Sean Oakes

Empty of What Isn’t Here 

There’s a reason “waking up” is the metaphor used for liberation in the Buddhist system. When we wake up from a dream, we understand that although the experiences in the dream very much have an affect on our lives and the states of heart and mind that are the texture of this life, in a basic physical sense, they did …

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The Luminous Dharma of “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

In the days since Everything Everywhere All at Once took home seven Oscars at the 2023 Academy Awards ceremony, I’ve been delighted to see the film and its actors so widely recognized and honored. Watching actors Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan receive their awards was tremendously moving given how pervasive anti-Asian bias is in American culture and the film …

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How Should We Think About Karma?

Our conversations over the last month or so have been exploring the traditional teachings on rebirth and how they fit, or don’t very well, with contemporary worldviews. The main sticking point is not whether we believe or don’t believe in some kind of continuity of consciousness after death, but a deeper philosophical problem: how to understand action and its consequences. …

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We Are All Nihilists Now

“I want to be human. … Humans can live and die and be reborn.” (Microsoft Bing AI Chatbot) Rebirth is not supposed to be an article of faith for Buddhists. Previous births are described in the Buddha’s discourses as memories a meditator can access (with talent, effort, and supportive conditions) through inner vision, which is a result of highly developed …

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Nihilism—So Attractive!

Of the many religions shaping human experience at the moment, few have as much sway on the deep worldview of people in the global north as two that aren’t often considered “religions”: Humanism and Materialism.  I’m using “religion” here in line with one of the definitions in Merriam-Webster: “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and …

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Steadiness, Sobriety, Joy

The life-changing joy of steadiness. You probably know the feeling, though maybe you don’t often have the conditions for it: you’re well-slept, well-fed, healthy enough, not in relational or political drama, not in a crisis of overwork, overwhelm, deadline, or some other external urgency, and importantly, also not in the pulsing swirl of romance, creative inspiration, or world-saving furor—what does …

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“Eldest in the World”

I just came through my birthday weekend (thank you to everyone who sent blessings) and I’m thinking about this enigmatic thing the Buddha said: “I am the eldest in the world.” What he means is that he was the first to awaken fully, like the first chick in a clutch of eggs to break of of their shell. But the …

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The very first sutta in the enormous collection known as the Connected Discourses (Saṁyutta Nikāya) has a spirit being come to visit the Buddha and ask him how he “crossed the flood.” The Buddha replies with a beautiful metaphor on the kind of effort needed to progress on the path:  “By not halting, friend, and by not straining I crossed …

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Vow Power, Shame and Dread

Welcome to a new year. Have you got your resolutions in order? How soon are you expecting to break them? We must joke about New Year’s resolutions because we either don’t take them seriously, or wish we could but lack the means to do so. If the latter is true, and I thank it is because most people are sincere …

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At home in the heart: adoption, early attachment rupture, identity

Talks and meditations from two daylong gatherings in 2019 and 2020 at East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, offered for adoptees, refugees, fostered, and other folks with early family system rupture. Both days were co-offered with Lev White, but Lev was unable to teach the 2020 one at the last minute, so I taught it alone. This meant that the …

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