Buddhism says it’s a “Journey Without Goal.” But aren’t goals helpful?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Feb 3, 2009
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There’s an obvious koan or contradiction between the spiritual path not being about self-improvement but rather being with what is and dedicating one’s every action to others…and the fact that it takes a lot of effort. After all, our path is fueled, particularly in the beginning, by wanting to improve and be happier.

So if the path of “awake” is about waking up but not self-help…well, what’s the difference? 

For one thing, we’re talking about a path of practice at simply being present, not a path of materialism, consumerism, lifestyle. ~ ed.

There’s a landmark book I read when a lil’Dharma Brat called Journey Without Goal, by my momma and dadda’s Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa.

The title refers to the notion that it’s key to view one’s Buddhist practice as something less than self-help. It’s not about improving, but seeing things as they are—of course the trick is, is that the more you live in reality, the easier and better and more vivid and enjoyable life is. After all, if you’re not experiencing the present moment, you’re missing out on an awful lot, and generally just bobbing about in the stormy seas of samsara, or confusion.

I found this interesting blog that references Trungpa, Suzuki and others today, just after reading in latest Shambhala Sun about Zen teacher Norman Fischer coming to see that Buddhism with some idea of attainment or helpfulness can be…helpful. Excerpt:

February 2nd, 2009

On the Hardcore Dharma weblog, Julia Jonas (aka tinderfoot)writes:

Reading ZMBM I came to the conclusion that the problem is not that you think meditation is going to be good for you, improve you as a person, an artist, a lover a friend. The problem is that in order to see the illusory nature of our beliefs, its essential to let go of these ideas of improvement. I know that’s what Suzuki Roshi is saying, but it made sense to me, for the first time again, this week. Going into meditation in order for it to calm me down pits myself against myself. Going into meditation accepting the momentary, flawed state of my mind and reality and not try to change it, to rather simply be curious about it, allows me to be in the present moment.

It’s a really difficult koan. On the one hand, it seems the purpose of practice is to attain enlightenment, to be free from the cycles of karma, to attain liberation. That’s one story.

Yet, the Heart Sutra says: “There is no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, and no path. There is no wisdom and no attainment. Because there is nothing to be attained, the Bodhisattva relies on prajnaparamita, and has no mental obstructions.”

Of course, the very ones who proclaim the teachings of “no attainment” are people who themselves have done quite a bit of practice, so is there a contradiction here?

Not at all. That’s the koan.

My primary meditation teacher, Steven Tainer, talks about this a great deal. His way of speaking of it is simple: of course, at first, we are so inured to the “goal oriented” mind that that’s all we have to work with (seemingly). So, if we need some sort of idea of a goal to practice, that may be unavoidable.

But to the extent we hold onto the idea of a goal, of a result we are trying to attain … practice is obstructed. That’s not only Suzuki and Trungpa...read the rest here.



Bonus: a quote, via Journey without a Goal:

“When we talk about the tantric tradition, we are not talking about playing with sex or aggression or colors of the phenomenal world. People have projected a lot of ideas onto the vajrayana, such as that it is an expression of wildness and freedom. However, the cultivation of vajrayana has to be based on a very subtle, definite, ordinary, and real foundation. Otherwise, we are lost.  The vajrayana teachings are extremely sacred and, in some sense, inaccessible.  Generations and generations of Buddhist practitioners have put tremendous energy and effort into tantra, so we cannot afford to make our studies into supermarket merchandise.” — Chögyam Trungpa


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


9 Responses to “Buddhism says it’s a “Journey Without Goal.” But aren’t goals helpful?”

  1. […] story is interesting to me because what all these specific ways of living add up to is— whatever religion anyone is or isn’t—we’re hoping to help create what we call an enlightened or a healthy […]

  2. sdaniels_57 says:

    from "The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the transmission of mind":

    Q: If I follow this Way, and refrain from intellectual processes and conceptual thinking, shall I be certain of attaining the goal?

    A: Such non-intellection is following the Way! Why this talk of attaining and not attaining? The matter is thus—by thinking of something you create an entity and by thinking of nothing you create another. Let such erroneous thinking perish utterly, and then nothing will remain for you to go seeking!

  3. […] Reading a teaching by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun who was an early student of Chogyam Trungpa and now studies with Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, I was amazed that in the Buddhist view the feeling […]

  4. […] fools me into thinking wisdom is separate from my fundamental nature. There is no goal: the journey is the goal. Waylon Lewis, founder of elephantjournal.com and host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon […]

  5. When I read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, one thing I took away was that I needed to shift from thinking of my "goal" to my "purpose." If I can play etymology geek for a minute: goal refers to a specific end point obstacle to overcome [gaelen "to hinder"] while purpose is an ongoing intention that carries us forward [porposer "to put forth"].

    So maybe…I put forth on this journey – any hinderances are inconsequential.

    I really need to read Journey without Goal….

  6. […] my personal and professional message to the world. Meditation practice may not turn your life into a fairytale or even cause you to live on a mountaintop, removed from the world, but it always brings focused […]

  7. […] So I’ll keep my tattoo, and all my scrapes and scars. It’s okay that I’ve changed. I don’t need to keep staring back in regret. Ending up somewhere different than you expected doesn’t mean you took the wrong road. It means you kept on going. You keep on going–that’s the point. […]

  8. […] Goal oriented teachers, or teachers trying to satisfy the student’s ego by giving them more advanced asanas than they are ready for. This can give the false illusion of progress. Sometimes, teachers do this when they are insecure and want the yoga student to like them by feeding the student’s ego. However, it is ultimately a disservice to the yoga student. In the short term, it may look like progress; but in the long term, the truth will be revealed. Like Ron Reid says, more often than not he finds that he is teaching the yoga student to ground and hold back rather than push forward. Positive feedback is great; however, why does it have to only be for the ability to do advanced, fancy looking asanas? Why can’t it be for the persistence to show up every day and do our practice with awareness, patience and compassion? Why can’t the praise be for challenging ourselves to maintain smooth, even breathing, a calm, peaceful interior and steady, strong bandhas? In my experience, it is way easier to push yourself around with the strength of the mind and ego than it is to have inner peace and supreme love! […]

  9. […] that, after all, is the whole point of all this Buddhist stuff (at least as I was brought up to understand it in Chogyam […]