In Zen we take vows. These are different than goals...at least in my mind. Vows are also not commandments. A vow is a course of action with purpose, but is more of a guideline than an absolute. Goals are more absolute and tend themselves to on and off, pass/fail thinking...also lots of discouragement.
I see it this way. Goals are like Stop signs. Vows are like Yield signs.
Stop signs are absolute. Stop. No options...stop. If you don't you have broken the law and probably harmed yourself or another. Regardless, it is on/off thinking. A goal like not eating sweets is on/off, pass/fail. You must stop or you fail.
Yield signs give you options. You slow down, assess the situation and determined by the situation you either stop or continue on. A vow is like this. It makes you slow down and assess. I have vowed to lead a healthy lifestyle...I want some chocolate...I slow down and assess the situation. Do I stop (don't eat) or do I continue (eat the chocolate)...depends on the situation. Sometimes I don't eat cause I just don't really need it...or I eat because I am offered a small piece at a social gathering and to refuse would insult the host.
Now, I am sure there are lots of holes in my thinking...but for me this works. If you are a martial artist you might be able to see this.
When someone asks you how to defend yourself from a left hook punch, most of you would say...'don't know, it depends on the situation'...this is living by vow...you defend yourself, but the situation dictates the response. Your response then can have multiple dimensions. If you have only one way to defend yourself in your mind...let's say you will duck whenever a left hook comes at you...this is the goal...it may or may not work. Your response is now limited by your one course of action you have predetermined...what if the left hook was just a sucker punch...now you are screwed. With a vow you have more options...and you stay on track with your life.
Stop signs have one command. Yield gives you options. Ponder this in self-defense and life. Just some ponderings while I await my next appointment.
Thanks for visiting. My Dharma name is Shinzen. I began studying Goshindo Karate under the watchful eye of Shihan Paul Dean in 1969. Yes, I now have gray hair. I am also Lay-ordained in Soto Zen under the tutelage of Rev. Nonin Chowaney of the Nebraska Zen Center.