We Are Not Who We Think We Are with Peter Coyote

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Zen priest and actor Peter Coyote gives us a concise description of Buddhism and the pursuit of enlightenment as ”[T]he wisdom that transcends likes and dislikes.” He also has conceived and conducts mask workshops that offer improvisational mask games as a way to see more clearly into a deeper wisdom available to us when we manage to put our small egoic mind on hold and get out of our own way beyond our normal attachments and habits. Woven throughout this deep dialogue is his description of the light-hearted parable of an overweight and out of work Lone Ranger and Tonto who meet Buddha and experience spiritual awakening. Here we explore the practice of meditation and how it can assist us in catching a glimpse of who we truly are. He says of the benefits of his 40 years conducting mask workshops is that the neutral mask makes it possible for, “the disappearance of your everyday self [along with] self-criticism, self-consciousness, and a sense of shame…[allowing for] absolute freedom.” It allows us to experience Buddha's idea of no fixed self. He goes on to say that if we “want to recapture the feeling of lightness and freedom, we need to learn how to meditate and understand a Buddhist description of reality.” (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Peter Coyote is an award-winning actor, author, director, screenwriter, and narrator who has worked with some of the world’s most distinguished filmmakers. He’s won several Emmys for his narrations and was ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest in 2011. In 2015 he received “transmission” from his teacher, making him an independent Zen teacher. He’s conceived mask training experiments and workshops as tools to give us a reprieve from the repetitive weight of our normal attachments and habits. 

Peter Coyote’s books include: 

  • The Rainman’s Third Cure: An Irregular Education (Counterpoint 1998/2015)
  • Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle (Counterpoint 2015)
  • Tongue of a Crow: A Book of Poetry (Four Way Books 2021)
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Meet Buddha: Masks, Meditation & Improvised Play to Induce Liberated States (Inner Traditions 2021) 

To learn more about the work of Peter Coyote go to www.petercoyote.com. 

Topics explored in this dialogue include:

  • How Coyote conducts mask workshops and why they work
  • Why he used the Lone Ranger and Tonto as a running parable in his book
  • What was the freedom Coyote experienced when donning the mask of the historical Pantalone
  • How all the world in changing, including ourselves, and only intention can remain fixed
  • Why everything has a shadow including language
  • How the role of the artist in today’s culture is to expand our definitions of reality to include more possibilities
  • How art recalibrates our understanding of what a human being is
  • Why Buddha brought all the outcasts in society into the wholeness and interconnection of all life
  • How we are all connected like waves in the ocean
  • What is engaged Buddhism
  • What is meant by the Buddhist precept of “dependent origination”
  • Why meditation alone cannot solve all our problems and psychotherapy is like the compassion of the West
  • How sitting zazen and psychotherapy helped him to get off his heroine addiction
  • Why Buddhism is not considered a religion
  • How our ego thinks it is the most important thing
  • How meditation is like driving a stick shift car with the clutch engaged
  • What is a thumbnail description of the Buddhist Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path
  • How we can work with engaged Buddhism without being overwhelmed by events 

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 12/30/2021   Program Number: 3749

Music Playlist 


From Album: Music for Zen Meditation
Artist: Tony Scott

Opening Essay: Track 01 Is All Not One?
Music Break 1: Track 03 A Quivering Leaf Ask The Winds
Music Break 2: Track 06 Za Zen (Meditation)
Music Break 3: Track 08 Sanzen (Moment Of Truth)