Setting Intentions

One of the students I work with comes up with some really great questions. When I was sharing the Genjo Koan with a study group, riffing about the interplay of relative and absolute, he said something along the lines of, “Shundo, this is really great, but how is it going to help me in my life?” which of course gave me pause. Three answers came into my head in the moment: we can become fearless, like the Heart Sutra suggests, when we can find an ease around the true nature of reality and human existence, which I believe a study of Buddhism can imbue us with. We can be like a mirror, reflecting that reality, and simply letting go. And we can be more energy efficient when we have this understanding in our bodies, because reflecting and letting go is a lot less exhausting than holding the amount of stress and anxiety around the past and future that we are used to dealing with.

Recently he asked me to discuss how to deal with ‘life strategy’ issues if our practice is telling us just to be present. I did some reading and some thinking over the holiday period, and here are a couple of passages I thought might illustrate an approach:

‘When we feel conflicted about a particular decision or action, our bodies often hold the answer – if we take the time to stop and tune in. Our minds tend to race ahead into the future or replay the past, but our bodies are always in the present moment. A tightness in the chest or a squeamish sensation in the gut may signal harm, even when reason may suggest that a given choice is perfectly ethical. A feeling of calm or a sense of expansiveness throughout the body sends us a very different message.’ (Sharon Salzberg, Real Love)

‘You may think that if there is no purpose or no goal in our practice, we will not know what to do. But there is a way. The way to practice without having any goal is to limit your activity, or to be concentrated on what you are doing in this moment. Instead of having some particular object in mind, you should limit your activity. When your mind is wandering about elsewhere you have no chance to express yourself. But if you limit your activity to what you can do just now, in this moment, then you can fully express your true nature, which is the universal Buddha nature. This is our way.’ (Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

When we met to discuss the topic, I asked the other participants in the group for their thoughts around life planning before bringing in the passages. It was gratifying that what they shared was pointing to the same perspectives.

3 thoughts on “Setting Intentions

  1. ‘we can become fearless, like the Heart Sutra suggests’. Lately, I’ve been chanting the Heart Sutra, now I’m looking deeper into it’s applications, it’s teachings, it’s limitations, it’s boundaries (or not), and fearless has not appeared. Would you share which line(s) suggest this descriptor, for you?
    deep bows!


  2. Thank you Shalamah.
    It’s funny, seeing how many times I have chanted the Heart Sutra that I find it hard to summon the lines up from memory, but I am thinking of the lines:
    ‘With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajña paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear.’
    Now Hakuin in his commentary sneers at the word ‘relying’ there, but the last sentence is the important one.


  3. Right after I post this question- and as soon as I chanted this Sutra, this line opened to me. An enlightened moment, perhaps.
    Thanks and Deep Bows to you Shundo!


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