After I wrote the long post about the 4 Noble Truths, I also
felt that I could answer my son using the idea of Right Intention or Right
aspiration or Right vow; all
different translations of the Second Limb of the 8-fold Path.
Semantically speaking, I’ve trained myself not to use the
word “goal”. Goals are always seen
in terms of success and failure and they are always seen in terms of the
future. Did I accomplish my goal
or not? I find that this way
of thinking produces suffering. It
makes me feel that my life may be better or worse in the future and that takes
me away from vitally engaging with what’s happening right now and what is in
front of my nose. And yet, we
still have desires for what we want in life and we still need a direction to
Dogen helped me so much in the Tenzo Kyokun, his writing on
how to be the cook at the monastery, when he wrote that each moment has a direction.
When we are standing or sitting, we are always facing in a certain
direction. In this very moment, We are in the
process of heading somewhere.
I use in my teaching the idea of having a North Star. In the old days, the sailors negotiated
their journey on the seas by the stars and the North Star was the primo
indicator of where they were. And yet
because of the weather, the currents, and the waves, they never headed in a
straight line directly into the north star. There were a lot of zigs and zags. However, the sailors can always recalibrate their journey
and correct their position so they are again heading towards where they want to
We practice with this aspirational question. What is my North Star? That can be answered in the spiritual
realm by our deepest vows and it also can be answered in our daily life by what
direction are you heading in? Life
is a process, like a journey, and we are constantly negotiating the Way by
zigging and zagging and recalibrating our course.
In Buddhist spirituality, our deepest North Stars are our
vows like the Bodhisattva Vows,
Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
The dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter
Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize
But we can also take this idea of a “direction and not a
goal” into our everyday decisions.
If you want to be a Doctor, you need to head in that direction. If you want to be an artist, head that
way. Knowing that the journey is
circuitous, every day you negotiate the Way, what is being presented? What are
the conditions of this day? How has the weather changed this year or the next
decade and try to follow the North Star of your direction you’ve chosen for
It seems that in the spiritual realm, our vows don’t change
that much. They are a deep current
of inspiration and guidance. But
in our human life, our directions and circumstances change a lot. For example, I didn’t know I wanted to
have children until I was 40 and that decision changed my life
drastically. I have changed
careers three times in my life. My
spirituality keeps me stable and my story unfolds as my individual story rides
the currents of my karma and my life process as a human being unfolding.
From Uchiyama Roshi, “Refining your Life”, in the chapter on
Direction and goal:
To express this
concretely in terms of our daily attitude, it means to live without projecting
goals while yet having a direction.
Since everything is impermanent, there is no way of telling what might
happen to us in the next instant – we could very well die! To set up a goal or
a purpose is to invite disappointment by seeing things move in a direction
contrary to these goals. Yet, we
are certainly in trouble if we decide that since we have no future goals or
expectations, there is no present direction.
In this world of
impermanence, we have no idea of what may occur during the night; maybe there
will be an earthquake or a disastrous fire, war may break out, or perhaps a
revolution might erupt, or we ourselves could very well meet death. Nevertheless, we are told in the Tenzo
Kyokun to prepare the gruel for the following morning and make a plan for
lunch. Moreover, we are to do this
as tonight’s work. In preparing the
meal for the following day as tonight’s work, there is no goal for tomorrow
being established. Yet, our
direction for right now is clear:
prepare tomorrow’s gruel.
Here is where our awakening to the impermanence of all things become
manifest, while at the same time our activity manifests our recognition of the
law of cause and effect. In the routine matter of preparing tomorrow’s gruel as
this evening’s work, lies the key to the attitude necessary for coping with this
absolute contradiction of impermanence and cause and effect.
Labels: 4 noble truths, 8-fold path, Bodhisattva Vows, Dogen, Right aspiration, Right Intention, Tenzo Kyokun, Uchiyama roshi