‘Expect nothing. Seek nothing. Just live’

By Oswin Hollenbeck, The Register-Guard, Dec 27, 2008

Eugene, Oregon (USA) -- I am often touched by the personal experiences related with spiritual ptactice. At the same time, for many people, including myself, there can be long stretches of spiritual or religious practice during which there seem to be no reward or compensation.

We can think we’re doing something wrong, the method is unreliable or the teacher is unsatisfactory. However, once having checked out a practice carefully, commitment, faith and trust are necessary if one wishes to move forward.

When my teacher, Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett, asked in Japan how she should go about her studies, she was told, “Expect nothing. Seek nothing. Just live.” Having given up family, friends, career and country to travel halfway around the world to train there, she was stumped. But once on the other side of realization, she saw the teaching’s value and taught it in turn to her disciples.

Experience has proven this advice true for me. Prone to disappointment, rejection and a sense of failure, I’ve learned to look beyond how I feel to the cause of the problem. I set up expectations regarding other people, and then am disappointed when their humanity surfaces and they act in ways contrary to my ideals.

I want others’ approval, and when not everyone agrees with or likes me, I feel rejected. I seek things that have no permanent or lasting value, such as position and responsibility, secure friendship and even spiritual experience itself, and when I lose them or fall short of my goal, I feel like a failure.

There is nothing inherently wrong with such aims and accomplishments. But if we (I) make them a requisite for our (my) happiness, sooner or later conditions are bound to change, and we (I) will experience a sense of loss and feel unhappy. The Buddha’s teaching on craving as the source of suffering I know to be true for me. And I continue to learn.

“Just live” is meant in the same way that practitioners are told to “just sit.” The emphasis is on “just.” It’s not as in “just any old thing,” rather as in “concentrate or focus only on this,” “don’t be distracted by anything else” and “do it wholeheartedly, or single-mindedly.”

True living is about touching, knowing and acting from a deeper place beyond what we can see, hear or think (and this activity is not separate from the senses and their objects). Buddhists call this refuge “Buddha Nature”; it’s why we meditate.

Desire is not evil; it stems from ignorance — not recognizing the consequences of desiring, craving and clinging. However, we can use greed positively. We simply need to keep refining our wanting (wants): Hold out for something better, and then let go of that — again and again and again.

The Buddha called this refining of desire “having one fortunate attachment” — that of continual commitment to the practice without concern for results. This attitude will eventually ripen in positive consequences, a confirmation of our faith and devotion, a peace of mind and heart that outlasts all fleeting experience.

The Rev. Oswin Hollenbeck is the prior (resident monk) at the Eugene Buddhist Priory, a temple of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.