on his studies of the Pali canon, what the Buddha’s daily life might have been like. Bhikkhu Bodhi also shares with us the different words that the Buddha used for meditation, and what the subtleties are between different terms such as jhana, samadhi, vipassana, and bhavana. He then reflects on modern definitions and understandings of mindfulness. At the end we hear Bhikkhu Bodhi’s own definition of mindfulness.

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Gerry Stribling: Buddhism for Dudes

Gerry Stribling

This week on the Wisdom Podcast we meet Gerry Stribling, the author of Buddhism for Dudes. Gerry shares how he got into Buddhism when he was volunteering Sri Lanka. He first worked at a nonprofit that protected elephants and soon came across insight meditation. He reflects on how Buddhism helps people become tough and shares what about Buddhism appealed to him, a “tough-guy” ex-military man. He talks about his work with veterans and addicts. He talks about the theme of sacrifice in Buddhism and the military. We also hear Gerry’s thoughts on what a Buddhist’s response to violence might look like. Gerry shares his personal experiences of sitting with dying World War II veterans, and how he sees them relating to death. Gerry and host Daniel Aitken also discuss different ways to respond to ideological violence such as ISIS and the November 2015 attack in Paris. Finally, Gerry shares the incredible international response he’s received to his book Buddhism for Dudes, and what his writing schedule looks like.

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Pascal Auclair: Living Buddhism from the Heart

Pascal Auclair

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we meet Pascal Auclair, a teacher in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Pascal starts by telling us how he came to Buddhism when he was traveling in Asia with his partner and ended up at Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s monastery in Thailand. He was touched by this experience of intimacy with reality. He was struck by the realization that reality is not completely easy and satisfying. He was also deeply affected by the simplicity of the practice of following the breath.

We then hear about another deep inspiration for Pascal’s practice. When he was twenty-five, before he went to Asia, Pascal learned that he was HIV-positive. At that time, there was no medication for HIV. He says that this experience made him more open to the teachings of Buddhism. In good health today, he recalls how this diagnosis was his encounter with the “Heavenly Messengers” of old age, illness, and death. He reflects on what his refuge was then, and how he faced his diagnosis. At that point he felt certain he would not live to the age of forty, and with this sense of time as precious, he set out to go to Asia.

Pascal tells us about the specific practices he learned on that first retreat in Asia. In these early days of practice, he was touched by the light, almost playful way that one can engage with awareness. He then shares the story of an early retreat he did at the  Insight Meditation Society with famed Theravadin teacher Ruth Denison, and another retreat with S.N. Goenka. We hear about Pascal’s experience of being mentored by Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. He also shares his own feelings and thoughts about being a dharma teacher, and his memories of how his grandmother was a profound teacher for him.

He shares his personal daily practice, from morning productivity to afternoon contemplation. Finally, Pascal reflects powerfully on the meeting of dharma practice and social justice. Just like the individual human system, the communities and societies are alive systems that can produce hardship and suffering or well-being and freedom. Pascal speaks of how he feels that he has a personal responsibility to increase his awareness and compassionate action in relation to social strife.

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C.W. Huntington and Francisca Cho: Emptiness and Fiction

C.W. Huntington

This episode of the Wisdom Podcast features Buddhist thinkers C.W. “Sandy” Huntington and Francisca Cho. Sandy is the author of Mayaa recent novel published by Wisdom. Francisca is an associate professor of Buddhist Studies at Georgetown University and the author/translator of the Wisdom book Everything Yearned For: Manhae’s Poems of Love and Longing.

Sandy begins by reflecting on how the conflation of reality and illusion is a central theme in his novel, and what draws him to this theme. Francisca responds by bringing in the theme of “real life” versus art, and questions the way these two are set in opposition. We then hear Sandy’s thoughts on how what we call reality resembles a story, and Francisca’s thoughts on how even science tells us stories and what this means for the dialog and conflicts between science and religion.

Sandy shares how his journey into Buddhism started with a curiosity about suffering, and Francisca tells us how she became interested in philosophy and fiction. She introduces the idea of how the experience of art is no different than a religious practice. She brings in daoism and how it emphasizes the importance of our everyday, “nothing special” actions as a lived philosophy.

Sandy then discusses his understanding of the Buddhist debate about whether things ultimately exist or not. He shares his thoughts on how philosophical arguments have an ultimately groundless or dreamlike quality, and the importance of keeping a sense of humor in academic discourse. Sandy also reflects on how people get attached to their own practice of Buddhism, and how fiction and dreaming can help us see the fictitious, dreamlike nature of everyday life.

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Robert Thurman: A Life in Buddhism

Robert Thurman Buddhism

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken interviews Robert Thurman, renowned scholar of Buddhism and friend of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In this rich conversation, we first find out why Robert originally dropped out of Harvard as a senior and went to India, and how Geshe Wangyal brought him to the Dalai Lama, who took on Thurman as a student. Robert was ordained by the Dalai Lama, but we hear why he never followed the path to becoming a geshe. He eventually returned to the U.S., disrobed, and met his wife-to-be Nena.

Robert shares how he came to become a professor of Buddhism and also talks about Geshe Wangyal’s clairvoyance in guiding his (Thurman’s) major life choices. We also hear his thoughts on secular Buddhism and mindfulness and his recommendations to those who have just discovered mindfulness on what they should explore next.

Robert then tells us his first impressions of the Dalai Lama (when His Holiness was just 29 years old) and his view on whether Buddhists are atheists. He reflects on the state of Buddhism today in the U.S., what he considers his main life work to be.

Robert and Daniel’s conversation covers much more, including some of the revolutionary ways that certain scientists are talking about religious and spiritual experiences and how to find a genuine teacher, and what to do when a teacher turns out to be corrupt.

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