Distance and separation harden the heart, making suffering inevitable. Names, labels, hatred, criticism, everywhere we look, we see how separation breeds pain and suffering. But when that distance is closed, something very profound takes place. We close the gap by getting to know our own pain, by understanding how our greed, anger, and ignorance create distance. This allows us to open our hearts, and understand that the person standing next to us is probably feeling the exact same way. When we realize that self and other are not two, compassion is the natural result.
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).