Sooner or later, we all confront situations with no easy way out. For human beings, sickness, old age, and death, either our own or someone else's, seem like insurmountable barriers. We all struggle to avoid these things, and the media encourages our pursuit, offering plastic surgery, exercise routines, and all manner of pills to achieve eternal youth. But sooner or later, we need to realize that old age and suffering are not going to magically dissolve.
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.
When we think of spiritual powers, we usually imagine walking on water or performing some kind of miracle. However, Roshi points out that true mystical power resides within the simple actions of our everyday lives, whether we are cooking a meal, washing the dishes, or driving a car. These activities seem ordinary, but they have an extraordinary aspect as well.
Our ordinary point of view divides the world in two. Me and you, right and wrong, success and failure, life and death, practically all of our daily encounters are about divisions. We separate ourselves from the world around us, and this separation is the cause of our pain and suffering.
Many of us yearn for a deeper spiritual connection, but few of us know how to manifest spirituality in our daily lives. We buy into conditioning from the media and our schools, and as a result we experience life as limited and painful. Daido Roshi says that this dilemma is like someone sitting by a river and dying of thirst.
"John, John, you've outdone yourself!"
American Buddhism is a new phenomena, and teachers range from self-appointed gurus to highly qualified masters. With so many teachers and religious centers to choose from, how can you find someone you really trust? The real issue, according to Daido Roshi, is understanding the meaning of spiritual authority. Transmission from a teacher should be based on our own realization as well as the teacher's.
How much of your daily life is taken up by fantasy? The reality is that most of us go through our entire day, indeed, our entire lives, caught up in make-believe stories. Although fantasy seems more compelling than everyday tasks like sewing, sweeping, or cooking, it's an incredibly wasteful activity that takes us away from the vivid world of the present moment.
It is a constant practice to not get stuck in the language or forms of Zen training. The precepts, wisdom, higher states of meditation - these are all concepts that need to be let go of. Don’t turn your Zen practice into a nest, a workshop, a medicine cabinet or a make-up kit. True realization is traceless. It has nothing to do with your ideas about it. Even at the top of a hundred-foot pole, there’s nowhere else to go but forward.
Shakyamuni Gautama was a historical figure who lived in India from approximately 563 to 483 B.C. After his death, Buddhism spread over Asia, and almost 2,500 years later Buddhism has come to the West, where it is more relevant than ever. These four classic talks by John Daido Loori, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery, offer a clear, comprehensive version of the Buddha's life and teachings, including Buddha's life as a householder, spiritual seeker, and ultimately a teacher.
The Heart Sutra is one of the most important teachings in all Buddhist schools, including Zen. In this challenging talk, Roshi discusses The Heart Sutra and explains the Buddhist concept of emptiness. Emptiness doesn't mean that the world is empty, nor does it mean that we are supposed to walk around like emotionless zombies. Realizing emptiness is essentially realizing that we are not separate from the world around us.
Zen Buddhism emphasizes meditation as the means to study ourselves and understand who we truly are. Dharma talks are an essential aspect of Zen training, and the talks offered here were given at both the Zen Mountain Monastery and the Zen Center of New York City.
Dogen said: Suchness is the real form of truth. Our life is constantly changing, our minds are constantly changing. This can make us feel helpless and lead us to ask: On what can we rely? Or, this flux can be used to practice and deepen our awareness. To ask what is suchness is to ask how all things exist. Through this question we can become truly intimate, but we have to trust the question, trust the process, and trust ourselves.
There is a music in us, an inner voice which is audible to our teachers, but not always to us. We can’t express this music using other’s words or other’s ways of seeing things. Yet the expression of it is the vital thing; it’s not enough to embody it - we have to be able to communicate that truth. Daido Roshi encourages us to "let our bones dance", to respond, and to sing with others in such a way that it creates a voice that doesn’t belong to anyone - our collective voice. That is true expression, true intimacy.
People think of Zen as a humorless religion, but like Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths, Zen has a long tradition of clowns and pranksters. In this enjoyable and thought-provoking talk, Zen master John Daido Loori Roshi tells anecdotes about various ancient and modern Zen teachers who were known for playing the fool.
Every day we are faced with moral decisions, and it's often difficult to know how to act. If there's a snake in our garden, do we kill it? If our co-worker is stealing from the company, is it our obligation to speak up? What if we tell our children not to lie, then the phone rings and we ask them to say we're not home? In this compelling talk, Daido Roshi explores the role of morality and ethics in our lives.
Our world is full of words, whether we are listening to others, watching T.V., or talking to ourselves. In a religion like Zen Buddhism, where so much emphasis is placed on silence and meditation, what is the place of words and literature? Zen practice doesn't mean abandoning language, but rather using it to our advantage. The truth isn't found in either words or silence; it encompasses both.
Human beings spend most of their time talking to themselves. Constantly preoccupied with the past and the future, we live in a perpetual state of distraction and mental turmoil. But what happens when our internal chatter quiets down? Roshi discusses our minds' capability to experience profound stillness, and the heart of Zen practice is to find this still point within ourselves.
"what to heck"