Something Special

This post first appeared on my Patreon page:

Way-seeking mind talks are a common occurrence at Zen Center these days. I understand that originally only the shuso, or head monk got to give one: it was their first opportunity to sit on the dharma seat, and talking about your own life and how you came to practice makes for a gentle way to begin your zen public speaking career. I have heard many students give way-seeking mind talks over the years at City Center and at Tassajara, and it always offers a chance for connection to see people examining their lives in an open and honest way. My rule of thumb is that I will only ever remember two or three details of a person’s story, but the feeling stays with you.

Many years ago, a young guy came to stay at City Center for a practice period, perhaps two. He was a gentle person, the sort you would instinctively assume to have a good heart. What I remember him saying is that when he was growing up, he had a belief that he would become someone special, like a rock star or someone well-known; now he was an adult, he was still adjusting to the idea that he was not someone special.

I remember listening to him and seeing the disappointment alive in his expression. We all grow up thinking we are special, or that we want to be; perhaps our parents and care-givers made a point of telling us we were, imbuing us with a confidence in the notion, perhaps they completely neglected to do so and we are determined to prove them wrong.

In the typical zen way of looking at the world, we are all completely special, and yet none of us is special. We are all special because each of us is a remarkable unique aggregation of life force, karmic conditions and immanent buddha nature; none of us is special because we all have these characteristics in our lives. If we want special things to happen in our lives, such as becoming ‘successful’ or famous, most likely we are destined to disappointment. Our training would have us question what success looks like anyway. Material gains? Spiritual stability? Freedom from suffering? Which would you sooner feel ‘successful’ at? Just being alive is pretty special to me.

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