DAVID NICHTERN: UNSHEATHING THE SWORD OF PRAJNA (#127)
This episode of the Wisdom Podcast, recorded live as a Wisdom Dharma Chat, features an interview with David Nichtern, a senior Buddhist teacher, meditation guide, Emmy award–winning composer and musician, and founder of Dharma Moon. David is the author of two books with Wisdom: Awakening from the Daydream and Creativity, Spirituality, and Making a Buck.
In this episode, David and host Daniel Aitken explore the theme of the sword of prajna, or wisdom, including
- various translations of the word prajna,
- what discernment means in practice,
- how prajna is free from aggression,
- how to develop prajna,
- groundlessness and comfort,
- how to use the sword of prajna,
- and much more.
"Newest episode featuring David Nichtern!"
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 Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Karmapa, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Robert Thurman, Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg. Please remember to give us a rating, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook. Thank you for listening!
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FEATURED TIBETAN BUDDHISM PODCASTS
HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA
For this, our 100th episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we have the honor and privilege of being joined by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other important guests celebrating the release of Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Volume 2: The Mind.
During this special live event, His Holiness is presented with a copy of the book and answers questions from host Daniel Aitken about the series. Citing Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom on the Middle Way, His Holiness also gives a short teaching on the two truths and the importance of understanding the nature of reality as composed of both the conventional and the ultimate. You’ll hear His Holiness speak on the four noble truths, specifically focusing on the causes of suffering and the elimination of these causes, drawing again from Nargajuna who taught that liberation is constituted by the elimination of karma, conceptual elaboration, and afflictions, which are underpinned by ignorance. His Holiness then teaches on the importance of investigating and understanding the progressive levels of mind and consciousness—from coarse to subtle—so that we can properly train our minds from within this informed perspective. Drawing from the second and third turning of the wheel of the Dharma, His Holiness also discusses techniques to more fully engage more subtle levels of consciousness that are less susceptible to the more habituated forms of conceptual elaboration and thinking.
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 volumes one and two of his Freeing the Heart and Mind trilogy. 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, 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. 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.
Hear stories from your favorite teachers on the Wisdom Podcast!
Host Daniel Aitken, Ajahn Brahm, and Shaila Catherine. Watch this video episode here.
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 teaches meditation to, and with, ABC News anchor Dan Harris.
On this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Tara Brach, renowned meditation teacher, psychologist, and author of several bestselling books, including Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of R.A.I.N; True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart; Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha; and Trusting the Gold. Tara is known for her pioneering work integrating Western psychology with Eastern spiritual traditions. She is also the founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, and her teachings are accessible via her popular podcast.
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 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.
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.
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, of Wisdom’s most renowned authors, translator Bhikkhu Bodhi, visits the Wisdom office. He tells his own story, painting a picture of what it was like in the days of Buddhism first coming to the West, how he encountered Buddhism, and what living in Sri Lanka in the 70s was like. He also gives some translation advice to aspiring translators and discusses his forthcoming translation of the Buddha’s teaching in the Sutta Nipata. Finally he tells us about his recent humanitarian efforts in Asia.
"Learn more about Buddhist concepts by tuning in!"
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.
"Learn about translation and academic research through interviews with scholars!"
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 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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