POSTCARD#416: Bangkok: For most of us, the only time we encounter the word ‘resolve’ is at the start of a new year and we make new year resolutions or we hear of other people and their new year resolutions. I’ve never managed to keep these kinds of resolutions but I stopped smoking about 20 years ago and stopped drinking some time before that. Stopped all kinds of other thing too when the realization came there was only this nameless hunger that arises from the feeling that there has to be something better than this. I discovered the Buddhist perspective on Suffering, dukkha nirodho ariya sacca. It was this application of the Buddha’s teachings, following the Eightfold Path, that led to the understanding of this word resolve and a structural change in my life. These are continued excerpts from Pāramī – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods – Ajahn Sucitto pdf.
Ajahn continues with his analysis of Resolve, the eighth pāramī:
The word adhitthāna has come to mean resolve or determination. When it’s conjoined with the other Perfections we have read so far, adhitthāna serves to underline and strengthen them. So one determines to be generous 1); to refrain from doing harm 2); to let go of what needs to be relinquished 3); to discern and investigate 4); and to bring energy 5), patience 6) and truthfulness 7) to one’s practice.
This pāramī is then a foundation: intentions are pretty weak if one has no resolve to carry them out. You have to make the resolve to practise if you are to follow any path at all. But that resolve requires the wisdom to sense that a course of action is worth following through, and to moderate and supervise one’s resolve.
The Need for Commitment
Resolve isn’t a small matter: if you’re looking for the best results or the deepest changes, you have to do that with the understanding that this will most likely mean working at it and overcoming some resistance. And it will require the faith that you can at least try. Otherwise you aren’t going to grow.
For example, when you begin to meditate, you might start with ten minutes and check out how that was. If you get interested you go on to fifteen minutes, or half an hour or more. When you read a book, you don’t start off thinking that you will read all day and all night, but rather you pick up a book and then look into it for ten minutes; then if it’s worthwhile, you continue. So wise resolve supports strengthening according to feedback, interest and capacity. It’s not blind doggedness.
It does, however, mean that you put aside the alternatives and stay with your central aim. It means getting over the first hurdle: the idea that lasting personal development can occur quickly with little effort. Resolve comes late on the list of perfections, because to make a wise resolution requires a mind that has sampled, practised and received the benefits of generosity, virtue and the rest. Then you know what a useful commitment, and its results, feel like.
Without this ongoing reflection you may find yourself with commitments that you never clearly looked into and resolved upon. Sometimes relationships can be like that. Or it may be that you have the commitment to go to a job every day, but you don’t feel that interested in it. To you it is just a way of making money and getting by. And yet in this society there can be very high expectations of commitment to your job: you’re expected to believe in it.
If commitment is expected with regards to aims and concerns that we don’t find worthy, we can’t find the willingness of heart (chanda) to make the effort. Instead we want to break out of the drudgery or the insane pressures; we want to kick back and be free. The idea of being boundless and free is attractive, and we can assume this comes around through not having any commitments or aims. People may think, ‘Don’t tie me down, I’m a Buddhist. I want to be completely open. I want to feel free to follow my intuitions.’ We are criticized for having these petty rules and restrictions – rather than being free, boundless and cosmic, we’re stuck in our narrow little Theravada ways.
This is why our times are sometimes called the Dhamma-ending age, because it’s hard to get some of these teachings across in a society that has turned the precious qualities of motivation, respect and resolve towards material ends and towards beliefs that don’t go that far. Then it’s quite understandable to feel: ‘I’ve had enough of being controlled and driven. Freedom is the opposite from obeying rules and making effort.’ Until you wake up one day with a hangover and the realization that: ‘This way of life is going nowhere. I’d better shape up and get my act together.’
The Buddhist emphasis is on knowing through one’s direct experience. It offers an opportunity, a way to explore the mind and step back from the samsāra of its turmoil through the simple expedient of picking up a reasonable intention – like focusing on breathing – and witnessing how the mind skids and wobbles around that intention with its transient likes and dislikes. In the early months of my practice the mind bounced backwards and forwards, ricocheting between feelings and fantasies, grudges and self-judgment. However, even acknowledging that this was happening deepened my understanding. I’d always associated freedom with the ability to move around. Instead, it now felt like freedom was in the still watchfulness. It seemed to be here, but I couldn’t locate it; it had no motive and no opinions; it was free of all that. But it seemed dependent on making a resolve. For this reason I got very keen on making resolutions: firstly to sit for an hour, then longer, then meditate all night. Of course, every day the mind wanders; one loses or gets caught in obsessions, which could mean that every day you fail. But I found that if the mind could move through a wave of turmoil, it entered a place of peace, and that was worth aiming for…
(Continued next week 23 April 2021)