Author Topic: Zen and No Goal  (Read 7224 times)

Purple

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Zen and No Goal
« on: September 15, 2010, 04:38:05 AM »
So in the course of over a decade of practice  I've experienced Tibetan, Soto Zen and Theravada.  I'm more or less a Vipassana practitioner but I've always been fascinated by Zen.  Parts of it have always confounded me, however, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  I was wondering about one thing in particular; maybe someone here can provide some insight.

 

Tibetan and Theravadin Buddhism have very clear-cut goals when it comes to meditation.  The Buddha practiced meditation to realize enlightenment.  In fact, he sat down under the Bodhi tree with the sole intention of meditating until he understood the root of suffering and how to end it.  Most Buddhist practitioners meditate in order to achieve this same goal.  I certainly do.  Meditation makes me a better, calmer, more logical, happier, well-adjusted person.  If it didn't do this, I can't imagine why I would bother.

 

However, in the Zen tradition, as far as I understand, meditation has no goal.  There is no idea of enlightenment or self-improvement.  Meditation is not done for a reason, it is just DONE.

 

I have to admit, this makes absolutely no sense to me.  I read once that Shunryu Suzuki sat down with his students for a session of zazen that was supposed to last about 45 minutes.  After an hour or so, without ringing the bell to end the session, he got up and left the shrine room.  It was over an hour before he returned and, when he sat back down in his place, he looked around the room at the sweating practitioners, who were still fixed in agonized place, and laughed, "What a stupid thing to do," before ringing the bell.

 

This is beyond me.  Zen was founded as a response to how ritualized and ineffective Buddhism had become.  It emphasized meditation over rote learning of sutras and pointless lip service to tradition.  Ch'an, in Chinese, and Zen in Japanese are translations of the Pali word for meditation.  How can a tradition that stresses meditation over all other things maintain that meditation, is, in fact, a pointless endeavor?

 

Brad Warner, a man I consider one of my teachers, has stated outright that zazen helps us with our moral compass.  He says it allows us to unconsciously understand the correct decision when we are faced with a dilemma.  Yet he also vehemently denies that it has any goal or point whatsoever.  How can this be?


I realize this is a Vipassana forum and not a gathering place for Zennies.  However, many people here seem to have experience in several different traditions and could conceivably shine a light on this question of mine.  Part of the reason I ask is due to the limited resources in my town.  There are only two forms of organized Buddhism where I live:  a couple of Tibetan centers and one Korean Zen.  Having already been through the Tibetan ringamarole, I'm considering attending a weekly meditation session at the Korean Zen place.  I would like the option to at least occasionally practice with others.  While it's true that I have hangups in regards to any religious "organization," I seem to be truly ambivalent about Zen.  I'm very attracted to it and yet repulsed at the same time.

Any notions?

Vivek

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2010, 08:44:53 AM »
From what I have known, it looks to me that Zen is to Buddhism what Advaita is to Vedanta. The important point of similarity, if this comparison were to have some validity, is that Zen/Advaita contains the essence of what the masters in both the traditions have taught. Most people have a very difficult time trying to grasp Advaita and I am pretty sure that is the case with Zen also. Anyway, my intention here is not to start out on a comparison, I am just thinking aloud.

The great Advaitin, Gaudapada says "There is no dissolution, no birth, none in bondage and none aspiring for wisdom, no seeker of liberation and none liberated. This is the Absolute Truth." This is very difficult, and often unsettling for the vast majority of spiritual seekers to grasp. But still, that defect cannot invalidate the truth even to the smallest degree. We can find this same line of thinking in Zen. From the point-of-view of the enlightened masters, it is absolutely ridiculous to talk about bondage, misery, seeking the truth, liberation etc. It is said that some masters laughed after their enlightenment, because to them it was absolute stupidity to have tried to realise what has been the truth all along! When it is said in Zen that meditation has no goal, that should have been intended for the highly evolved seekers who went to the Zen masters, not for everyone. The greatness of Buddha, on the other hand, is to lay forth his teaching in such a form, so that everyone, irrespective of their spiritual evolution can benefit from it, and at the same time, can continue to evolve further till they can realise the highest truth.

IMO, if one finds it hard to understand statements like "there is no goal in meditation", it's better to move on and continue with one's own practice rather than thinking on these statements and remain confused. The Buddha has laid forth such a wonderful path, which can be practiced by one and all. At best, we can understand Zen or Advaitic statements at the intellectual level, which does not do much good to us. :)
Let's go beyond this illusion, shall we?

dobe

Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2010, 06:10:43 PM »
sorry I have no insight for you. haha...

but ten years of practice, bravo.  How intense was your motivation throughout the ten years? how did it progress?  When did it get easier, or did it?  How often do you meditate now?

Purple

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2010, 06:59:27 AM »
Heh.  When I hear (or, more accurately, read) "ten years of practice" it seems like I should be a lot farther along the path than I am.  I am a bad Buddhist.  I smoke and I drink and I love MMA and violence and bad horror movies and shooting guns.  If anyone ever designs a poster that illustrates what NOT to be as a Buddhist, I should probably be the central image, Glock, tattoos, Jagermeister bottle and all. 

My practice revolves around study, as I have always been a scholarly person.  I love reading about Buddhism; it's history, it's traditions, it's practices and it's adaptation here in the West.  Nothing fascinates me more than the emerging American Buddhism.  We are a land of hard-nosed skeptics and I'm eager to see what cultural detritus Buddhism will shed as it sets up shop here, so far from it's Eastern roots. 

My practice has long suffered from a lack of any real motivation.  As I say, I have always loved studying it, but, when it comes down to the real practice of meditation, I have to force myself into it.  I am physically, emotionally and mentally incapable of creating any kind of routine for practice.  I am a massage therapist by day and I wait tables by night.  I have no fixed schedule and no set times specifically for meditation.  Some days I get up at 8:30 am and go all day long, some days I struggle out of bed at noon and lay around the house until I work at 4pm.  I find it ridiculously difficult to meditate in the mornings.  My head is thinking of the looming day, the extra time I could have spent asleep or the magnificent breakfast I could be eating.  Sometimes, morning meditation just plain makes me dizzy and I have to stop.  Evening meditation, before bed, is much easier.  However, my wife works the exact opposite schedule I do, and, often, when I get home at 10:30pm, the scant time until she passes out is the only chance we have to see each other. 

This has never gotten easier.  I have been waiting tables for 14 years.  I have always worked mostly nights, and, if any of you out there have ever been in the business, you can attest that the nightlife is exquisite.  It's quite impossible to get off work at midnight, go home, meditate and go to bed.  It's much more likely that, after getting off at midnight, you go to a bar with your rowdy coworkers, pound shots till they close, then head home with a core of 4 to 5 close friends and abuse your body chemically until around 5am.  I did that for a long time.  Now, at age 36, I no longer party like Keith Moon but it is very hard to come straight home, meditate, go to bed at a human hour and rise in time to repeat my meditation before starting the next day. 

I also have no support group.  I was a member of my local Shambhala Center for several years.  I even spent time as a work-study participant at a retreat center in Vermont.  The longer I was affiliated with them, the more I realized it was not the place for me.  I am much too questioning, too irreverent and too brash for a path that demands such devotion.  Vajrayana Buddhism is a quagmire of bizarre deities, strange rituals, psychotic chanting and a mind-numbing lack of free will.  I drifted away from the group and ended up studying and practicing zazen on my own.

The practical shock-therapy of Zen seemed like the perfect antidote to the dreamy, mystical world of Shambhala.  The Soto tradition, with it's finger-pointing-at-the-moon pragmatism was exactly what I thought I needed.  However, the idea of practicing meditation with no goal in mind was totally alien to me, which was the notion that began this thread.  I sat facing the wall, with no structure whatsoever, not following the breath, not noticing thoughts, just SITTING and SITTING until I wanted to rip my eyes out, gobble them down, and then see if my inner vision had improved at all.  This may be the actual point of Zen meditation.  They call it "shikantaza" and it's a completely infuriating way to run shit. 

After this horrifying debacle, I began studying Vipassana, again on my own.  I had always dismissed Theravadin Buddhism as too prosaic for my tastes.  I wanted my spirituality with just a little more spectacle, THANK you very much.  Except I really didn't.  I had just spent too many years thinking I did.  What I, in fact, wanted, was something I call "481."  The Four Noble Truths, the 8Fold Path, and the 1 Dharma that the Buddha taught.  Simple.  To the point.  I had "481" tattooed on my inner forearm so I would never forget this. 

However, I remain a bad Buddhist.  I generally practice in spurts.  I will knuckle down and meditate at least once a day, every day, for a week.  Then, the week after, I'll end up sitting 4 days.  And, the week after THAT, it'll be 2 times.  Then I'll fall out of it totally for a month.  Then I'll start again.  This cycle repeats itself ad nauseum.

I never stray far.  I continue to study, even if I don't practice.  I read a lot, I troll the net and pick up wisdom here and there.  It always inspires me to return to hardcore meditation.  I know it makes me happier.  I know it makes me better.  I just haven't figured out a way to sustain it no matter what.


Matthew

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2010, 08:04:09 AM »
Having no goal is a goal.

Zen is all about paradox, trying to induce in the meditator little mental explosions where the ego pops out of frustration.
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Vivek

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2010, 08:26:26 AM »
Quote
What I, in fact, wanted, was something I call "481."  The Four Noble Truths, the 8Fold Path, and the 1 Dharma that the Buddha taught.  Simple.  To the point.  I had "481" tattooed on my inner forearm so I would never forget this.
:) That's cool.

Quote
If anyone ever designs a poster that illustrates what NOT to be as a Buddhist, I should probably be the central image, Glock, tattoos, Jagermeister bottle and all.
May be, it's just that you are fit for Zen, Purple. Probably, just waiting for the Master to appear. ;)
Let's go beyond this illusion, shall we?

rideforever

Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2010, 01:23:35 PM »
I love Just Sitting and have started doing it in place of Vipassana ... seems to ... well I get tired of trying to do something.  If I don't try ... it opens things up ... and occasionally I just say 'surrender' to myself.

Anyway, it feels kind of Earthy and heart centered ... and like an end of trying to 'observe' ... whatever, it appeals to me.

Purple

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2010, 05:37:42 PM »
TIB-It is exactly that paradox that keeps me interested in Zen. The notion that any moment could reveal the chance to annihilate the ego. Where other schools focus on the long, slow transformative process of meditation, Zen is fully prepared to kill you in order to make you see.

I can't get away from it. I love it and I hate it. I want desperately to BE Zen and yet I never, ever want to be Zen.

aeonakin

Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2010, 09:34:04 PM »
But aren't all these methods that become no method?  A further seperation of the percieved "self", to re realize the true "self"..They (methods and practice) seem to take us in different modes of awareness (such as our dreams). Toil in them for a while only to come back and realize that there is no difference.  "Psychologists and Neuroscientists theorize that you don't think anything is impossible when you dream because you lose your short term memory. In other words, you don't remember anything long enough to judge whether it's possible or not. So instead, you have this amazing surreal life in your dreams. (meditation-mantra.org)" Are we not making the same in our waking life with these practices? ("defeating the goal with a goal..."killing" the ego with the ego).  Isn't it just surrender?  Wholeness and Balance. 

kidnovice

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2010, 12:19:22 AM »
Hey Purple,

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your post. It was so honest and open. It reminds me that we all must learn by trial and error. When I look over my own development on the path, I think I needed to just start and stop my practice enough times that my dumb brain would finally get the idea: meditation makes "us" happier! Nibbana really is possible, and all that. :)

My mind always knew it, but it took awhile for the whole "committee" in my head to get on the same page. Its great when that begins to happen more and more frequently. So don't give up.

And incidentally, I think any path will be filled with "spectacle." Its not about the tradition, but the nature of mind and matter. Walking the Theravadan path brings no less "exciting" moments. Rather, I think the traditions simply frame those spectacles differently, and we easily get trapped into caring about those "frames" because they make us feel special.

On a personal note, I also made a shift from Zen (like you, it was all Shikantaza, though I never made it so far as to gobble my own eyes!) to Theravada. In my own case, the shift came when I realized how important it was to cultivate awareness of the body. Of course, the more I've gotten to know Zen practitioners, the more I've come to see that the body is as important in their tradition as ours. But for some reason, my approach to Zen led me to very "heady" insights into the dharma. I was very narrowly focused, to the exclusion of my physical experience. For me, the spectacles I witnessed were impressive, but never seemed transformative. It was a crucial juncture in my own growth that I began to bring my awareness to the body.

Best of luck to you on the path,.
KN

May we cultivate the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the compassion to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Matthew

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2010, 12:44:09 PM »
TIB-It is exactly that paradox that keeps me interested in Zen. The notion that any moment could reveal the chance to annihilate the ego. Where other schools focus on the long, slow transformative process of meditation, Zen is fully prepared to kill you in order to make you see.

I can't get away from it. I love it and I hate it. I want desperately to BE Zen and yet I never, ever want to be Zen.

Read "Beat Zen, square Zen and Zen" by Alan Watts - if you haven't yet - and I think you might "get it" better.

Quote
But the Westerner who is attracted by Zen and who would understand it deeply must have one indispensable qualification: he must understand his own culture so thoroughly that he is no longer swayed by its premises unconsciously. He must really have come to terms with the Lord God Jehovah and with his Hebrew-Christian conscience so that he can take it or leave it without fear or rebellion. He must be free of the itch to justify himself. Lacking this, his Zen will be either "beat" or "square," either a revolt from the culture and social order or a new form of stuffiness and respectability. For Zen is above all the liberation of the mind from conventional thought, and this is something utterly different from rebellion against convention, on the one hand, or adopting foreign conventions, on the other.
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Purple

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2010, 04:44:38 PM »
That quote makes perfect sense to me.  One of my biggest problems with Zen in this country is actually not Zen's fault at all.  It's OUR fault.  We become so easily enamored of the exotic, especially if it comes as "spirituality."  I think Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are so popular in this country because they appear very mystical and foreign to people.  Practitioners have rejected their birth religions in favor of something they think can supplant their entire American culture, which they see as too young, empty and materialistic.  They're looking to replace it with another culture, something they see as ancient and wise. I know not everyone is guilty of this, but I've seen too many people try to begin thinking and acting like a Japanese or Tibetan because they think it's part and parcel of the path. 

That quote is dead on that we must know our own culture inside and out.  If not, we will, indeed, use Zen as a form of petty rebellion.

Thanks for the advice. 

Crystal Palace

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2010, 08:55:13 AM »
We become so easily enamored of the exotic, especially if it comes as "spirituality."  

True.

Most of the people are surprised that the road to salvation starts from something as simple as watching the breath. They'd rather prefer holy amulets that guarantee them good luck along with a relationship with the person they are attracted to. That plus a few special mantras custom made for them, specially given to them by the reverend teacher, and they have embraced spirituality.

Throw in a guardian angel/guru in between and you have a cherry on top.

CP
« Last Edit: September 21, 2010, 09:03:43 AM by Crystal Palace »
"Abstain from unwholesome actions,
Perform wholesome actions,
Purify your mind"

Buddha

Matthew

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2010, 05:33:36 PM »
We become so easily enamored of the exotic, especially if it comes as "spirituality."  

True.

Most of the people are surprised that the road to salvation starts from something as simple as watching the breath. ......

Exactly. One of my new students from last week approached me today and said, "we were all a bit surprised there was no incense burning, no whale music playing and that you were wearing jeans and a T shirt".

After a short discussion regarding the simplicity of the method I teach - and why and how that simplicity leads to profundity in practice - he was reassured that there was something genuine in what I was teaching despite the lack of "religious" or "spiritual" trappings. He also said that he had tasted the benefit and knew already it was real but still a few people would have liked some more new age stuff.

They'll be disappointed :D :D

M
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Morning Dew

Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2010, 06:07:21 PM »
Quote
Most of the people are surprised that the road to salvation starts from something as simple as watching the breath. They'd rather prefer holy amulets that guarantee them good luck along with a relationship with the person they are attracted to. That plus a few special mantras custom made for them, specially given to them by the reverend teacher, and they have embraced spirituality.

CP i sell those ! As you are the member of this forum and above all a Moderator ;) i will give you a good discount!

Good on ya TIB !

Crystal Palace

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2010, 07:01:26 PM »
hehehehe....Good choice MD I'll tell ya you'll make a whole lot of money selling that stuff! And why not? The buyer gets a free sins-cleansing for just $39.99!
"Abstain from unwholesome actions,
Perform wholesome actions,
Purify your mind"

Buddha

Morning Dew

Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2010, 07:17:54 PM »
CP my friend, selling clouds in northern countries is the best business one can do LoL
But you need believers to cash it of course and this planet doesnt lack in those!
God save their souls! Amen :)

(just for the record! I was sarcastic about selling such junk, but you know this, right? )

As always ;)


Crystal Palace

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #17 on: September 22, 2010, 11:25:22 AM »
I know it, so remain relaxed...hehehehehe ;D
"Abstain from unwholesome actions,
Perform wholesome actions,
Purify your mind"

Buddha

Purple

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #18 on: October 02, 2010, 05:18:19 AM »
You know what's funny?  After all my babbling in this thread, all my bitching and questions, I've started practicing zazen again recently.  I have to say, it's been incredible.  I used to find shikantaza baffling.  Just sitting there on the cushion with no focus I felt like I was simply waiting for it to be over.  But for the last two weeks it has been remarkably liberating.  This is the power Zen has always had over me.  It feels like Zen's perspective is always fresh, that no matter how often it looks at something, it's seeing it for the first time.  "Just sitting" has been a gust of fresh air blasting the dust off my practice. 

Sounds a bit like spiritual materialism, doesn't it?  I've already admitted that I abandoned the teachings of Shambhala, prior to rejecting Zen, on my way to Theravada.  Which I haven't been practicing lately due to my re-obsession with Zen.  I don't really know what to say, except that it's hard to stay focused when you have no teacher.  Even harder when you have no group to sit with. 

I'm truly enjoying Zen right now.  I don't feel bad or disingenuous for exploring subtle branches of the Buddha's path.  I know the prevailing wisdom is to pick one version and just stick with it.  That's supposed to be better for you in the long run.  But the Buddha told me to trust my own judgment and that's what I'm doing.   

Morning Dew

Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #19 on: October 02, 2010, 05:59:54 AM »
Shikantaza and Shamatha is in my opinion one and the same if you take out the nose concentration and just keep calmly sitting.

You say it is impossible to stay focused on the practice without a teacher and a Sangha i must strongly disagree here mate :) . I too wanted to join a Zazen group but after observing my motives in meditation i just discovered that i am afraid of being alone in this. Such motive would only keep me back. Buddha didnt have others holding his hand while practicing why should you and I?!

Zazen, Zen, Shikantaza, are just names, make sure you remember this and dont get to start labeling your practice or your self as a Zen Buddhist LoL  you could very much call your self a Clown since it would be the same. Same shit different packageing :D

The whole idea is to meet with your insecute, afraid, unconfortable little self and observe it, not about reading Suttas, listening to Damma talks, shaving ur head, dressing into skirts or eating once a day. Nor is it about sitting with a group of people so I feel confortable or with a teacher i am healing my "i never had a good father" syndrom ;)

Throw out the names from ur practice as Zen, Buddha, Teacher, Shangha, Sutta, etc.... and just sit in calm abiding which Shikantaza is ( read the book Three Pillars of Zen )

Good man :)
« Last Edit: October 02, 2010, 06:48:55 AM by Morning Dew »

Matthew

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #20 on: October 02, 2010, 08:44:41 AM »
I'm in agreement with MD on this. Also yes it is the perceived wisdom that sticking with something is beneficial and there is truth in this. Changing practices daily or weekly is not conducive to progress. Mix and match practice where you do a bit of what you fancy is not conducive to progress.

What you are doing seems a little different - experimentation with prolonged attempts to master a technique making changes where you discover a need is different to spiritual materialism - it ties with the Budha's advice to continue with that which agrees with your reason and experience.

M
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Purple

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Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #21 on: October 03, 2010, 01:51:34 AM »
Very good advice, both of you. Thanks for the insight.

Morning Dew

Re: Zen and No Goal
« Reply #22 on: October 03, 2010, 09:45:33 AM »
You are welcome my friend!

Lets Sit'n'Roll :D lol

 

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