I’ve been struggling for months how to write this post. Let’s see if I’ve got it now…
Buddhist teaching does not encourage you to be a do-nothing, inactive, passive drifter. On the contrary, the Bodhisattva vow is as follows:
⊕ Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.
⊕ Deluding passions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them all.
⊕ Dharma gates are limitless, I vow to master them all.
⊕ Buddha’s Way is Supreme, I vow to attain it.
And Dogen Zenji tells us, “Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your life.”
Buddhist vows are impossibly ambitious, and we are implored to be quick about it.
On the other hand, we learn that attachment is a source of suffering. How does one reconcile the ambitious and time sensitive vows with non-attachment? I call this aspiring without attachment. In theory, one could forge ahead full steam, working tirelessly and remain completely unattached. On paper that sounds great, but in practice, our desire for things to be other than they are cause us great suffering. As my teacher says, “Things as they are… things as we want them to be. That is cause for suffering.”
Until we reach such an awakened state that we can let go of all attachment, we do have the option to choose our attachments wisely.
Choices that can lead to suffering
- To try to change things as they are.
- To strive for some outcome.
Choices that are unlikely to lead to suffering
- Embracing a cause.
- Working for this cause.
- Striving to be the best you, you can be.
- To do the best you can.
It’s a choice. You can attach to anything you want; there is no right or wrong. Some attachments may lead to suffering. Other attachments may lead to less suffering. Neither is right or wrong. It’s a choice. You can attach to an outcome or attach to a cause. Both can result in the same effort. Both can result in the same resolve. But attaching to an outcome may lead to suffering if that outcome does not manifest as quickly as you want. Attaching to a cause is something you can carry to the grave with you with pride.
Another way to look at it comes from a wonderful quote by Calvin Coolidge:
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
You can look back at your life and think, “I failed.” Or you can look back at your life and think, “Calvin Coolidge would be proud of me. I was determined. I was persistent. And I gave it my best shot.”