Troubleshooting Zen Study & Practice

Jul 7, 2020
Martin Goodson

Do you have a question about the study and practice of Buddhism, Zen, the teachings, meditation, mindfulness, the concepts or philosophy in Buddhism?

Below you will find answers to questions about the study and practice of Zen. A Buddhist practice is interactive and these podcasts give you a chance to ask a question about Buddhist meditation or daily life practice (mindfulness) or about the teachings and application of them in our lives.

Below you will find many questions that have been asked and answered over the years. If you don't find the answer to your own question then why not submit it to our email at


54) Will you say something about the different types of bells and signals used in Zen?

53) What is ‘Heart-to-Heart Transmission’?

52) As a complete beginner to Zen, can you give me some tips for starting a Zen practice?

51) I get nervous when I have to speak in public such as make a presentation or when I’m being interviewed. Do you have any advice to help me?

50) How long should I meditate for?

49) 'What are the Ox herding pictures and what is their relation to Zen training?'

48) ‘Why are opinions a vehicle for delusion?'

47) 'What role, if any, do dreams have in a Buddhist practice.'

46) As we enter the holiday period, I recall that you talked about setting aside the Zen practice for a while. Why is that a useful thing to do? What happens if I find it difficult to re-start the practice after the holiday is over?

45) I’ve heard you say that in daily life practice we should give ourselves wholeheartedly into what we are doing. How do I know when something is being done wholeheartedly?

44) "You have mentioned the - wisdom of the body - several times. However, the body is also the place where we commonly think of our instincts and impulses. How do we differentiate between this wisdom and impulsiveness? "

43) Why do some Zazen meditation practitioners place a count on the out-breath?

42) What is the difference between ‘I am’ consciousness and ‘No-I’ consciousness.

41) What is an inka?

40)“In working with the fires you say that this process burns away the sense of self. Can you unpack this comment a bit more. Also where does this practice come from? Would you also just go through the process of ‘how to’ work with the fires please?”

39) Can you say something more about Zen Buddhism and the archetypes of the collective unconscious.

38. Sometimes I find it difficult to stay awake during zazen, particularly at the beginning of sesshins (Zen retreats). Why is this?

37. In one podcast you mention dealing with lethargy. Will you say some more about this please?

36: What is the timetable?

35: What is the form and how does it work in practice? 

34: Zen Practice & The Shadow

33. If Nirvana is Samsara then how can there be peace with suffering in the world?

32: I am finding it harder to get myself to sit meditation and I don’t know why?

Image: By Dharamweb - English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The relationship between Zen & Huayen Buddhism

I have read that Buddha was a man not a deity and yet some of the stories from the scriptures make him sound god-like. Who or what is he?


I wondered if you think it may be helpful to say something about Time in Buddhism, and how it contrasts with western understanding of this subject. It seems a very relevant subject at this moment for us all, in what is now continually called "strange times”!


What is the 'alaya'? The store consciousness, its history, and implications for Zen practice.


I’ve heard you use the phrase ‘daily life practice’ in some of the talks. Is this different from mindfulness practice?


What is the best way to help someone who is dying and afraid?


What is ‘mu-shin’, and what is the importance of it in Zen training?


This time a story that raises issues such as - the Golden Rule, ahimsa and the problem of taking sides & gratitude the glue of cooperation.


Buddhist practice places an emphasis on ones own training, but how can this help when faced with all the very real problems in the world such as war, environmental catastrophes, injustice etc.?

As a Buddhist should I celebrate Christmas?


Now that I practice Buddhism (and meditation), should I give up psychotherapy?


Do we really need a Master to follow the path or can we do it alone? This month's podcast looks at the subject of different Buddhst paths and asks the question: What is it that we seek from the teachings and the Zen masters?


The Buddha Nature is a term that appears often in Zen texts, but to what does it refer? This podcast seeks to unpack this term and ties it in with the Buddha's mission to end suffering.


This month's podcast looks at the conventional use of language in the teachings and the doctrine of The Two Truths to discuss appearance and reality in Buddhism.


Why is it suggested that for Zen training we use a timetable? How does this work, in practice?


If a person has no soul, what is re-born?


There has been much written about the medical effects of meditation and mindfulness in science literature, but is it possible to capture the experience of meditation? A new study looks at this question.


Are there dangers to practicing meditation or mindfulness?


As the Buddha taught the doctrine of ‘No-I’, who decides?


"I’m having real problems coming to terms with the doctrine of karma and past lives. Yet, I’m told that it is central to Buddhist teachings. How can this be reconciled with a more materialist world-view."


I’ve heard Buddhism described as a ‘non-theistic’ religion. How is this different from atheism?

How does one deal with stress mindfully?


As the Pali Canon was not written down until 500 years after the death of the Buddha and Mahayana texts appearing some centuries later, Tibetan texts and termas showing up after that and with Pure Land and Chan/Zen coming in as well, what can we trust as the authentic teachings of the Buddha, so we can analyse them for ourselves?


A French Buddhist scholar and Buddhist said that Westerners are formidable colonisers. He was afraid that the West will do to Buddhism what was done to other parts of the world and their religions. Reading recently an article about the British Police adopting "mindfulness to beat burnout" and knowing that mindfulness ‘without the Buddhism’ is already a reality at schools, work, hospitals, the army etc, one can ask if this process, isn't happening faster than even the French scholar realises? It's true that everything is subject to change and Buddhism isn't an exception to the law of impermanence. But the colonisation of Buddhism (cherry picking what is considered as useful in Buddhism and ignoring The Buddha’s teachings) is it the most dangerous change for Buddhism and Buddhists in more than 2500 years ?

Can one be a Buddhist and a Christian?


In Theravada Buddhism it states the buddha gave four postures for meditation: sitting, standing walking and laying down. In the zen practice do you just do the sitting?

Is there any practice that would be useful as death approaches and the body and mind deteriorate. I know the Tibetan Buddhists have particular practices but I was wondering if other traditions have anything?


Can you have more than one Buddhist teacher?

I have been reading "The Zen Koan" by Isshu Miura and Ruth Fuller. Various other books also mention them and stress their importance, such as "Discourse on the Inexhaustable Lamp", I have also heard them referred to in Zen Gateway podcasts and articles. So they appear to be very important for the training, but seem to need testing face to face with the teacher in a formal temple training setting. Is there a way that they could be part of the practice at home?

For insight meditation certain schools use the breath at the nose others use the breath at the abdomen as it allows greater awareness of the body so not reducing peripheral awareness as much as when focussing on the breath at the nose. Comments?


I have read about some scandals involving Zen Masters. How can an enlightened Zen Master do bad things?

Are Buddhists pacifists?

How long and how often should I practice sitting meditation?


If a baby is born disabled, is that because of bad Karma from a previous life?

How do I choose a good teacher?

What did the Buddha mean when he said there is no self?

Although the speaker announces this as no. 5; it is in fact no. 6


Can a Westerner become Enlightened?

Is a Buddhism a religion, and can you believe in God and be a Buddhist?

How do we deal with distracting thoughts that cause us to lose the object of meditation?


Do Buddhists eat meat?

What is Enlightenment?

What is the difference between meditation and mindfulness?


Do I have to believe in reincarnation and past lives to be a Buddhist?

Which is the best school of Buddhism?

“Another real obstacle I’m having is this timetable. When I first started it I had some enthusiasm but as time has progressed I’ve noticed real resistance to it culminating in it essentially not being followed or if it is being followed it’s quite halfhearted. It’s mostly the mealtimes but it seems to be seeping into other areas of practice”


How do I deal with distracting thoughts during sitting meditation?

Should I 'go into' the thoughts or leave them alone?

How do I know if I am being wholehearted in 'giving myself'? Can you give some practical examples of what this practice is?

How do we practice with other people at home, work or in our social lives?


Questions about sitting meditation (zazen)

Why to some people sit facing the wall when others do not?

Do I have to put a count on the breath when meditating?

How long should I sit for?

What if my home circumstances prevent a regular sitting practice, is there anything I can do?

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