Defying gravity

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When we’re really young, we generally what to be something exciting, like an astronaut; then as we get older we adjust our dreams for the sake of practicallity. In general, this is sensible – we can’t all become pop stars, and I’d dread to think what the world would be like if we did! But, I think this is a bad habit to bring into our spiritual life: we have to rediscover that child-like capacity to dream big.

In terms of our spiritual life, we are like babies, just finding our feet. And the world is full of possibilities. We have been given the freedom to decide what we want to become, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves, because it is our motivation that will determine the whole direction of our lives. We can aspire to become a bit kinder or a bit less stressed, and we will certainly accomplish these goals; or we can aspire to lasting inner peace and the ability to bestow that peace on each and every living being, every day. If we are motivated by this highest spiritual goal (bodhichitta) then all our actions become meaningful and rewarding. We’re reaching for the stars, but this time without a spaceship and those wierd liquidized meals you have to drink through a straw.

We have to stay focused on the goal. OK, I know that sounds a bit strange: goal-orientated Buddhism. But aspiration is not the same as ambition. Ambition is a whole mess of emotions: wanting to prove something to ourself or others, wanting recognition or approval, needing to outshine other people. A spiritual aspiration isn’t conditional on what other people think, we want to become a better person not to be better than others but only to help them better.

This goal of becoming a Buddha so we can help others is the most supremely self-confident mind. It’s a big dream, but a realistic one. We can’t all become astronauts (I’d never pass the physical), but we do all have the potential to become enlightened beings. The most important step to realizing that potential is to maintain the wish to do so.

When I grow up, I want to be a Buddha.


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