Off and on, we hear people ask things like, “What are the benefits of meditation?” or people asking, “How long do I need to meditate to achieve X, Y, and Z?” For example, how long do I need to meditate before achieving a still mind, or how long do I need to meditate before attaining enlightenment? These are really all the wrong questions. Meditation doesn’t work very well when you’re trying to get something out of it. That is why meditation has been called a goalless practice. In Zen, they often say it’s purposeless or goalless practice.
Now, I know online and elsewhere, you’ll come across some witty comebacks like, “To have no goal is a goal.” Semantically, in the conventions of speech, that might make sense. But that’s totally missing the point of what’s being pointed to. It’s kind of like what the Buddha said: “We suffer because we desire. If you can cease desiring, you won’t suffer.” Now, immediately, people start saying, “Well, now I’m desiring not to desire. That’s excessive. That’s going the wrong way.”
Likewise, or I guess a better way to point at what’s being explained with goalless practice is that goals are an adult concept, an adult mindset. If you ask a child what the goal or purpose of playing is, they’ll say, “To have fun.” Well, what is play but to have fun? So, what you’re being told is, “I’m having fun in order to have fun.” And that’s what we’re trying to point out here. Meditation is done for its own sake.
So, what is meditation? Meditation is either sitting, standing, walking, or otherwise just being aware. There are different forms of meditation, such as standing meditation, walking meditation, seated meditation, and more. But ultimately, with all of these, you’re just being aware. In a lot of Zen meditation practices like zazen, they focus on the breath primarily because it’s an easy gateway to feeling the body. Because what is to be aware other than to be aware?
So, in meditation, you’re simply being aware. Zazen is sometimes called “just sitting.” You’re just sitting, being aware. You’re fully one hundred percent devoted to the experience of now. Why are you doing this? Why is the wrong question. You’re simply doing it to be aware. You’re being aware simply to be aware, not to get anywhere. A goal means you’re trying to get somewhere, trying to get some benefit from it. This meditation really works best when you’re simply meditating to meditate, being aware to be aware. No other reason. You’re not trying to get some benefit, you’re not trying to get somewhere, you’re not trying to wake up or attain enlightenment or Satori or whatever. The whole goal of trying to get somewhere is future-seeking. It’s trying to not be here. “I’m trying to get there. There is where I want to be.” And that’s why having a goal is counterproductive to meditation. You want to be totally here, here and now, in this moment, nowhere else. Not future-seeking nor dwelling on the past. You’re just here. And when you’re just being aware to be aware, without trying to get anywhere, you can’t say there’s a goal. And that is what it means to say meditation is a goalless practice. You’re just meditating to meditate, being aware to be aware. And this is the way meditation works best.
So, when you’re meditating, try, as much as you’re able, to let go of trying to get anywhere, trying to get anything from the meditation practice. Because you’re not trying to get anything from it, you’re just trying to be aware. Thank you very much.