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Motivation: First Things First

 

Motivation
- why you practice
- what you hope to learn or be able to do

Intention
- what you intend to do with what you learn or are able to do

Without remembering, clarifying, and deppending your motivation and intention, spiritual practice has a way of being forgotten, becoming mechanical and routine, or perverted for unintended purposes.

There are many teachings and practices in Buddhism designed to motivate us to cultivate awareness, compassion, and ethical behavior. Each tradition has its versions of the four reminders, the four noble truths and eightfold path, taking refuge, sharing the benefit of practice, and others. You may find some of these practices useful.

You may also benefit from exploring your own motivation, unmediated by traditional teachings. The following are posed as questions, but the purpose is not to find an answer -- the purpose is to learn what is driving you to spiritual practice, to learn what you want or expect from your practice, and to face whatever challenge is in front of you.

What sense of imbalance, dissatisfaction, or suffering has brought you to spiritual practice?

What benefit do you hope for or expect to gain
from your practice?

What do you intend to do with that benefit?

What challenge do you face in your practice at this time? What seems to be the edge of your capacity or understanding?

Everything is constantly changing.
What difficulties does change create for you?
What opportunities does change provide?

Pose one of these questions and then gently explore the sensations, feelings, and stories that come up. No response is wrong. Awareness of what actually arises is worth exploring. What arises may not be what you expected or what you want, but it will provide clues to what motivates you at this time.

 For more on motivation, check out

Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind

Lineage of teachers

Cycles of Reactivity and Attention

Verses from Shantideva’s Bodhisattva Way

Longchenpa’s prayer of compassion

 

The way of the Buddha is a living response to a living question. Yet whenever it has become institutionalized its vital response has become a well-formulated answer. The seemingly important task of preserving a particular set of answers often causes the very questions which gave rise to those answers to be forgotten. Then the lucid answers Buddhism provides are cut off from the stammering voice that asks the questions.

The question we ask can only be clumsily phrased in words, for our very existence declares itself to us as a question. Birth, sickness, aging, and death are mute, imperative voices of this question that beckons us along a path. To be vital, this path can never stray from the ground of its question, it can never rest content with any answer. The path leads not to a coherent answer but to a series of responses as inarticulate as the question.

Once we find something to believe in, it is easy to forget the original question. But instead of acquiescing in the security of belief, we can intensify the sense of doubt. Belief, whether in a teacher, a doctrine, or even one’s own experience, retreats from the questions behind a shield of protective views and concepts. But the person who questions lies open and exposed, prepared for the unpredictability of the moment.

Such questioning is not restricted to intellectual inquiry but engages the whole of our body and mind. "You must concentrate day and night," urges the Gateless Gate, "questioning yourself through every one of your 360 bones and 84,000 pores."

~ Stephen Batchelor, The Faith to Doubt: Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty, p. 3-4