EVAN THOMPSON: THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN BUDDHISM AND SCIENCE (#99)
For this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Evan Thompson, professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia, and author of several books including Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy.
Evan is among the most widely respected philosophers and writers on Buddhism today. In this fascinating conversation, you’ll hear Evan discuss his views on what he calls “Buddhist exceptionalism.” As someone who deeply values Buddhism, Evan asks what it means to use science to justify or validate Buddhist teachings. He also asks what it means to use Buddhist ideas toward scientific endeavors or toward ends such as positive psychology. You’ll hear Evan and Daniel unpack and even debate a lot of these deeply relevant questions on the topic of Buddhism as a “science of mind,” and how they relate to questions of enlightenment, faith and belief, rational versus irrational thinking, and ultimately, what is lost or gained when Buddhist teachings are reframed to accommodate the impulses of our modern age. Many of the topics discussed in this conversation can be found in Evan’s latest book, Why I am Not a Buddhist.
"Newest episode featuring Evan Thompson!"
The Wisdom Podcast is a Buddhist podcast that features interviews with leading thinkers from the Buddhist world. Each episode takes you on a fascinating exploration of Buddhism and meditation as our guests share stories and discuss life-changing practices, timeless philosophies, and new ways to think and live. Episodes have featured guests like His Holiness the Karmapa, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Robert Thurman, Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, and Jeffrey Hopkins. Please remember to give us a rating, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for listening!
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FEATURED TIBETAN BUDDHISM PODCASTS
HIS HOLINESS THE KARMAPA
For this special conversation, host Daniel Aitken traveled to Dharamsala, India, to meet with His Holiness the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness talks about many topics, including the efficacy of listening to Dharma classes, receiving empowerments, and taking ordination vows online. He touches on the differences between Tibetan and traditional Western education and how each benefits from dialogue with the other. He further shares some thoughts on how Western Dharma centers could be improved. He speaks on vegetarianism, including anecdotes from his own and his previous emanations’ experiences with vegetarianism. He also discusses his recent involvement planning to re-establish the tradition of full ordination for Tibetan Buddhist nuns.
HIS HOLINESS THE SAKYA TRICHEN
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, Daniel travels to Tsechen Kunchab Ling in upstate New York to speak with His Holiness the Sakya Trichen Rinpoche, the 41st throne holder of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. You’ll hear His Holiness share insights from the first volume of his book Freeing the Heart and Mind, as well as his forthcoming second volume. Both books emphasize the necessity of learning the Dharma through the life stories of great Buddhist masters. His Holiness speaks on the practical nature of the sutrayana teachings as outlined in his first book, as well as the life of Mahasiddha Virupa and his key role in the formation of both the Lamdré lineage and the Sakya school at large. His second volume looks at valuable life lessons from the legendary 13th century leader of the Sakya order, Drogön Chögyal Phagpa—namely his relationship with the Mongols and the religious conversion of Kublai Khan. We also hear His Holiness share insights on the nature of samaya in the guru-disciple relationship, as well as his views on restricted teachings and their increased availability in the modern world.
LAMA ZOPA RINPOCHE
In this special episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we are joined by Wisdom Publications’ cofounder and spiritual director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist scholar and meditator who for 30 years has overseen the spiritual activities of the extensive worldwide network of centers, projects and services that form the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), which he founded with Lama Thubten Yeshe. Rinpoche is the author of several books including The Four Noble Truths: A Guide to Everyday Life, recently published by Wisdom. In this incredible teaching recorded at the Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Lama Zopa discusses how Buddhism in the West has evolved and changed since the development of FPMT. You’ll hear Lama Zopa offer insights on challenges faced by Western Dharma students, and what is needed in order for the Dharma to flourish in the West. Lama Zopa also shares some of the most profound teachings of Tsongkhapa and offers insights on the subtleties of the imputed “I,” the five aggregates, and the emptiness of the self. You’ll also hear Lama Zopa share stories from his own personal biography—from his escape to India at a young age, to his decision to become a monk, to his key role in the development of FPMT and its creation of over 161 centers worldwide.
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FEATURED THERAVADA AND INSIGHT PODCASTS
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we hear stories and teachings from Joseph Goldstein, one of the most well-known Buddhist teachers in the United States. Joseph Goldstein has been teaching meditation for 40 years and founded the Insight Meditation Society in 1976 with Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, a center that has since introduced thousands of people to meditation. He also has recently begun teaching meditation to, and with, ABC News anchor Dan Harris.
Joseph first tells us how he came across Buddhism at age 21 while in the PeaceCorps in Thailand. He describes his first meditation experience and what about that made him want to keep meditating. He also tells us about the book that influenced his early practices and reflects on whether he could tell at that time whether he was pioneering into uncharted waters for a Westerner. We hear what Joseph’s early practice looked like and what inspired him to spend more time practicing in Asia. He shares experiences and stories from traveling in India in his early 20s, including meeting his first teacher, Anagarika Shri Munindra, who had been studying with Mahasi Sayadaw. We hear how Joseph was so powerfully drawn to meditation, despite the fact that it was not at all easy for him at first.
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned meditation teacher and practitioner, and New York Times bestselling author. Sharon is also cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre Massachusetts, the first ever western meditation center established in the United States. In this episode, you’ll hear Sharon discuss one of her all-time favorite topics: the practice of metta, or loving-kindness. Sharon talks about what initially drew her to the practice and its transformational effects over the course of her lifetime. In her down-to-earth style, Sharon explains the practical application of loving-kindness in daily life. As more than just a concentration practice, loving-kindness can function as an antidote to fear, anxiety, and emotional withdrawal. It can heighten a sense of connection with others, help us be more assertive, and even transform the most difficult of relationships. She compares it to what the Buddha taught as “gladdening the mind,” or ways of cultivating a loving mental environment in which to navigate the more difficult aspects of life and practice.
In this episode of the Wisdom podcast, host Daniel Aitken travels to Berkeley, California, to speak with Venerable Ajahn Brahm, a meditation teacher in the Thai Forest tradition and author of many popular books including Falling Is Flying; The Art of Disappearing; and Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond. In this conversation, you’ll hear Ajahn Brahm talk about his early interests in theoretical physics at Cambridge University and how this intersected with his interest in Buddhist thought. He talks about the constructed nature of perception and how what we perceive is largely contained within the limits of our own imagination. Ajahn Brahm also discusses what he calls the art of disappearing—namely the relationship between letting go, stillness, and vanishing. You’ll hear him explain how true mindfulness emerges from this place of disappearance as well as its connection to the necessity of higher states of meditation.
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FEATURED BUDDHISM SCHOLARSHIP & TRANSLATION PODCASTS
On this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken travels to Montreal to speak with Thupten Jinpa, scholar and former monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and primary English translator to His Holiness the Dalai Lama since 1985. In this rich conversation, Jinpa describes his intellectual training at Shartse College of Ganden Monastic University in South India, and reveals fascinating insights on the value of memorization as well as the art of debate in monastic education. Having worked in an intimate context with His Holiness the Dalai Lama for over thirty years, Jinpa shares how observing the Dalai Lama has influenced his own character and spiritual practice. He talks about the Dalai Lama’s rare and impressive qualities—his unusual joy, how he balances confidence with humility, and his precision in combining scholarship with meditative practice.
On this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Janet Gyatso, renowned scholar and professor of Buddhist Studies at Harvard University. Janet is the author of several publications on the cultural and intellectual history of Tibetan Buddhism, including her award-winning book on the history of Tibetan medicine in early modern Tibet, Being Human in a Buddhist World. In this rich conversation recorded at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, you’ll hear Janet share fascinating stories from her early adventures as a young graduate student and scholar—from her travels in Asia to meaningful encounters with great masters such as Kalu Rinpoche, and later, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Janet also discusses her work on Jigme Lingpa and the terma tradition, and how she has negotiated being both scholar and practitioner throughout her academic career. Finally, you’ll hear Janet share her most recent scholarship on animal ethics, and ways we might transform our vision of care and compassion to prioritize the value and welfare of other species.
For this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with John Dunne, Distinguished Professor of Contemplative Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and author of Foundations of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy, published by Wisdom. John’s research focuses on Buddhist philosophy in relationship to contemplative practice, religious studies, and cognitive science. In this rich conversation, John covers a wide array of fascinating topics. He talks about the innate need for physiological connection with other human beings and its relationship to both fear and anxiety within both Buddhist and cognitive science perspectives. He then delves deeply into the world of Dharmakīrti’s philosophy of perception, comparing Dharmakīrti’s views with that of other Indian Buddhist philosophers as well as Tibetan Mahāmudrā. John weaves all this together within an intriguing account of his own life story. He talks about his spiritual quest for his so-called “true identity” as a young person, his multiple paths through college including his time at Harvard University, and the great impact of his teachers such as Robert Thurman and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche.
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FEATURED ZEN PODCASTS
SHOHAKU OKUMURA ROSHI
For this episode, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Shohaku Okumura Roshi, Japanese Soto Zen priest and revered writer and translator. Shohaku Okumura is also the founder and current abbot of the Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington, Indiana. In this conversation, you’ll hear Okumura Roshi tell powerful stories, not only from his own life, but from the lives of his teachers: Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama, and the great Kodo Sawaki Roshi, one of the most influential Soto Zen teachers of the twentieth century. Okumura Roshi explains the emphasis on zazen over monastic rituals within his lineage, drawing parallels to both Dogen’s teachings as well his teachers’ own personal encounters with zazen. You’ll also hear how this emphasis on zazen has played out in Okumura Roshi’s own development as a practitioner as well as his development as a translator later in life.
For this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Norman Fischer, American poet, writer, and Soto Zen priest. Norman is the author of many popular books including his most recent publication, The World Could Be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path. In this fascinating conversation, you’ll hear Norman share stories from his own spiritual journey—from aspiring young poet living in the woods of Northern California, to meditation teacher and celebrated writer. Norman talks about how early encounters with death predisposed him to religious and philosophical inquiry, and how reading the existentialists would pave the way for a fascination with Zen. You’ll also hear Norman discuss the topic of doubt. Rather than providing faith or certainty, Buddhism for Norman provides a path—a set of questions in which we discover what life is and who we are. Lastly, Norman talks about what it means to be a teacher of the Dharma, as well as his own relationship to himself as a teacher of Buddhism.
KOSHIN PALEY ELLISON
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we meet Koshin Paley Ellison, innovative cofounder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care and author of Wisdom’s recently published book, Wholehearted. Koshin tells us about how he was drawn both to Zen practice and caring for the dying early in life and how the AIDS epidemic, beat poets, and Zen teacher John Daido Loori had an impact on him. He shares with us moving stories of how he cared for his grandmother Mimi at the end of her life and how this relationship helped him to deeply integrate his Buddhist practice into his life. Koshin relates to us how facing our fears can help us respond to others more compassionately and how letting go of our clinging can open up new ways of being. We also learn how for Koshin, study, meditation practice, and caregiving are intimately connected to each other.
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