Tuesday, November 2, 2010

no expectations

Last night, I got a nice, straight-forward email from a fellow I don't know saying that he and his wife wanted to come to the zendo on Sunday. Both had read books about Zen but had never really gotten any instruction in how to do zazen. I sent a standard reply saying both were welcome, but to please give me some re-confirmation later in the week: There are three kids who are in and out of this house and, although I haven't missed too many Sunday sittings during the past 10-12 years, still, there was room for catastrophe and I didn't want to disappoint anyone.

He wrote back saying he would re-confirm and asking if they should bring anything. I replied that they might bring a sweater or sweatshirt because the zendo heating is not all it might be.

As an addition in the second note -- as if to reassure me? -- he wrote that neither of them had any expectations linked to the visit.

No expectations. Who knows, maybe it was true. But I suspect it was more hopeful than true.

No expectations sounds good, sounds 'Zen,' but if there were no expectations, why would anyone set out in a Zen practice? As I say, maybe no expectations was true, but it strikes me as unlikely and perhaps even foolish. No criticism from here -- Fools R Us and it is foolishness that sets a wonderful scene. Or anyway, that's my take.

Who would be a Buddhist and how could Buddhism even exist without expectations? Yes, anyone can recognize that expectations create problems, but I see no reason to try to escape from or deny problems. Rather, I think expectations create problems because those who have them -- me too -- decline to investigate them right down to the ground...really investigate.

So I guess I think that trying to sidestep expectations -- to somehow outwit or suppress them -- is a mistake. Better would be to embrace them and then follow the Yellow Brick Road with patience and courage.

No one who ever became a Buddhist did so because s/he was so damned happy. No one who ever became a Buddhist did so because s/he lived in a world of complete certainty -- a universe without suffering. Buddhists join up in the hope/expectation/belief that there might be a means of straightening out this confusion, this mess, this uncertainty. How could it be otherwise?

Having made the decision to join in, effort rears its ugly head: Theory and philosophy are one thing, but making an effort to penetrate the fine print of this contract is quite another. Perhaps expectations, however unrealistic, amount to little more than what Buddhists describe as "right intention" -- the willingness to foresee and then seek to actualize what is foreseen. The fact that no one can foresee accurately should not be a barrier to trying; it should not hinder a good effort.

Well, I'm wandering. I guess I'm thinking that expectation isn't really all that bad assuming anyone might be willing to put it to the test. Expectation can get us off the dime. Once put into investigative action, it offers a way of giving ourselves a reality check. So go ahead, expect to have no expectations ... and then find out if it's true. Find out if it's true really.


  1. No expectations, hmmm, maybe they're coming to teach you zen.

  2. Expectations, step by step abandoned some of them since I started the practice. Otherwise I would have stopped practicing or gone mad.

  3. ..... "expectation" a difficult tenant /non-tenant to hold? Currently i am considering joining others in a weekly meditation group as I have a need (expectation?) that i can develop my practice more with some-like minded kooks as my solo flight (12 months practice) needs some human contact /encouragement.... my expectations rightly or wrongly are there ......i'm still trying to figure what they are!

  4. "maybe they're coming to teach you zen."

    That's my constant expectation ... constantly foiled, constantly confirmed.

    "i am considering joining others in a weekly meditation group"

    Good for you Tullik. Don't worry: Whatever you expect is bound to dissolve in the face of what actually occurs.

    Good luck.