Taking Vows, Attaining Nothing

taking vows titleTricycle.org has posted a set of four dharma talks of mine that they recorded, with this title. You can find the link at


I’m not sure if one has to join the organization to view these. The second and fourth talks are similar to things I’ve already posted on this blog. I’ll blog the others when I get the energy!

In the meantime, below is my original description and outline of the talks:

Taking Vows, Attaining Nothing: A Zen Perspective on Personal and Social Projects

In our everyday lives our intentions are commonly directed towards some goal, and we judge ourselves as succeeding or failing based on how close we get to achieving that goal. Yet the Heart Sutra tells us that “there is nothing to attain.” Furthermore, Zen master Linji tells us that there is “nothing to do.” In these talks, I will explore how the teaching of nonattainment can transform how we work with our desires, intentions, and deeply felt commitments. The first two talks focus on our desires for personal happiness, health, spiritual development, and usefulness. The second two examine our aspirations for social and economic justice and environmental sustainability.

  1. “Are we there yet?”

Like children in the backseat of a car on a long trip, we are often in a state of constant checking and judging, even in regard to our own meditation practice. This talk will look at how the Buddhist teachings of no-self (anatta) and nonattainment can shed light on our habit of measuring our achievements.

  1. Zen When Sick and Useless

We hope our meditation practice will make us healthy and useful. Does that mean our practice has failed when we become sick and useless? Reflecting on my experience with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known as CFIDS/ME), as well as works by Eihei Dogen and other teachers, this talk will explore the meaning of Zen when our personal projects have failed.

  1. Nonattainment and Social Change

Poverty, injustice, racism, war, environmental destruction, and other ills of this world cry out for urgent action. This talk will explore how teachings about nonattainment and “doing nothing” can, in fact, help us fully live our bodhisattva vows.

  1. Living on a Fragile Planet

This talk will bring into the discussion some things I’ve learned from my work as a feminist and ecological economist. A spirit of nonattainment, along with a fresh look at our economic life here and now and at the beliefs we hold about it, are vital if we want to relieve suffering.

Author: Julie A. Nelson

Julie A. Nelson is a writer on gender, ethics, economics, ecology, and Zen; a Professor of Economics, Emeritus; a Dharma Holder and Teaching Coordinator at the Greater Boston Zen Center; and mother of two grown children.

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