Practice without purpose

"Meditation is dealing with purpose itself. It is not that meditation is for something, but it is dealing with the aim. Generally we have a purpose for whatever we do: something is going to happen in the future, therefore what I am doing now is important- everything is related to that. But the whole idea of meditation is to develop an entirely different way of dealing with things, where you have no purpose at all. In fact meditation is dealing with the question of whether or not there is such a thing as purpose. And when one learns a different way of dealing with the situation, one no longer has to have a purpose. One is not on the way to somewhere. Or rather, one is on the way and one is also at the destination at the same time. That is really what meditation is for." (Trungpa pg. 90)

While reading Chogyam Trungpa'sMeditation in Action this morning over tea I was stopped by this quote. To me this statement is radical in that it calls into question the very way I, and we as a culture, often navigate life- getting things to done in order to achieve a future outcome; purpose-driven action. When we experience our lives in this way, it often seems as though we are moving towards a goal; it gives a sort of meaning to our actions. We have created a future in our minds, the way that wewant our lives to be, and we try to align our actions to actualize that future. We fail to realize that the future is fabricated and to constantly look to it robs us of the experience of the present moment, the experience of our present actions.

For example, we make a cup of tea thinking that it will comfort us in some way, give us a break. But while we are drinking the tea we get on the computer to check our email. Soon our tea is gone and because our attention was engaged with the computer, we didn't taste the tea or feel it's soothing effect. Shunryu Suzuki put it simply when he said "have a cup of tea." He meant do it fully, do only that- have the experience of tea drinking. Then you will feel satisfied in your longing for a moment of rest or comfort.

In the practice of yoga or any discipline, we often map our habit patterns onto our practice. So we practice asana because it may make us stronger, more flexible, calmer. We wake up early, get to class, work very hard learning pose after pose because we feel it will improve us in some way, we will become a better person. This can create a sort of hardness and turn the practice into a chore, one more thing to get done in the day so that we can look or feel better. Pema Chodron address this in her book The Wisdom of No Escape in relation to meditation:

"When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they're going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are... Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is youor me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest." (Chodron pgs. 3-4) The yoga practice too isn't a self improvement plan but is meant to awaken us to the reality of the present moment, through quieting our inner voices.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 1.13
tatra stitau yatno 'bhyasah
Practice is the effort to be stable in open attention.

We practice to be stable (stitau or sthiti) in our attention to what is happening currently. The external yogic practices including the yamas and niyamas (ethical practices), asana and pranayama require steadfast effort (abhyasah), combined with the constant detachment (vairagya) from the outcome or expectation for the future we may build up around them. So there is no promise of a future outcome, nothing that we work to gain through the practice, other than the ability to see ourselves and our surroundings with greater clarity; an awakening to reality as it is now. As Trungpa wrote, "we are on the way and also at the destination at the same time"- the potential for wakefulness is ever present, there is nowhere we need to go to find it. The ability to stabilize our attention on what is happening currently, to deeply experience our actions- the way our food looks, smells and tastes, the sounds of the birds and texture of the soil as we are gardening, the movement of our breath and physical sensations present in an asana- that is the goal and experience of practice.

I close with the words of Thich Nhat Hanh: "The present moment is where life can be found and if you don't arrive there, you miss your appointment with life."

Meditation in Action is one of Trungpa Rinpoche's first books and was published in the late 1960's while he was living in England. For more information about the life and teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche