February 3, 2009

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

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

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