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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"
Everyone has experienced life's classic dilemmas: Should I do this, or should I do that? Should I buy this, or should I buy that? Should I be here, or should I be there? We tend to resolve these questions by analysis and rationality, but when we look carefully we see that our choices usually aren't rational; more often they are a decision of the heart.
"Not about Aron Ralston's survival story."
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.
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.
All societies have laws to prevent physical and verbal violence, but what about the violence we create with our thoughts? Daido Roshi states that our minds are incredibly powerful, and they create a force that shapes the reality around us. We can only bring peace and healing to ourselves and others if we first have peace in our minds. But we can't quiet the mind until we see how much time we spend talking to ourselves, and until we let go of our almost constant inner chatter.
The world is teaching us all the time. Teachings come from rivers, rocks, and mountains, and teachings come from pollution, AIDS, and starvation. But how much of these teachings do we actually hear? Roshi says that we can't possibly experience the world around us if our senses are dulled. Zen practice shows us that it is possible to experience life in a new way, a way that allows us to hear with the whole body and mind.