For human beings, the goal is established according to each individual’s values and views of life. It is the same for practice. After the values about life are set, one has a sense of direction and destination. Once the values of life are established, one will know the purpose of their practice.
There are different approaches to establishing these values. Depending on how narrow or wide one’s scope is, the goal for each individual can be different. Some people set an ultimate goal and march towards it. Along the way, they have some short-term targets as yardsticks to assist in evaluating their effort and to help them avoid becoming discouraged because their ultimate goal is too distant. At the same time, it helps not to make a short-term goal too easy lest one become lazy. Some people set only one of these two types of goals. Other people feel either their goal is too difficult to accomplish or the goal isn’t challenging enough for them to be motivated.
Regardless of the approach taken, when setting goals, many people wish to reach their goals quickly and therefore create anxiety for themselves. There are others who always want to know what will happen next. These people tend to be burdened with anticipation. Such tendencies are not problems in themselves and ought not to be a concern. However, such approaches can cause an imbalance and hinder our practice.
As you go forward with your practice, it is better to put down all expectations and just work with the causes and conditions in the present – not seeking results, not expecting some special mind states, and not waiting for what will happen next, but only concerning yourself with the practice.
To do so requires one to set a goal based on a correct and thorough understanding of life as a whole, which is well presented in The Four Noble Truths. It especially requires a good grasp of the laws of existence, namely impermanence and non-self. Only by doing this will one be able to focus on the causes and conditions in the present moment, thus allowing everything to flow with the natural course of life. To approach practice with such an attitude, one’s practice can have one’s practice can be balanced between grabbing too tightly (and then giving up easily) and going too fast or too slow.
So, work with the causes and conditions that are presented at each moment, allowing them to operate naturally, arising and falling on their own. When the causes and conditions are ripe, the fruit of practice will naturally manifest itself – past and future will appear right in the present moment, like the famous Chinese saying, “When the boat arrives at the dock, it will automatically line up straight.”
(2000/08/26 written at Dubai Airport. Published in the book《船到橋頭》by Dharma Drum Publications.)