Bodhisattva Vows er.. Goals err… Processes

I don't fly that high, nor do you. Stop pretending!

Barry over at Ox Herding has a funny cartoon and commented…

Funny how Zen won’t cooperate. We start Zen practice to get something – a calm feeling, a certain prestige, or relief from anguish. And we might get that.

But we also get ourselves, our total, nightmarish selves – fabrications and delusions arising moment to moment.

I found the comic-strip and statement funny in two ways.

First off, I had a small Zen garden as a gift in college and would jokingly comment that “This F*cking Zen Garden is pissing me off!” when ever I was playing around with it.

Second, is the emphasis our society places on end results.  We, as a culture, do things to receive something upon completion.  We are rewarded in the abstract or concrete.  I can receive satisfaction at the successful completion of a task assigned at work or I can receive a monetary reward.  Both situations are putting the result before the process or act.

This is counterproductive to my zen practice.  If I sit with an end point in mind (“I want to calm my mind” or “I want kensho” or “I want to impress everyone around me”) I am only superficially practicing (although receiving some benefit).  I try to keep myself focused on the process and not the result when going about my activities (both mundane and transcendent, at home or in the zendo).

Many people market themselves as enlightened beings and manipulate this “American” need for results by promising rewards at the end of practice and quickly. 

A large part of my practice is self-realization.  This comes through sitting and mindfulness and recitation but more importantly it comes from a realistic portrait of myself and my practice.  The portrait becomes more and more real every day that I practice.  It doesn’t become prettier or even nicer but layers of illusion and attachments slowly peel away. 

The Bodhisattva Vows are similar since they promise such extremes.

Beings are numberless: I vow to free them

Delusions are inexhaustible: I vow to end them

Dharma gates are boundless: I vow to enter them

The Buddha way is unsurpassable: I vow to embody it

Those vows are lofty ones and introduced by the statement “Great vows for all to live by” nothing is ever stated about achievement.  The vows are not a goal but a process.  That is why we attempt to meet the unattainable, free beings without number and master Dharma practice that exceeds our ability.

No goals, just process.

Try marketing that to the public.




8 thoughts on “Bodhisattva Vows er.. Goals err… Processes

  1. that the precepts are a process was the biggest lesson i learned in my current precepts class…i got that lesson a couple weeks ago and since then attending class became more of a chore. so my process has been to no longer attend class and get on with my process…of being ‘unaffiliated’ lol

  2. I agree, so much of the western outlook on zen, buddhism and meditation is about bliss, enlightment and calming the mind in a split second. Chasing thoughts in forms of goals and success seems to be the norm. I find it easier to look at meditation and practice as mental workout. Just like physical workout, you’ll expect progress in form of better health and fitness but it doesn’t work to go all-in for a week and then jump back on the couch.

    On a side note I just started reading your blog and I must say it’s inspiring to read spiritual stuff written by “one of us”. It can be a bit heavy at times just reading (old) scriptures where everything appears as a yoda-style riddle (“meditate you must”) 🙂

    • Many degrade that viewpoint (I’m not one of them) as anti-transcendental. I also prefer the process-based approach versus the goal-based (the activity is the thing and not the result). It is a realistic benefit of practice. I like the stilling of my mind and the calmness that ensues. I continue to practice for the benefits as well as the transcendental aspects (enlightenment, nirvana, etc.).

      But the “superficial” aspects succeed in grounding my practice. I think most “lofty” practitioners need a tad bit of grounding themselves.

      I am very happy that you enjoy my blog. I try to avoid the riddles and stick with a “keep it simple, stupid” mentality.



  3. I agree with your suggestion that the point of zen is found in practice rather than in any “goal-seeking”. Personally, I like to use the Japanese term dō from martial arts to describe my approach to zen practice. In martial arts there is the system, or jutsu, of doing something, whether a kick or strike. Everyone learns the jutsu. This is the “goal-oriented” approach to the martial arts. It’s something you do to achieve something you want.

    At some point in a martial artist’s studies, however, the jutsu or “art” progresses to a point it is no longer a thing to be attained. You’ve learned all the katas. The only thing that’s left is to remove the false duality between ammartial art and martial artist. When that happens you are no longer practicing jutsu, “art”, but dō ,”way”.

    • I love it! We begin with jutsu and kata but after extended practice we see what the kata is and why we do it. The kata expands to the rest of the life. Wonderful!



  4. I belive that enlightment should always be the blue skies above the clouds that you carry with you and try to attain. The important thing is not to fight fire with fire; dissolving concepts of thoughts to get to the concept of enlightment. That being said a higher spiritual understanding will always be my purpose.

    I guess for me it boils down to: “don’t think to much, just breath”.


    • Blue skies are always there – just need to remove the clouds. Enlightenment as exploration and discovery rather than creation. Wonderful! I love the traditional writings as well but it is nice to talk with a neighbor that is on the same path.



  5. … adding to my first comment I would like to say that traditional spirutal writings can be very inspirational but it’s always refreshing to get different viewpoints, especially from someone closer to my own cultue and society.

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