In the modern world, we are encouraged to be special, to be different and stand out from everyone else. Zen Buddhism has a different approach, encouraging us instead to be "nothing special". Daido Roshi declares that our lives are fine exactly the way they are; Zen is not about adding anything to our lives, it's about seeing the inherent perfection we already possess. Zen practice is a process of getting to that perfection, a means of uncovering the layers of conditioning, from families, schools, the media, that prevent us from seeing who we really are. But once we understand our true nature, we don't need to hide in a monastery or become a hermit. Zen is not about separating ourselves from the world around us, Zen is about manifesting compassion in our everyday lives, whether we are talking to our boss, planting a garden, or raising a child. The more we open up to our true nature and experience life with moment-to-moment awareness, the more we see that being ordinary is something truly extraordinary.
Zen Buddhism emphasizes zazen, or seated meditation, as the means to study the self and understand who we truly are. Dharma talks are an essential aspect of Zen training and take place in the context of zazen. Said to be "dark to the mind and radiant to the heart", a dharma talk is one of the ways in which a teacher points directly to the heart of the teachings of the Buddha. In our meditation practice, it is easy to get lost in self-doubt, fantasy, numbness, and emotional agitation. Dharma talks help to ground our practice, providing inspiration and an essential recognition of exactly where we find ourselves, so that we can learn to face difficulties and obstacles with a free and flexible mind. This talk was given at Zen Mountain Monastery or the Zen Center of New York City of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism, founded in 1980 by the late American Zen Master John Daido Loori, Roshi (1931-2009).