Look. The people who are doing this are friends of mine and I hate to be mean. But I just got a thing in the email about an "Intention Setting Ceremony for the New Year." It says, "Each New Year’s Eve a large group of us gather to set our intentions for the coming year and to recommit to our spiritual practices."
Fun. I wish I could go.
But, PUH-LEEEEEEZE! "Setting Intentions?" Seriously? If you're going to make New Year's Resolutions then make flogging New Year's Resolutions. Do we really need to put a big huge "I'M A BUDDHIST, LOOK AT ME!!!" button on for absolutely every occasion?
I've been hearing this "setting intentions" business for the past year or so now. I'm sure it's older than that. But I wasn't aware of it before.
I was, however, aware of a huge argument between Nishijima Roshi and one of his students about whether zazen was a state with or without intention. N's contention was that zazen was a state completely without intention. He would not back off from this position at all. He is a stubborn guy.
I have to agree with him. Zazen is, indeed, a state without intention. Sure. Of course. Everyone who gets into Zen practice gets into it with some kind of intention. I did. Buddha did. Dogen did. That's fine.
But zazen itself needs to be a state without intention, a state in which you give up all intention. This is not easy. But it is the most essential point of Zen practice. Without it, you have no real Zen practice.
So what do you do? You can't even intend not to have intention, since that is an intention as well. At least not in the usual sense.
That's your koan, right there.
The only hint I can possibly provide is that intention occurs within the realm of thought. To intend not to intend is kinda like what Dogen describes as "thinking the thought of not thinking." How do you do this? Dogen only says, "It's different from thinking."
Of course zazen as a state without intention and an intention setting ceremony for the new year are completely different animals. The only relationship is the use of the word "intention." There are realms of life in which intentions are absolutely necessary. I'm making some new year's resolutions of my own. You need to have some kind of intentions to get through life. So I'm not saying the folks who are doing this ceremony are bad or wrong, or that I'm better than them or anything like that. Except that I do think that calling new year's resolutions "new year's intentions" just to make it sound more Buddhist is really, really gag-worthy. Just my opinion. You are free to ignore it.
Happy New Year everybody!