“There is only one teacher. What is that teacher? Life itself. And of course each one of us is a manifestation of life; we couldn’t be anything else. Now life happens to be both a severe and an endlessly kind teacher. It’s the only authority that you need to trust. And this teacher, this authority, is everywhere. You don’t have to go to some special place to find this incomparable teacher, you don’t have to have some especially quiet or ideal situation: in fact, the messier it is, the better. The average office is a great place. The average home is perfect. Such places are pretty messy most of the time–we all know from firsthand experience! That is where the authority, the teacher is.
This is a very radical teaching, and not for everyone. People often turn away from such a teaching; they don’t want to hear it. Until we’re ready (which usually means, until we have suffered and have been willing to learn from the suffering) we’re like baby birds in a nest. What do baby birds do? They open their mouths upward and wait to be fed. We say, “Please stuff your wonderful teaching into me. I’ll hold my mouth open, but you put it in.” What we are saying is, “When will Mommy and Daddy come? When will a great teacher, a supreme authority, come and stuff me with that which will end my pain, my suffering?”
The news is, Mommy and Daddy have already come. Where are Mommy and Daddy? Right here. Our life is always here! But since my life may look to me like discomfort, even dreariness, loneliness, depression, if I actually were to face that (life as it is), who would want that? Almost no one. But when I can begin to experience this very moment, the true teacher–when I can honestly be each moment of my life, what I think, feel–this experiencing will settle itself into “just this,” the joyful samadhi of life, the word of God. And that is Zen practice, and we don’t even have to use the word “Zen.”
Excerpted from “Everyday Zen,” by Charlotte Joko Beck