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. In Zen training, the first thing we do is start working on the fantasy: each time a thought comes up, we acknowledge it, let it go, then come back to the breath. We develop the ability to put our mind where we want it, when we want it, for as long as we want it there. It takes patience and effort, but eventually our senses bloom and we find ourselves totally present and full of appreciation for the moment-to-moment miracle of life.
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).