Last time I was ruminating about how having a goal in one’s life, especially in relation to what one wants to be as a person, makes a huge difference in one’s sense of purpose, including during the time when our usual social roles and interaction are absent, like at the time of social isolation, voluntary or not.
People are beings of growth, I believe, happiest when they observe the growth of themselves or anything else important to their lives. Nevertheless, merely daydreaming of a goal does is not enough, one needs to actually walk the path to get this deeply satisfying sense of constant improvement. It does not matter how big the steps are, if our environment sees them, or how long it takes to see tangible results. The path can be a source of joy by itself, even in mundane activities where it takes time to see the result, e.g. in mastery of an instrument, in professional sports etc., what even in the most invisible field of all – our own mental maturation and spiritual ripening.*
For me, spiritual path is the greatest source of joy that I can imagine. Neither because of result (it takes time for them to fully develop and become tangible), nor because of the approval of others (others cannot see our mind and practice, they can just project positive or negative attributes to it), the joy comes from a sense of growth. Not in comparison to others, but through the growth of my own capabilities. Similarly to professional athletes, I can measure my growth on the trainings and test it in everyday life challenges. A coach pushes an athlete over their boundaries, so that they can on a daily basis put maximum effort towards their goal, on a daily basis reach their limits and work towards surpassing them, shifting the demands of the training with new elements on a monthly or weekly basis, until mastery is achieved and further. Usually surpassing one’s limits includes coach’s yelling, insults and other means that, based on their expertise and faith in the athlete’s capabilities, helps the latter to achieve what they’ve thought they could not achieve. Mere pleasantries, without the wrathful aspects, are for the recreational sportsmen, not for those who aim at mastery. Is there anything similar in the spiritual path?
Yes there is, in the monasteries. It’s a classical, well-established path that has paved the path to spiritual mastery for centuries.
Although I’ve done tens and tens of retreats and all ended quite blissfully, the afterthought was always: I came to my limits, how can I go further? It became clear that I lack study and understanding to build further. The deeper the foundation, the higher the building. It became an urge to study and to develop insight into the actual meaning of the Buddha Dharma, our main Jewel of Refuge. The Buddha said that he cannot make us walk the path, he can only show it to us. Our own understanding of the path is the basis of our thoughts, words and actions. The level of our comprehension of the Dharma defines how far and how fast we can progress. The choice is ours.
Having a goal is great, but without the tools to achieve it, it is no different from daydreaming. The means towards the goal are available through the teachings and their explanation. Some parts are hard to comprehend, even for a person with sharp mind, but the explanations still exist. I find this particularly important in the west, where all kinds of magical thinking are being sold under the name of Buddhism and pure Dharma is interlaced with substances that undermine its potency. There are many paths and different beings need different means, nevertheless, for those who wish to master the actual path of the Buddha, it should be it available in its pure form and in entirety, not just for ourselves, but also for the future generations.
* It’s good to keep in mind that we never see the minds of others and their spiritual achievements, therefore we cannot judge them, regardless what appears to us.