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. Jinzang
    Jinzang May 10, 2012 at 6:39 pm |

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

    The enlightenment delusion?

    "For nothing can be sole or whole. That has not been rent."

  2. Jinzang
    Jinzang May 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  3. Mike's Mom
    Mike's Mom May 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm |

    I sometimes think that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through Brad's blog perpetually. One feels them passing like a whiff of a fart.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 10, 2012 at 8:46 pm |

    Peter Green explained that he wrote The Green Manalishi after experiencing a drug-induced dream, in which he was visited by a green dog which barked at him. He understood that the dog represented money. "It scared me because I knew the dog had been dead a long time. It was a stray and I was looking after it. But I was dead and had to fight to get back into my body, which I eventually did. When I woke up, the room was really black and I found myself writing the song."

  5. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 10, 2012 at 10:27 pm |

    I think that, when one realizes that suffering is ubiquitous, one moves away [don't call it detachment] from dwelling on the 'suffering' to just taking in, or letting out, the next breath [to be extreme].

    The book that I am currently reading makes that point rather well. At least in Japan, Buddhism was modified by different people in different places at different times to either 'suit the taste' of a target population – like the aristocracy – or serve a particular purpose – as in the case of providing the peasantry an avenue of escape from approaching hell.

    This summary is fairly close to what I just finished reading.

    The really nice thing about the above mentioned book (the evolution of religions on Honshu) is that it also can serve as a framework from which one can begin to understand the evolution of religions in the near east – the Levant, Arabia, and Persia.

  6. Harry
    Harry May 11, 2012 at 4:10 am |

    The present words โ€œDo we rely upon realization, or not?โ€ neither say that realization does not exist, nor say that it exists, nor say that it comes: they say โ€œDo we rely on it, or not?โ€ They are akin to asserting that the realization of a person of the present moment, somehow, has already been realized. If we speak, for example, of attaining realization,
    it sounds as if [realization] did not used to exist. If we speak of realization having come, it sounds as if that realization used to exist elsewhere. If we speak of having become realization, it sounds as if realization has a
    beginning. We do not discuss it like this and it is not like this; even so, when we discuss what realization is like, we ask if we need to rely on realization.

    Master Dogen did not negate 'realisation' (as the word 'go' is translated here in the Nishijima/ Cross translation. Nishijima Roshi does not like the word 'enlightenment'…the standard translation of 'go'… probably reflecting his sectarian assumptions about the Rinzai tradition).

    As can be seen above in Shobogenzo Daigo ('Great Enlightenment') Dogen seeks to contextualise the word in terms of our own practice/experience, to assert what it really is, not merely to reduce it to some shallow intellectual negation of our own.

    Dogen didn't shrink away from using the term, and was very keen on people being able to 'say a few words' about realisation/enlightenment… and something tells me he would have had more than a few words for those 'Zen Masters' who can't say a word about it other than to denegrate the term because they are too lazy to be able to explain it properly! ๐Ÿ˜‰



  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 4:17 am |

    Is "go" the same word used for the Japanese board game?

  8. proulx michel
    proulx michel May 11, 2012 at 5:22 am |

    There are many words in Japanese that read "go"

    One is ?: language
    another is ?: mistake
    another is ?: behind
    another is ?: (honorific)
    another is ?: five
    another is ?: give, do something for
    another is ?: period, geological age
    another is ?: ox, cow
    another is ?: 7th sign in the Chinese Zodiac (Horse)
    another is ?: safeguard, protect
    another is ?: mutually, reciprocally
    and, eventually ?:?the one you're asking about.

    But there are quite a few more.

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 8:47 am |

    Michel, what's the character for the board game?

  10. proulx michel
    proulx michel May 11, 2012 at 9:11 am |

    ?:?the one you're asking about.

  11. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 11, 2012 at 9:32 am |

    Way to go, proulx michel

    just imagine what it would be like to translate a LOST language!

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 11, 2012 at 9:44 am |

    Thanks, Mysterion and Harry, most illuminating. Certainly enjoyed the reprise of "Bela Lugosi's dead", Jinzang.

    From View on Buddhism (History of Japanese Buddhism) cited by Mysterion above:

    "The foundation of Dogenโ€™s Zen is the constantly emphasized principle that practice does not lead to Enlightenment, but is carried out in the state of being Enlightened; otherwise it is not practice."

    "The state of being Enlightened", now what state is this! The Gautamid stated that his practice was the same before and after enlightenment, and that it was "the intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths". Dogen's teacher Tiantong (Rujing) asserted that the second aspect of the "intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths" was unteachable, when he said that because the breath came from "no place" to the tan-tien, it was neither long nor short.

    The Gautamid said that anyone "knowing and seeing as it really is" consciousness, impact, and feeling with regard to the six sense fields remains unattached, and that in such a person the eight-fold path goes on to development and fulfillment along with the four arousings of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four bases of psychic power, the five controlling faculties, the five powers, and the seven links in awakening.

    Bottom line, consciousness takes place and practice in the form of the ability to feel occurs. On the other hand, any exercise of will or intention gives rise to a "station of consciousness", and the ability to feel that arises from the stationed occurrence of consciousness is not spontaneous, and does not constitute practice.

    Tiantong advised, "drop mind and body" as a way to continue to practice long past bedtime. The place drops body and mind, like a bat flitting around in the moonlight, or the coils of a dragon appearing in the clouds.

    Fu Manchu emerges from the coffin with Dracula's cape, and summons his disciple, who loves big, juicy spiders…

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 9:56 am |

    The Mysterion comment count stands at 5.

    Maximum for my prediction of less than 6 for this post.

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |

    I say that the motherfucker is just getting warmed up.

  15. Mumon
    Mumon May 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |

    Re: ??

    It's more how to practice a koan.

    Focusing on the awareness "before" the "idea" words makes it "goalless" but not "unoriented," if you know what I mean, unless you count as a goal to be mindful in that orientation.

    But that's like sitting is an orientation as well.

  16. Pretaville
    Pretaville May 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |

    Anony-Tex — you are the MFer Hick, along with your queer momonic-scientologist pals, Softserve, Khru-Klux, Byro, etc. Maybe u better just stay at home on the CTE Romney site.

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm |

    Oh boy, here we go, Mysterion's psychotic "pretaville" alter-ego (or should it be altar-boy-ego?)

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm |

    Hmm, it *is* interesting the connections between the jesus story and the mithraic legends. Anyone have any thoughts on that topic? Probably over everyone's head here, it being a 'zen' blog and add.

  19. purple question mary
    purple question mary May 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm |

    oops, not 'add' meant 'all.

  20. Mysterion
    Mysterion May 11, 2012 at 6:25 pm |

    At least one, perhaps more, anonymous is a gamer and not just another garden variety paranoid scientologist.

    Cut 'em a little slack. Find them a bigger chair. The morbidly obese carry a lot of weight around here.

    And buy 'em a bag of chips and a diet coke, for christ's sake.

  21. Clifford Irving
    Clifford Irving May 11, 2012 at 8:26 pm |

    Uh, Mysterion: you forgot to post that as Pretaville, or Anonymous. Anyone looking at the last "Pretaville" post and this last one of yours will surely know the truth. Even if there is no truth. And that's the truth.

  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm |

    Cliff, When you're right you're right. Look at his last comment. It's classic mysterion barely out of Pretaville mode. It's all right there.. The fat people, The Southerners, The republicans, jews, mormons. All his paranoiac hell-hounds.. He's transparent.

  23. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm |

    Oh.. and the dreaded Scientologists..

  24. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 9:54 pm |

    You said it.
    And since you said it, we're going to stuck it up your ass and see how you like it for all your fees in HYDRA- OSIRIS.
    With REDHO?
    DC in UNDCC?
    OREGON with REMY?
    it's spiritual with MIKILOVELESS – CARON?
    They already recorded TOHOPM in 166 PMENCO –
    That was your MEDYNDO?
    You should see JUEDUC now.
    See you in " KANSAS KINGS".

  25. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 12, 2012 at 3:04 am |

    Mysterion has posted six comments.

    Dang, I lose.

  26. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 12, 2012 at 4:54 am |

    I would bet money that Anonymous @ 9:54 PM is Mysterion, look at that 2nd line. Classic Mysti. And look further,

    it's spiritual with MIKILOVELESS

    M's always saying something's McSomething, referring to fast foodd mentality.

  27. Harry
    Harry May 12, 2012 at 5:00 am |

    Have u considered that maybe only you give a McShit and that your McShit-on-Mysti messages may be just as tiring to the general McPublic (doesn't bother me in particular, I just skip over anything that doesn't catch my eye)?



  28. Harry
    Harry May 12, 2012 at 5:11 am |

    James Ford says what Brad might have meant in taking a terse swipe at Deepheat Showbra on twitter…


    Not for the first time with Brad's wrathful Dharma Protecting Demon outbursts I'm left wondering if he's making a valid point, preaching to a choir of boors (so as to sell books), shooting from the hip to relieve himself, or a bit of all of the above.



  29. I'm Not Me Anymore
    I'm Not Me Anymore May 12, 2012 at 5:24 am |

    Ever consider that your obsession with Brad's PC and or marketing techniques is just as tiresome if not quite as frequent as the anonymous play by play on Chas?

    Methinks you are just bitter that you are not the Zen Master Brad thinks he is. Sour grapes and all that. It's easy: Go lick somebody's boots and get your precious "transmission" and join the buddha boys club.

  30. Harry
    Harry May 12, 2012 at 5:39 am |

    Hi Anon,

    Well, how predictable.

    You can say what you want about me, it's all been said before and by more meticulously twisted people than me or you, but, if I am to indulge your saucy input here pray at least consider this: In indulging the desire to make these outbursts inspired as they are by feelings of wanting to do harm to people do I demean my self, my integrity (not my social standing, my actual here-and-now humanity), and degrade the very considerable freedoms that I am currently (unconsciously?) enjoying. I'm not moralising here, I'm as 'guilty' as the next bozo.

    Just a reflection on such internet shenanigans.



  31. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 12, 2012 at 5:39 am |

    all of us, including zen teachers, use, at some extension, meditation as a way to get rid of suffering, instead of BEING the emotional/body pain.

    To tell to yourself and others your emotional weakness is very hardcore.

  32. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles May 12, 2012 at 6:14 am |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles May 12, 2012 at 6:21 am |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles May 12, 2012 at 6:23 am |

    Hi Harry,

    Thanks for the link. Other things Brad does that chafe and annoy: His manner of speaking in the Youtube dharma talks. I can't imagine anyone being more condescending and arrogant -unless you are channeling Deepthroat Chokepa. If I ever attended one of his book tour talks I'd be busting out laughing in the back of the room -until they ejected me from the premises.

    And: When he says stuff like this:

    "But enlightenment (I hate that word) isn't like pole vaulting 18 feet. It's more like…The only thing an enlightened person (fuck that term) does differently is…" (Brad at 8:00 AM on CRAZY TRAIN post)

    He claims to hate the term and the state while at the same time claiming to know what its like. As if he is enlightened and must enlighten the rest of us poor deluded ones lost in samsara on what enlightenment really is. Or:

    Maybe I'm wrong.

    Anonymous, James Ford, etc.: We're all Mysterion, you, me, all the Anonymous comments, even Brad. We're all connected here like a hydra-headed blind idiot… Wait a minute! We're all ONE? Fred! This is your fault!

  35. Genpo Roshi
    Genpo Roshi May 12, 2012 at 6:38 am |

    Hello everyone ๐Ÿ™‚

  36. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles May 12, 2012 at 7:14 am |

    See how versatile my "koan" is? It can be used as a disclaimer…

    Maybe I'm wrong.

    (Universal design, ultra functional)

    (Maybe I'm wrong;)

  37. purple question mary
    purple question mary May 12, 2012 at 7:26 am |

    But "I'm" is wrong (understanding), right?

  38. McShit-on-Mysti
    McShit-on-Mysti May 12, 2012 at 7:37 am |

    You hand in your ticket and you go watch the geek
    who immediately walks up to you when he hears you speak
    and says 'How does it feel to be such a freak?'
    and you say 'impossible' as he hands you a bone..
    and something is happening here but you don't know what it is
    do you, Mr. Jones?

  39. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 12, 2012 at 8:12 am |

    I do feel that anonymous is actually just another of the regulars here, enjoying a little outlet for vitriolic humor. Whoever anonymous is, they are mostly funny to me.

    John E., yes, though we could be wrong. Does seem like Brad now halfway believes he can teach someone else something without simultaneously teaching himself. I start out that way a lot, myself, and I do have to return to the notion that I am the only one who will turn in all these lottery tickets at the end of the day.

    I think I will sit right side up, sunny, and see if the runny parts behave.

    Bats in the belfry, Demian will present a slide show on his six months at Eiheiji in two weeks, I'd like to hear what he has to say. I admire him for taking it on, and as with Brad, I feel a sense of committment to his success even if the teaching I relate to most depends on his failure.

  40. the Joshu Bird
    the Joshu Bird May 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm |

    Twitter doesn't work because there isn't any communication. No one is speaking to no one, so there isn't any opportunity for no-one to speak. That's cheap, but that's the fastest way to explain why Twitter isn't a channel for Zen.

    It might be a channel for Zen scholarship, but then most people who want to study something aren't going to turn to Twitter.

    If I was a Zen Master, and if I said that line about Pure Awareness, then I would respond to your frustration in this way: you don't know who You are, so you can't understand how Your Pure Awareness will see the world. You only know who you are, and you are so busy attaching things to you that you don't realize there isn't a you, only a You.

    Here's the fruit: Pure Awareness- You Won't Have Any Problems Before You Were Born.

  41. SoF
    SoF September 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm |

    Anonymous May 11, 2012 at 9:56 am

    “The Mysterion comment count stands at 5.”

    That is not the same Mysterion as the blogspot one.

    This Mysterion is a pretender…

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