Yes, the term "goalless meditation" is not one I would have coined myself. Surely everyone meditates with some kind of goal in mind! But the term is used in a certain context, it seems to me: when you sit down to do shikantaza meditation, you don't do it with any expectation of achieving its loftiest potential reward, which is attaining Enlightenment and "buddhahood." Going into meditation with such an expectation will defeat the very purpose of doing the meditation.
I think in some ways there is an analogous notion in some varieties of Christianity: you don't do good works with the expectation of receiving heaven as a reward. If you do, heaven will elude you. Rather, you do good works because it's the right thing to do. So, your actions have to come from the heart, and not be motivated by selfish thoughts.
So anyway the idea in Buddhism is that while there are all kinds of philosophical writings, sutras, precepts, and so on, to have any chance of really "getting it" you have to meditate. Precepts and dharma talks give structure to the philosophy, and you can certainly live by them, take them on faith, and accept them intellectually, but the idea that we are all interconnected and the concept of "self" is delusional will still not be felt
. Our "true nature" cannot be explained in analytical terms, or reasoned using logic. But our true nature can become clearer to us through meditation: quieting the intellect and letting it present itself to us. So, going into meditation with explicit goals in mind will muddy the waters with thoughts and analyses, and so be self-defeating.
One of the more supernatural aspects of Buddhism is the idea that it can take many lifetimes before we become awakened to our true nature, but every attempt at awakening creates karma conducive to achieving awakening in a later lifetime. As there are different stripes of Buddhism, there are many variations on this theme. In the West there are secularized versions of Buddhism that strip away these supernatural elements, which is a good place to start for a veteran atheist like myself. 😉
I'll stop here, since I'm kind of hijacking the thread at this point.
To bring the thread back on track, I'll give another example of a moment when I've been at peace. In January I took 7 dry grams of psilocybe cubensis (magic mushrooms). Holy crap, I saw it all! Everything was One, and I understood it all, and I was totally at peace. I can't even describe it. But this "awakening" was not come by via the discipline of meditation and following precepts, so it's just a happy memory. True awakening through meditation is more lasting, from all I've read, and results in changes in a person that stay with the person day after day for life (as long as meditation continues to be practiced). Shrooms last only a few hours; still, they provided me with a "proof of concept" of Buddhist precepts. Something to aim for in my daily practice.