Here’s a really interesting and thoughtful piece by Stuart Hollyoak who asks ‘how can I act without dependency on results and thus independent of Ego?’ Is this possible? What do you think?
‘Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them.
The Dharmas are boundless, I vow to master them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it.’
The Four Vows
The difficulty with the four vows is the implication that there will be no gratifying resolution because what I vow to do has no end. Any effort I am to make is reported to the headquarters of Ego who decrees that if something can be gained in return from my efforts then it is a worthy effort and it lends its support. The drawback is if Ego cannot see any possibility of a return for effort in an end product it opposes that effort.
So the question becomes, how can I act without dependency on results and thus act independent of Ego?
In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says to the hero, Arjuna, ‘You have a right to work, but never to the fruits of your work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform your work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without se lfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat[…]’
I believe this approach circumvents consulting Ego because I act not for results but for the effort. To that I almost always get second thoughts that it is sensible to be attached to results otherwise I’ll won’t care for what happens. But detachment doesn’t mean indifference. On the contrary, with detachment I have a greater capacity for perseverance because I won’t be so discouraged by failure.
Gandhi said, ‘Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.’
At the moment I’m a job seeker and I, like so many others, am in that limbic state where applications go unanswered for days and weeks at a time. Setbacks and near misses are common occurrences. It is easy to complain and give up when much time is spent on refining CVs with no fruit for the effort. Here Ego’s bias for results creates a lot of resistance and further problems because no result is guaranteed.
I cannot force employers to choose me but I can increase my odds of employment through other means such as seeking advice and taking a work experience placement. I go from a results-orientated mindset to an effort-orientated mindset where the chances are greater.
When I wrote short stories on the Creative Writing course in John Moores University I wanted my stories to be effortless. It was painful to work on them at first because there was something fraudulent to me about making efforts to appear effortless. This perfectionism meant I focused on result to the exclusion of the means. I was always frustrated by the apparent limitations of my will because I couldn’t will the results I wanted. I was never even certain what I wanted. Yet despite my attempts to manipulate a story they always found their own way.
In Zen and the Art of Archery, the kyudo master Awa Kenzo said to the author who was struggling to reconcile the principles of the practice, ‘What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.’ My time in John Moores showed me that my own will can get in my way and that things can come together when I don’t force them.
The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca once said, ‘… the wise man regards the reasons for his actions, but not the results. The beginning is in our power, fortune decides the issue[.]’ Gandhi said something similar, ‘Do your best and leave the rest to God.’ Whether I attribute the results of my actions to Inspiration, Fate, God, Tao or Emptiness in any case I’m saying there is something beyond my will. It may not be a thing as in an object such as a deity but the point remains that my will isn’t everything because I don’t always get what I want when I want it how I want it.
Though I have to aim for certain results so as not to be adrift in life, to aim is not always to be attached to what I’m aiming at. To be attached to the result that lies in uncertainty is to invite frustration for there will be setbacks and detours towards any long-term goal. Life is not always linear and predictable. It is far wiser to expect difficulty and to adjust my way of thinking so that action takes precedence over attaining a result that may be delayed for a long time.