Aspiration is the profound longing for purpose and fulfillment, joy and happiness, in the heart of every living being. All living entities, from the humblest ant to the most sophisticated being, want happiness. All want to avoid suffering. Obviously, although this is a universal aspiration, most of us —if not all— fail miserably. We don’t know how to attain happiness and avoid suffering. Therefore, the teachings of every genuine tradition seek to instill in us the lesson that all suffering is the result of negative actions (thoughts, words, and deeds), and all happiness is the result of positive actions. We are then given rules of conduct, that we may cultivate virtue, and therefore merit; and that we may avoid error, and thus reduce our karmic debt.
But this will not lead to ultimate, permanent happiness —just to a temporary diminution or cessation of material suffering. Happiness is something positive. It is love. And love is service. All suffering comes from trying to be happy separately from others, and all real happiness comes from contributing to the happiness of others.
Throughout this and countless lives (for those who accept rebirth), we are and have been intimately related to all other living entities —we have been their servants, their masters, their children, their parents, their friends, and their lovers. They have served us in innumerable ways, and provided for our livelihood and comfort. They have fed us, clothed us, housed us, and extended us every kindness.
Our so-called enemies have given us the opportunity to learn and to grow. Those who have harmed us have reinforced our determination; those who have deceived us have deepened our insight; those who have hurt us have reduced our karmic obstacles; those who have abandoned us have taught us to be less dependent; those who have made us stumble have
strengthened our ability; those who have denounced us and betrayed us have increased our wisdom and concentration; those who have made us suffer have made us firm and resolute.
At the very least, all other living entities have provided the conditions or even the raw materials necessary for our continued existence. Whether we accept rebirth or not, and whether we are friends or enemies now, it matters little. Our fate is intertwined with the fate of all other beings. We are part of the whole; if the whole is happy, we also will be happy.
The purpose of Aspiration is to establish the proper attitude and intention for every undertaking. In order to cultivate Aspiration, we repeat often throughout the day, especially when we are about to perform a meritorious action:
May what I’m about to do yield favorable results.
May it give me the capacity to benefit others.
May it help me overcome ignorance and limitation.
May it clear away all obstacles on the path.
May it lead me to the union of wisdom and compassion.
At the completion of every constructive action, we proceed to dedicate the merit to the welfare of all, thus fulfilling the purpose of our Aspiration:
By the merit accrued through all my virtuous acts
May all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all embrace happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all abide in peace, free from self-grasping.
May all attain the union of wisdom and compassion.
May all attain certainty of birth in the Pure Land.