The Buddha’s teaching of the Eight-Fold Path is a prescription for freedom from suffering. The path begins with Right Understanding (aka Right View) and Right Motivation (aka Right Aspiration). Each of these involves a radical shift from the perspective of our everyday life. We might call this a paradigm shift. A paradigm is the framework by which we understand our world. A paradigm consists of the unconscious assumptions and premises that we assume to be true as we live our life each day.
Our dharma practice functions from a different set of premises than our everyday “common sense” mind. The dharma challenges our “everyday mind” understanding.
When we engage in most human endeavors we do so with the intention of gaining something that we want (or losing something that we don’t want). We engage a strategy and a practice to acquire something new. For example, if I want to be able to play a musical instrument (which right now I cannot) I must first employ a strategy which might include gaining access to an instrument, determining how to pay for my lessons, locating a teacher, scheduling lessons and then engaging in many hours of practice. As time goes on I expect to acquire knowledge and skills that I did not have before I began.
So it is quite normal to approach our spiritual practice the same way—however this is not the wise approach! A paradigm shift is required.
Using a strategy for the purpose of gaining something is the modus operandi of the ego. It can work for many things but with spiritual practice it may be counterproductive. It’s best to simply do our practice for its own sake and not to focus on results.
Focusing on results can lead to craving and attachment or to aversion and résistance which ultimately leads to more, not less, suffering. We may enter into practice with the intention to “get something” or to “get rid of something;” But the only way out is the way through. Ironically, letting go of what we are attached to and facing that which we resist is the best way to alleviate our suffering and to find peace of mind and heart.
What we are looking for is what we already are. What we are looking for is the very thing that is looking! As we open to what is, rather than seeking some future experience we eventually discover that we already are is immensely greater than any future experience that we can ever imagine.
The ego wants to believe that without its own efforts nothing will happen. But believe it or not the opposite is true. (I forget that the universe was created with no help from me whatsoever!) The ego can accomplish nothing that is real. All that the ego cherishes will die. It builds sandcastles before the oncoming tide only to lament their loss when the inevitable occurs.
We may certainly enjoy the things of this world--and perhaps we should, but everything that we see is like a setting sun whose beauty cannot be sustained. Indeed, it is the very transient nature of this world that makes every person, every experience, and every thing precious and worthy of being cherished.