Emory University's new adjunct professor, the Dalai Lama, once said, "The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge, but it is essential, if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one's existence, to have a good heart."
I would have quit after the first half, and merely said, "The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge."
The other half, especially "if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one's existence," smacks of spiritual materialism. We are all already genuine human beings (if you're not genuinely human, how are you reading this?), and the true essence of being human, as already pointed out, is kindness, so why strive to impart satisfying meaning?
But that's an intellectual argument using words and ideas. Zen makes this case practically, through the practice of sitting meditation, or zazen. As we sit quietly, all of the accreted layers that surround our human essence slowly drop away, layers such as our likes and dislikes, our habitual responses to sensation, our intellect and its intellectual arguments using words and ideas. What is your true essence beneath all of that memory, personality, desire and fear?
What we find in Zen is that the essential nature beneath all of this is good, is kind, and can be trusted. To be genuine, to be meaningful, to be kind, we do not have to develop or acquire anything, we only have to strip away and get rid of those accreted layers.
Obviously, this contrasts with the concept in Western religion that we are basically impure and require salvation, or in Western psychotherapy (the other religion) which maintains that we need to be mentally healed (or properly medicated) to find our kindness. But in Zen, it appears that once we stop all searching and all healing, once we just stop, there's nothing there that's not our kind, compassionate original nature.
The weather might be dark and stormy out, but right now, behind all those clouds, is the shining sun. We just need to wait for the clouds to blow away.