And what are your goals for this coming year? Does the very question make you want to sigh with resignation? Or does it excite and inspire you? Are you carrying on your shoulders the weight of previous failures? Or are you determined to achieve even more in 2014 than you ever did before?
My focus on goals improved dramatically when I first went on The Winning Edge personal development course where the inspirational trainer (Richard Jackson MBE) pointed out that in the average lifetime of 76 years, you only get 28,000 days. Twenty-eight thousand. How many do you have left? What will you do with them? Do the maths folks. Then decide.
In Nichiren Buddhism, we are encouraged to set determinations every year, to replace vague yearnings with concrete goals, to achieve benefits (both tangible and intangible), to discover and fulfill our missions and to carry out our human revolution. How lucky are we to get this sort of life training?
Life’s most important question
And of course at the end of gongyo (our twice daily chanting practice) are these wonderful words from the Lotus Sutra: “Mai ji sa ze nen, I ga ryo shujo, Toku Nyu mu jo do, Soku joju busshin…” Translation: “At all times I think to myself, how can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?”
Let’s look at this incredible question more closely – to me there are six important points:
- This desire to connect everyone to their own Buddhahood is a constant thought – ‘at all times’ – rather than a spiritual experience you might engage in once a week;
- It encourages compassion for all living beings – not just the ones you personally like and love;
- It’s very significant that this sentence is a question. Not an order, a commandment, or a conclusion. But a question. And, an open question at that, rather than a closed ‘yes or no’ question. A question that begins with ‘How?’ which all means we can unlock the answers from within us;
- It is personal, “How can I [insert your name here] cause…”;
- Then there’s that little word ‘quickly’. Yes, there is a sense of urgency here too. Of every moment as well as every life being precious;
- It’s the last thing we recite in our morning and evening prayers, so it’s the thought that tops and tails the daily life of a Nichiren Buddhist.
If you chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo but are not sure what you want to achieve in 2014, start with this question, because included in this prayer for world peace are all your own personal dreams. There was a period in my life when I went to sleep every night gently reciting this question. It became a very powerful experience. In fact it ultimately became this blog (soon to be a book.)
My amazing daughter Zofia also inspires me to set goals, here she is in very focused mood for her football team.
Of course, action is essential to make our dreams come true and as Daisaku Ikeda explains, prayers “include the actions one takes to realise them. It is just like an arrow, drawn back, charged with energy and shot from a bow. Prayer without action is idealism, and action without prayer is futile.”
My experience of practising with the SGI Buddhist movement is that our monthly discussion meetings provide a place where we can share our goals and encourage each other. Indeed it seems to me that people often come to Buddhism to learn how to value and love their lives enough to start setting determinations.
Love your life more
So in 2014, let’s learn to love our lives even more. Love our families, our friends and the people who hold up a mirror to our flaws. Let’s love our achievements, our mistakes, our futures and, above all, our personal missions. Let’s give ourselves permission to honour our talents, gifts and values – perhaps for the first time ever, maybe for the first time in a long while. Let’s go to Buddhist meetings to confront the challenges of daily life. And come home with a sparkle in our eye, a joyful soundtrack in our minds, action plans for personal growth and the courage to achieve what we truly deserve. Let’s meet again a month later to inspire each other with the victories we have had, the differences we have made and the struggles we have still not given up on. Let’s treasure everyone. Let’s each find our own unique answer to that question at the end of gongyo.
Wishing you a magnificent 2014 with the Buddha in you.
PS. If you want to share your own determinations for 2014, I would love to read them, just add a comment below :-)
PPS. Ditto, if you have any questions on goal-setting.
PPPS. Several other posts on this blog touch on the topic of goals and determination, including: