The leaves of autumn tell you – renunciation, don’t cling. The buds of spring tell you – grow, have energy to explore. We see through a distant mirror, we dimly sense that there’s some kind of something to be realized, but we don’t know what. It could be some sort of growth principle. We can make that much out; but we don’t yet understand that it should be total aspiration for total understanding. But there is a push in this direction, and eventually it will overcome the limits of ego identity. – Namgyal Rinpoche
Aspiration vital to your spiritual unfoldment. It is the second aspect of the 8 Fold Noble path, and very much related to the 4 Noble Truths, the core teaching of Buddhism.
The Noble Truths teach that life is suffering. Many of us never see this suffering clearly, and any potential aspiration for spiritual realization is stopped dead in its tracks.
Until we can see the veil of ignorance that is hung over our ordinary lives, and the relentless suffering that causes for ourselves and others, we will never be moved to remove the veil. But once we do, it will be difficult to ever put the veil back in its place.
And so, suffering becomes our friend, because it points to the lies we tell ourselves in life, and shifts our aspiration to compassion and to wake up.
When we get to the very core of suffering, ironically, we also uncover the root of freedom, truth, and joy.
Whether you are someone who wants to look behind the curtain or not, we all have aspiration. Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat Sensei explain that the most basic function of aspiration (or will, drive, agenda) is to survive. Without the drive to fulfill our needs, living creatures would not survive, or evolve.
As you may know, Maslow’s pyramid is a hierarchy because its premise is that once a lower need like physiological is satisfied, a person can direct their energy to the next stage of needs.
Many people, however, can remain in lower levels, even once they are satisfied. Most of us in North Amercia, for example, do not need to worry about survival, but as still obsessed with materialism, sex, and comfort, at the expense of addressing higher needs.
It can actually be quite uncomfortable to move up a stage in our development as human beings, as described in Ken Wilber’s “Integral Spirtuality”. It is a shift in our reality, a shift in the ground on which we’ve been accustomed to stand upon.
However here is the value of seeing the suffering of our ignorance. If we can acknowledge our growing pains, they can help us overcome the fear of change.
We don’t want to stay in survival mode forever. In Buddhist teachings, this is considered “Lokiya” aspiration, or “mundane” orientation. There are two types of aspiration that they teach a person can have:
Lokiya – mundane orientation
Lokuttara – transcending orientation
Everyone has aspiration, because everyone has needs, as well as worldviews, values, etc, however their orientation in various areas of their lives can vary on the mundane-transcending scale.
Namgyal Rinpoche in “Body Speech and Mind” describes the different orientations:
“At the lokuttara level, when the mind is totally open to unobstructed knowledge pouring in freely, constantly moving – that is total aspiration. Lokiya [mundane] aspiration is more like, “I want fame and fortune.” To get a being with lokiya aspiration moving, one might suggest a better aspiration, such as giving a stimulus to succeed in meditation rather than the wish to win a lottery. Better aspiration gets the being moving toward total aspiration. That is panna aspiration, wisdom aspiration.”
Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we all have the need for survival. However if your needs for survival are not fulfilled, this need will then predominate a lot of your behaviour, and it will be difficult to have time or energy for lokuttara, transcendental, aspiration.
People who are not fulfilling a particular need may have the aspiration to avoid feeling bad about that unfulfilled need and so pick up some negative pacifying addictions [insert your addictions]. This is actually very common, Doug and Catherine Sensei say. Much of what we do is driven by an aspiration to dull out our sense of missing something in our lives.
Another way that we avoid looking at our agendas (or aspiration) is by having conflicting emotions, internalizing emotions, and projecting what you’re feeling/thinking onto someone else (attribution error). A way to work through all three of these blocks to seeing our agendas is by clearly naming what we are feeling, and by naming our agenda, or what we are wanting (and possibly not getting).
The ego itself is the unconscious agenda. To be awake is to be conscious of whatever agenda is playing out at any given moment; “to see agendas not seen”, as Doug and Catherine Sensei have said. The teachers point out that once your agenda is conscious you won’t get as easily upset, because you realize that what is making you upset is not getting what you want. When practicing this with some regularity, you will start to witness “the sin liberates itself”, which means that we do not have to try and remove a “sin” (which actually means “missed aim”) from ourselves, but simply accepting awareness of it loosens its hold on us. This is also what is taught in the S.N. Goenka retreats with body-scanning vipassana meditation.
Whole aspiration is having the agenda to not dull ourselves out or be in denial, but on the contrary, to be as aware and awake as possible, for the benefit of all beings. According to Cecile, it is the aspiration to see those negative thoughts, in the moment or afterwards. Right Aspiration is when you think: I don’t ever want to go there again… but our habituation glues us to our past patterns. She says that aspiration is like heat that loosens the glue that sticks us to the patterns we want to get rid of. There’s no need to go into self-criticism, that’s just negative. When you see an area where you’ve “missed aim”, simply say to yourself, “May I see/ catch it quicker next time.” Apologizing or feeling sorry for yourself, isn’t most important, but acknowledging your learning capacity and addressing yourself, “Oh, this is that pattern again, I don’t want to do that again”. That is to build aspiration.
Cecile Kewait taught that Whole Aspiration develops quite naturally once you have Whole View. It is in seeing the true nature of life that you come to a complete aspiration to cease to do evil, and to do good. This aspiration is not craving like at the lokiya level, it is beyond craving because it comes from seeing truthfully what is wholesome, what is unwholesome, and from that wanting to stop promoting and to prevent the unwholesome, and to support and develop the wholesome. Once you have an appreciation for the truth of existence (whole view), you quite naturally develop the 3 right intentions of: the renunciation of craving, to replace ill-will with loving-kindness, and to replace cruelty with compassion (www.trans4mind.com).
Then, courageous dharma warriors, you are ready to look clearly at your actions, speech, and livelihood … to develop sila.