Does a Buddhist lose Ambition?

Terasi asks:

Would you talk about Buddhism and motivation please? Ever since I learned Buddhism few months ago (I am a newbie!) I’ve become more restrained, able to restrained anger, annoyance, craving to shop junks, etc. It’s wonderful, I am happier and calmer now.

But then I wonder if all the stress on unruffled mind, upekkha, contentment, restraining from grasping, etc could lead one to be lacking ambition in real life? For example, no ambition to become successful at work, no wish to take up further study because “well, why would I want to be a manager if I am content and happy enough just to be a clerk?”, no wish to get better things “why should I look for another place to stay, this old apartment can still shelter me even though the bathroom is leaking.” and so on.

This is a good question. There is a tendency to think of Buddhism as complacent or passive. Buddhism is actually about action, that is why we talk about karma (action) so much. However Buddhism does make a distinction between skillful motivations and unskillful motivations behind our actions.

Human beings tend to be primarily motivation by the quest for personal advantage, to do what it takes so I get that manager’s job rather than my colleague, so that I have a better home than my friends, and so on. We do have an obligation to protect our physical and emotional health, but there are many motivations that do not put me and mine on center stage, such as those based in compassion and loving-kindness. The latter are skillful motivations; they are skillful because they lead away from personal stress toward lightness and joy, they do not present a distorted view of reality but open the heart, and they tend to produce great benefit, including for yourself where that is needed.

With skillful motivations action actually becomes more effortless, more fluid. It no longer needs ambition. Ultimately on the path there is no sense of personal effort at all, but what needs doing is done. Here is my very favorite Buddhist verse, by Hongzhi, a Twelfth Century Chinese Zen master:

People of the Way journey through the world responding to conditions, carefree and without constraint. Like clouds finally raining, like moonlight following the current, like orchids growing in shade, like spring arising in everything, they act without mind, they respond with certainty.”

2 Responses to “Does a Buddhist lose Ambition?”

  1. Terasi Says:

    Thank you for replying to my question. I will get to this soon…. still on the Right Speech one…


  2. Chang Says:

    The end of ambition is the beginning of happiness.

    Thomas Merton


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