The Wisdom Podcast

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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Elsie Walker: The Dalai Lama and the Presidents Bush

Dalai Lama President Bush

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast we hear a story of Buddhism and American politics: how Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush met the Dalai Lama, as told by President Bush Sr.’s cousin Elsie Walker.

Elsie begins with the story of how she got involved with Tibet House and then reached out to her cousin, President George H. W. Bush, to tell him how she wanted to support the Tibetan people. She then tells us how President George H. W. Bush became the first U.S. president to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We hear about the President’s spiritual side, the great pressure on the U.S. government to avoid contact with His Holiness, and how at the last minute Elsie managed to arrange a meeting in April 1991.

Elsie describes the President and the Dalai Lama’s meeting in detail, and also shares how she herself met the Dalai Lama and what they discussed. She then tells how she arranged the meeting between the Dalai Lama and President George W. Bush.

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Stephen Batchelor: After Buddhism

Stephen Batchelor: After Buddhism

This Wisdom Podcast episode features Stephen Batchelor, renowned Buddhist author, teacher, and proponent of secular Buddhism. Batchelor tells us of his coming of age in the 1960s counterculture—listening to bands like Pink Floyd, reading Herman Hesse and Alan Watts, and being inspired to visit India, traveling there overland from France in 1972.

He then shares how he began studying Buddhism at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, in the presence of the Dalai Lama and Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, and living amongst Tibetan refuges. We hear what the Buddhist scene was like for Western “seekers” in India and Nepal in the early 1970s, and Batchelor’s experience practicing with Geshe Rabten. Batchelor describes his experience as a monastic and how he reached a point of crisis in his Tibetan Buddhist training when it came to believing certain fundamental doctrines.

He then tells us how he learned vipassana meditation from S.N. Goenka and began developing his own view of Buddhism, also inspired by Aristotle’s concept of flourishing. Next we hear how he practiced as a Zen monk in South Korea for three years, and what he found uniquely helpful in the Zen tradition. Batchelor and host Daniel Aitken also discuss classical Greek philosophy in tandem with Buddhism philosophy, analyzing several interesting parallels. Batchelor then shares his thoughts on secular Buddhism: defining the word “secular,” the social responsibility that secular Buddhism implies, and his vision of what secular Buddhism has to offer the world.

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