Goalless Practice

This is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Jan Becker at Against The Stream, Noah Levine’s place on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

Goalless practice is a koan. All the thinking mind can do with the idea is create an endless feedback loop. The goal of the practice is to have no goal, but “having no goal” is also a goal, so how can I have a goal that’s no goal, but how can I have goalless practice without knowing that the goal of practice is to be without a goal…? And on and on and on.

Trust me, kids, I’ve been down this loop a bazillion times. There is no way out of it. Nothing your rational brain can come up with can ever break out of this box.

The only solution is to step completely aside. Allow your goals to be as they are and press on. Leave your goal seeking mind yammering away the way it always does and just sit with that.

Saying the rational brain can’t break the loop does not mean that you have to go into irrationality or become illogical. The goalless state is very rational in the sense that it is very orderly and serene. But the rational part of the brain cannot grasp it. That’s just the way it is.

Anyhow, there’ll be more interviews like this coming soon.

91 Responses

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  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 10:23 am | |

    Cunt!

    Cunt hair!!

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 10:26 am | |

    In an effort to bring Buddhism to young people, Tibetan lama Sogyal Rinpoche took an unusual approach to teaching last night.

    Awake Amsterdam, held at a hip concert venue, combined Buddhist teachings with electronic music and a nightclub setting to inspire younger audiences. After giving a talk called Inner Peace in 2012, Sogyal Rinpoche led the crowd in meditation. Dutch DJs Monte La Rue and Charles Davos provided music before and after Rinpoches teaching.

    http://youtu.be/E6gfYWjp2x8

  3. Anonymous G
    Anonymous G May 9, 2012 at 10:28 am | |

    How long until GNIZ shows up and ruins this with his incessant posts?!?

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 10:29 am | |
  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 10:32 am | |

    See, new post before Mysterion hit 8.

    I predict Mysterion will have less than 6 comments on this post.

  6. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 9, 2012 at 11:17 am | |

    It just doesn't get any better than this.

    Is that all there is?

    No, it is all there is.

    And by it I do NOT mean EST.

    Zen 101

    Brad, think about writing "Zazen for Dummies."

  7. Rick
    Rick May 9, 2012 at 11:26 am | |

    The goal of practice is to develop a practice.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 11:27 am | |

    It has to become a sort of unconscious practice like breathing?

  9. Fred
    Fred May 9, 2012 at 11:43 am | |

    Goal seeking activity reinforces
    the ego's striving to to reach
    some exalted state. The underlying
    thusness, which always existed,
    unfolds as the grasping ego is
    pushed to the side.

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 11:50 am | |

    Mysterion has made one comment.

    Fred has pushed his grasping ego to the side, permitting the underlying thusness, which has always existed, to unfold.

  11. Fred
    Fred May 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm | |

    Anonymous has reinforced his
    grasping ego, playing games in
    the sandbox.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm | |

    Ah, it's Fred! Pass the shovel when you are finished, won't you?

  13. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm | |

    "In addition to providing insight into the origins of the modern human brain, the findings offer clues to the neuro-developmental disorders that humans are so prone to developing, including autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia, in which development of neuronal connections is affected. The researchers point to known cases of humans with structural brain defects and other symptoms that can be traced to disruption of the ancestral SRGAP2. They now intend to search for people carrying defects in the human-specific 'granddaughter' copy as well." source

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm | |

    Mysterion has made two comments.

  15. Korey
    Korey May 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm | |

    Brad, what is your thoughts on Noah Levine?

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm | |

    This is the first post on practice from the Bradster in a long time. Nice presentation in the film, I think.

    I could be wrong, but there's nothing wrong with that, right? Goal-less practice is the realization that ordinary mind is the way, that the first principle is universal in every sentient being.

    "Nothing you can know that isn't known.
    Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
    Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
    It's easy."

    Me bending along with Issho Fujita and the sangha, at SMZC (4th picture down, just over Demian's shoulder).

  17. Khru
    Khru May 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm | |

    Buddha had the goal of realizing "enlightenment" (use whatever semantics for this that you want).

    My point: he had a goal.

  18. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm | |

    Yes, and after the suicide of scores of monks, he taught the "intent contemplation of in-breaths and out-breaths", saying: "… if cultivated and made much of, (it) is something peaceful and choice, something perfect in itself, and a pleasant way of living too." (SN V 322? PTS 285)

    "perfect in itself", I think the emphasis on the meditation on the "unlovely" for the sake of enlightenment appeared an error to the Gautamid. The practice of intent contemplation on in-breaths and out-breaths, is that different from "just sitting"?

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 6:13 pm | |

    mysterion, give us your thoughts on mysterion. Or better yet, Give us anything else.

  20. Jinzang
    Jinzang May 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm | |

    Buddha had the goal of realizing "enlightenment" (use whatever semantics for this that you want).

    My point: he had a goal.

    Enlightenment is a funny kind of goal because there's "no attainment and no non-attainment." It's somewhat paradoxical. I always say the goal of practice is to do the practice properly, like practicing a piece of music.

  21. The Wad
    The Wad May 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm | |

    Have you registered for the Dogen Symposium?

  22. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm | |

    Brad, what is your thoughts on Noah Levine?

    He seems like a nice fellow. I've met him on maybe three occasions. He's been very helpful to me as far as offering his space for me to teach in LA and putting in a good word about me at his other centers.

    As far as his teachings go, he comes from the Vipassana school, which is somewhat different from Zen. If I didn't think Zen was better, I'd have ditched it and gone with Vipassana. So I'm obviously biased there.

    But any criticism I have for what he does would be criticism of the Vipassana method and not of how Noah applies it (which appears to me to be pretty much the standard way). Vipassana isn't bad. It's just a different approach. Though it is the closest to Zen of any of the other Buddhist schools I'm aware of (some say Dzongchen is closer, but I don't have any personal experience of it).

    Noah also has a lot of experience with 12 step programs, which he uses in his Buddhist work. I have a lot of respect for the 12-step approach. But I don't have any personal experience of it. I think it's very compatible with Buddhism.

    So my opinion of Noah is that he's a good guy.

  23. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm | |

    Buddha had the goal of realizing "enlightenment" (use whatever semantics for this that you want).

    My point: he had a goal.

    My understanding is that Buddha was more concerned with understanding how to transcend suffering. His so-called "enlightenment" helped him to see the way out of suffering. But in and of itself, enlightenment does not put an end to suffering.

    In any case, even if his goal was the ending of suffering, that's also OK. You'll always have goals.

    But in the moment of practice, you put your goals aside and simply do it.

  24. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm | |

    Dogen Symposium? Didn't even KNOW him!

  25. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm | |

    Somehow, I became convinced that it's better to have a sitting practice than not to. I would call that a "long-term goal". But I don't know what expectation to attach to it, so I never think about it while I'm sitting. While I'm sitting, if I thought something was going to be different in the near term as a direct result of my sitting, I'd call that a "short-term goal". But I know better than that, so I don't bother to think about that while I'm sitting either. Somehow, this whole goal business just doesn't seem like a problem to me. Am I missing something?

  26. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 6:03 am | |

    Has anyone heard of a connection between Mithras and Jesus?

  27. katageek
    katageek May 10, 2012 at 6:37 am | |

    Since Dogen says that zazen is enlightenment. . .

    Then while you do Zazen, you are enlightened. So this "goal" thing is a snap!

    After Zazen, you can make yourself an "Enlightened Buddha" membership card to show all your friends!

    If someone give you crap, whip out your Zazen card and show them just who is Buddha.

    YOU: "Don't mess with me fellas. I sat Zazen! I was PURE BUDDHA for ten minutes!"

    CHUCK NORRIS: "YIKES! Sorry! My mistake."

    YOU: "Damn straight, Chuck."

    IMHO, any moment spent in Zazen that you DON'T need to do, is a moment of your life wasted.

    And just TRY and take my card away from me.

    Yeah. That's right. I didn't think so.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 6:41 am | |

    I have your card.

  29. Mumon
    Mumon May 10, 2012 at 7:08 am | |

    Goalless practice is a koan. All the thinking mind can do with the idea is create an endless feedback loop. The goal of the practice is to have no goal, but "having no goal" is also a goal, so how can I have a goal that's no goal, but how can I have goalless practice without knowing that the goal of practice is to be without a goal…?

    Ever hear of the ???

    Maybe not; it's not Soto…

  30. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner May 10, 2012 at 7:12 am | |

    I always thought ?? (wato) was another word for "koan."

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 10, 2012 at 7:26 am | |

    "Only zazen can sit zazen" said Shunryu Suzuki. So who is it, who is sitting there on the cushion thinking they are doing zazen?

    "You know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around"- Kobun closed a lecture at S.F. Zen Center with that. So what kind of practice is it, that's enlightenment?

    "The pain is mandatory- suffering is optional"- Thich Naht Hanh.

    Do we have a necessity from moment to moment, or not? Does it have to do with inhalation and exhalation, does it have to do with posture- where do our thoughts and beliefs come in?

    "It would be best if you managed to cast off everything and be empty and ordinary. Thoroughly experience the absence of conditioned mind, and observe that all phenomena are like dreams and magical illusions. Be empty all the way through, and continue on clearing out your mind according to the time and the situation." ("Zen Letters, the Teaching of Yuanwu", J. C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary, pg 52).

    Are we waking up and falling asleep when we observe that all phenomena are like dreams and magical illusions?

  32. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles May 10, 2012 at 7:36 am | |

    Speaking of goalless practice: I went to our five-year-old's soccer practice last night.

  33. katageek
    katageek May 10, 2012 at 7:44 am | |

    Anonymous took my Buddha card …

    (snif)

    Now I am fail.

  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 7:57 am | |

    Good! Keep going…

  35. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 9:45 am | |

    I need to doo doo.

  36. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm | |

    john e mumbles said…
    "Speaking of goalless practice: I went to our five-year-old's soccer practice last night."

    Some kids get a real kick out of playing soccer.

  37. Pretaville
    Pretaville May 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm | |

    Mysterion said, "Some kids get a real kick out of playing soccer."

    LOL

  38. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles May 10, 2012 at 2:24 pm | |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  39. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm | |

    there are many goals that many zen masters cannot deal about not dealing with emotional suffering and they use meditation to avoid pain. In the surface they are balanced, but deep inside are many pain buried under samadhi etc. We all are escaping from suffering. Zen masters are not exception. We are all on the same dammage boat…

  40. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm | |

    Mysterion has made three comments.

  41. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 3:04 pm | |

    Brad has an article in the summer edition of Tricycle.

  42. katageek
    katageek May 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm | |

    My post above was snarkier than I wanted.

    How I read it in my head is not how it reads and there are no take backs in first draft replies on blogs.

    My whole take on Soto Zen is that Dogen basically "fixed" the enlightenment delusion.

    And that was what the world needed IMHO.

    I see that anyone who sincerely practices zazen gets an "Official Enlightened Buddha Membership Card" that nobody can take away.

    But the decoder ring does take some box tops.

  43. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 3:35 pm | |

    I have returned your card.

    Now I don't have one!

  44. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm | |

    Hey brad have you seen any good movies lately?

  45. Fred
    Fred May 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm | |

    "there are many goals that many zen masters cannot deal about not dealing with emotional suffering and they use meditation to avoid pain. In the surface they are balanced, but deep inside are many pain buried under samadhi etc."

    There are no zen masters, and there
    is no pain. A human being does not
    become enlightened; the original
    face expands into form. Samadhi is not an outer shell masking inner
    turmoil.

  46. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 4:50 pm | |

    So glad to have that cleared up! (Fred, would you please speak to the blister on my pinky?)

  47. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm | |

    Oh geez, I am nasty today. Apologies all around :(

  48. Julie
    Julie May 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm | |

    I wanted to offer another way of explaining it, that when I show up, I've already done everything I need to do. Then I'm free to just enjoy* sitting there. I don't know how hokey it sounds, but in my overwhelmed life, anytime there is a space where *just being there* is all I need to do, I'm pretty overjoyed. I don't know how much that might help as an alternate explanation but hey, maybe it'll click for somebody…
    *Used here as a transitive verb: it means experience, there is no connotation of pleasure or displeasure, just experience. It's used this way in Alexander's "Space Time and Deity".

  49. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm | |

    Julie said, "enjoy sitting there… just being there."

    Brad wrote an article for a magazine that wants a contribution before you can read it. How about that!

    Bela Lugosi said, "Comb… hair! His victims, in the various jhanas, enjoyed just sitting… there.

    The coffin lid opened, and … Houdini got out. He had no goal in concentrating intently on his in-breaths and out-breaths, he just really had no choice at the time.

    Why did Gautama describe setting up recollection (like "recollection" better than "mindfulness") as a process that began with finding a tree-root, taking the cross-legged posture, holding the body erect and setting recollection up front- couldn't he have just found a coffin somewhere and gotten paid to get out of it? ~*vv*~

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