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Hope a Four Letter Word?


Hope a four letter word


I wonder if the Buddha would think that “hope” was a four letter word.  Or is it the way we allow the definition of hope to shape how we see our reality the one to analyze?  Hope is defined as

“The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.”

“To look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence

“To feel that something desired may happen

In the western culture hope that a desired outcome will lead you to a better place is our underlying mantra, in Buddhism though; it is taught that the best place is in the present.  So if you are a Buddhist are we not supposed to have hope?  No really I am asking, because hope and the Buddhist philosophy seem to be at odds. 

Now we can say as a Buddhist there is hope that the future will be a certain way, preferably good, but then have we not already thought of a future moment, and that future moment would be better than now? 

I was pondering this, this week and was really “hoping” to start a discussion. What does hope mean within the Buddhist philosophy, and can a Buddhist have hope? 


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"Abandon hope"

In "When Things Fall Apart," Pema Chodron has a chapter of hopelessness and death. She pairs hope and fear and says, "as long as there's one, there's always the other." (Fear stems from fear of death.)

"Without giving up hope -- that's there's someone better to be, that there's somewhere better to be" -- we will never relax with where we are or who we are. ... Hope and fear come from feeling we lack something, from a sense of poverty. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment."

She urges us to renounce hope, to relax with who we are and accept the groundless of the present moment, learning to love the idea that there is no security.

"If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationsip with our lives, an honest, direct relationship, one that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death."

hard stuff.


depends on what you're hoping for

I think it depends somewhat on what you're hoping for. if you're hoping your boyfriend will propose and then you'll be married and everything will be perfect (a generic "you," not you personally), then I'd say, yeah, abandon that hope, look at where you are, and decide if you can content with what is or if you have to change what is under your control about what is. what do you think will happen if what you hope for comes true? in what ways would you be happier? if you get a better job and make more money and can afford a nicer apartment, will you be happy? or will you worry about the rent going up or the job going away etc etc?
what does the thing you are hoping for mean for you? security? not possible. everything goes away. safety? health? all of that is subject to change. talking about suffering and desire, ethan once said something like it's not the chocolate you want, it's how the chocolate makes you feel. so what's the feeling you're hoping to attain?
which is not to say that you have to accept whatever comes your way. just try to find clarity about what it is that you're hoping for and whether the thing/situation/event you want will bring it or whether an internal shift would be more beneficial.
me? I'm hoping the trees stop spewing pollen and I can breathe again.
Nancy again -- I got signed out somehow

hope as openness?

semantics are tricky. maybe "hope" could be that state of openness or grace which leans with a positive feeling toward an aspiration, yet does not attach to a particular outcome.

maybe hope could mean openness to possibility, rather than defendedness against it.


I brought this up in conversation at the Symposium for Socially Engaged Buddhism last August, and people there seemed to be adament that hope was important.   I was unconvinced and think there are a few important aspects worth parsing:

1) Hope vs. Aspiration -- I think, as you wrote, hope implies an intense desire for a specific outcome.   If we attach to that desire for a specific outcome we are indeed causing ourselves suffering.   I think the word Aspiration might be a bit more Buddhist because it feels a bit more "there is possibility that I can make "x" happen, I will move in that direction."  There is less of a sense of attachment in that definition to me.

2) There is a cultural use of the word "Hope" that I get a bit peeved at.  The Obama election a perfect example -- it is a vague feeling of positivity without a direct link to a course of action.  I think the feeling itself is helpful for inspiration to move through difficulty, but should never be mistaken for promising a specific outcome.

There's also the skillful means to be considered.  When people are suffering or in pain, maybe getting into semantics about "hope" for a better situation is not skillful.  But then again, maybe that's the approach that has led us to our current state of affairs.

Hope vs Aspiration

Now that you mention it, I do remember a whole day buddhist workshop that I took in the beginning of my studies about hope and aspiration.  And I would totally agree that the Buddhist word for hope would be aspiration, as it implies a course of action without an actual outcome.  But I see how we struggle with this in our minds, as we do hope for a great deal of things.  The word is so common that we tend to attach an outcome in our mind's more than we would like, which tends to make us forget our aspirations and the course of action we should be involved in. 

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