White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 4: When Achieving their Goals

Dharma Talk by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, December 13th, 2007


...lets you know that you are alive
and you can practise the life that is living as you.

The verse: 

When achieving their goals,
"May all beings
Pull out the arrow of craving
And realize utter serenity." 

Goals? What are we talking about?
It's always good to know.
In some texts, this was translated as lust or desire
which immediately evokes a sexual connotation
but that is not the only area in which self-image craves, and grabs, and clings.
The word "lust" limits and constrains the understanding of the verse as a reminder to practise.
The narrowing of attention into a singular focus is the same
no matter what the subject of the "desires or lusts or goals"
...sex, wealth, respect, being the best at something, things.
So the Roshi and I chose "goals" as the word
to open up the understanding of craving and the things craved. 

Let's expand our understanding to be more inclusive of day-to-day interests and activities.
Some definitions of "goal": 

Merriam Webster: the end towards which effort is directed.

Thesaurus: Goal-the state of affairs that a plan is intended to achieve and that (when achieved) terminates behaviour intended to achieve it. (The ends justify the means. That moves it into the theoretical, philosophical, based in language, not in experience. We won't go there now.) 

"An objective or goal is a personal or organizational desired end point in development. It is usually endeavored to be reached in finite time by setting deadlines. 

"On a personal level setting goals is a process that allows people to specify then work towards their own objectives, commonly financial or career." 

A destination, a terminus. 

Since around 1315, it has been a sport term: end of a race, football goal.

Over the years the use of the word "goal" has moved into the "personal".
Over the twenty years I worked with a wide variety of people
to help them move past their perceived blockages in life,
the most common response given when asked to identify their "goals" was "to be happy". 

"Being happy" seems, on first hearing, like a perfectly reasonable goal
but don't be fooled.

Do you know what you are talking about when you are talking about "being happy"?
If you don't know, how would you know when you have attained it?
Take the risk to look into what "happy" means to you.
How do you know when you are "happy"?
Most don't know because "happiness" often is just another story line,
from TV, from the movies, from magazines, views into other people's lives,
and expectations of oneself often built by others. 

"Happiness" is a word, a metaphor, for sensations felt in the bodymind,
sensations of lightness, effervescence, ease, and serenity,
on the whole sensations that are pleasant.
Sensations are present in the bodymind as long as we are alive.
Learn to notice them.
When noticed, if sensations feel good,
If sensations feel bad, practise.
Over time, you may find yourself choosing to engage more often in activities that feel "good".
But that's up to you. 

Feel the breath.
Right now.

You're alive. 

You can make a choice to open the tendency to fixate on one thing
in the mistaken belief that once that one thing is attained it will make "everything all right".
When we focus on the product,
that one thing, that goal,
we tend to ignore the process and that gives a feeling of something missing,
of unsatisfactoriness.

That unsatisfactoriness is a fabrication.
Everything is all right.
There is no problem in this moment.
There very seldom is.

The sense of problem,
which seems to guide the lives of many,
is made up of the contractions into a sense of self
that is separate from everything else
and is somehow lacking.

What is lacking is the everything
other than the goal or product
which we have ignored in our haste,
our focus, to get to the goal, attain the thing.
So even after goals are reached,
that sense of craving is still present. 

"Pull out the arrow of craving"
by practising,
feeling the breath,
sitting up straight,
and opening the peripheral vision.

What is described as "the arrow of craving" rips into,
and binds the open space of experiencing
into a congealing,
a bunching,
a contraction into a "self"
which starts to talk about the "problems"
and the craving to end the problems
and the promises that when the "problems" are solved,
the desired goal will be reached
and "everything will be all right".

All of this is of course based in a fabricated future.
Don't be fooled.

Just feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open peripheral vision,
and practise.

Again and again and again. 

Of course it is necessary to identify what one needs to do in the course of a day.
Of course the clearer one can be about what one is doing,
the more the chance of "success",
the more open experiencing,
the more open information available,
and the more elegant, flexible, and effective one's choices can be. 

As the whole bodymind is practised in the whole moment,
the more chance we have
of actually knowing the nuanced sensations of the bodymind.
We might actually start to notice, a
nd be surprised by those moments that we might call "happiness".

That experience of "happiness" is seldom what we thought
or had talked to ourselves about.
"Goals" may change as our understanding changes. 

One drawback of goal setting,
expressed in an essay about the power of the word,
is that "implicit learning may be inhibited". 

When the focus of attention is on the product, the goal,
the process is not noticed.
If our "goal" is to get through the 30 minutes of sitting,
we can be focused on the imagined ringing of the gong
and we don't remember to practise when we notice those as thoughts.

We may "get through the sitting"
but that focus on the imagined end point or product,
and obviously it is imagined as we don't have it yet,
has compromised our ability to practise when noticing the myriad of dharmas,
moments of experiencing. 

The essay on goals also says,
"there can be a focus on an outcome without the openness to exploration, understanding, or growth."
Another way of saying the same thing. 

Any time you notice any focusing of attention, whatsoever,
be it on a colour, a light, a sliver of the floor, a thought,
practise whole bodily mindfulness.
This opens the tendency to propagate closed patterns that have been on automatic.
You won't lose anything except those stories you made up
that confused you about the difference between a thing
and a thought about a thing. 

A cat is a cat.
You can see the cat, hear the cat, smell the cat, touch the cat.
The cat is experienced by all the senses of the bodymind.
The "real cat" really affects more of the senses than the thought of the cat.
Across the board we can say that the thing itself
is "more real" than the thing thought about.
DUH! Of course!

When you see that and have a "duh, of course" moment,
"why didn't I know that before" moment,
and so on, practise.

Feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eyegaze.
Cut off the tendency to want to dissect,
talk about (especially to yourself),
theorize over, try to recreate, and so on. 

Let it go.

Practise now. 

Nothing is ever good enough for self-image.
Self-image gets what it thought it wanted but is not satisfied.

No wonder.
No craving is satisfied by a thought.

At the moment of noticing dissatisfaction, dukkha,
practise the whole bodymind in the whole moment.

Self-image is always missing the whole moment,
missing that which is already present and always has been:
seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, breathing.

Practise and recognize
again and again
that there is nothing missing. 

Once any sort of comment on experiencing that moment of waking up,
of completion, of satisfaction, of "happiness" starts—
let it go.
It's a thought.
There is nothing to be held onto,
nothing to crave,
no need to crave. 

Feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open peripheral vision.


We accumulate stuff to prop up what we want the world to see,
"Look at me. Look at what I've done".
We don't even take the time to realize that we've never done anything
"all by ourselves".

Phrases such as "self-made" are totally untrue.
Without the long line of people who came before us
and taught us everything we know,
we wouldn't have been able to do what we did. 

Practice provides the opportunity to see our habitual patterns
of craving and chest beating that we engage in to prop up the views of self-image. 

When we identify a goal,
we can be pushed by poverty mind to be "single minded"
as we take actions to move us toward what we have identified as our goal or desire.
We don't notice the process
because we are focused so tightly on the outcome
that any recognition of the moment-to-moment reality of our lives
is obliterated and increases the sense of lack, of wanting, of craving,
to get that thing that will "make everything all right". 

"Everything all right" as a stable and secure and nailed down state is not gonna happen. 

Anzan Hoshin roshi, says in "Doing Not Doing-What Can Be Held?" the current Teisho series that, 

Self-image lives in a world of things—dead things such as stones and desks and cars and houses and clothes and living things some of which become dead things so that they can be consumed and other living things that are other selves. In that world of things the selves scramble against the other selves to own the dead things. To arrange structures out of the things by piling them up into acquisitions that give them some semblance of a feeling of life... 

You may have accumulated things—
papers, diplomas, money, knowledge, possessions—
but they are not who you are.
They are the knowns arising within Knowing
and you are the Knowing,
that moment of waking up to reality,
understanding that awareness is the only condition
and that the intention to do what you can
for the peace, happiness, and freedom of all beings
is expressed and realized. 

When attaining their goals,
"May all beings

Pull out the arrow of craving
And realize utter serenity." 

Thank you for listening.