Great Ambition (Bendowa VIII)

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One might think that, in attaining the realization that he attained in China, Master Dogen would drop all thought of ambition, goals, something he needed to achieve in life. However, as the below section of Bendowa shows, he sure came back to Japan with some great ambitions to teach and spread the Dharma. 

How can one have ambitions from a Zen perspective if, as we often say, we should drop all goals, preferences and ambitions?
Well, one perspective is that, in our Zen Practice, we can both have ambitions while dropping ambitions, both at once. Non-Zen folks might think you have to be X or Y (either "ambitious" or not), but we are XY (or non-XY) at once! No problem!

The result can then be, for example, that we work very hard for our goals while, at the same time, we totally embrace however our goals turn out, win or lose (for we drop all thought of "win" or "lose" ... even while shooting for a "win"!)

We also learn to moderate our ambitions, not become their prisoner. Our self worth does not hang in the balance of how they turn out (for we are not captives of the "self"). Certainly, Buddhism teaches, life is not about seeking fame, nor material wealth beyond our basic needs.

However, some ambitions are necessary in this world. Even the cook in the temple must have an ambition to feed all the monks in his charge each day, likewise we all have ambitions to feed our families, clothe and house them, perhaps run a business or engage in charity that will leave this world a somewhat better place. Those are all fine ambitions.

For there is a difference between ambition and profit seeking for personal benefit, and ambition and wealth in order to do good.


I came home determined to spread the Dharma and to save living beings - it was as if a heavy burden had been placed on my shoulders. Nevertheless, in order to wait for an upsurge during which I might discharge my sense of mission, I thought I would spend some time wandering like a cloud, calling here and there like a water weed, in the style of the ancient sages. Yet if there were any true practitioners who put the will to the truth first, being naturally unconcerned with fame and profit, they might be fruitlessly misled by false teachers and might needlessly throw a veil over right understanding. They might idly become drunk with self-deception, and sink forever into the state of delusion. How would they be able to promote the right seeds of prajna or have the opportunity to attain the truth. If I were now absorbed in drifting like a cloud or a water weed, which mountains and rivers ought they to visit [in order to find a teacher]. Feeling that this would be a pitiful situation, I decided to compile a record of the customs and standards that I experienced firsthand in the Zen monasteries of the great kingdom of Sung, together with a record of profound instruction from a [good] counselor whch I have received and maintained. I will leave this record to people who learn in practice and are easy in the truth, so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha's lineage. This may be a true mission.   From: Bendowa - A Talk about Pursuing the Truth  - Nishijima-Cross

(remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells;
a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended)

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