POSTCARD#417: Bangkok: Continuing our series of texts on the Parami Ways to Cross Life’s Floods, Ajahn Sucitto describes the role Resolution plays in monastic life – the renunciate, living as a mendicant (dependent on other’s offerings). The Resolve required in having only one meal per day before noon. Resolve that carries the practitioner through the vortex of feelings to that emptying out of desire where there is stillness and peace.
Resolve, when it’s aligned to other perfections, helps us look at daily scenarios and mundane tasks in a more Enlightened way. For example, cleaning the floor doesn’t seem interesting, but taking on a task for the welfare of the situation as a whole helps to widen attention. And it activates giving, energy and patience. In general, Enlightenment begins as a shift of focus to a more ‘nonself’ view, and to long-term results rather than short-term moods.
Another example: in the monastery, when we refrain from eating in the evenings, we can reflect on this restraint as being for limiting our own appetite and also out of global concern. If one simply thinks, ‘I can’t have anything to eat tonight,’ then it becomes a problem. Yet when one considers the number of people who are starving or hungry, who don’t have enough to eat, one feels, ‘People are giving me enough food for a day, so yes, I can go without an evening meal,’ because one’s heart is touched.
The focus shifts as you consider, through resolve and wise reflection, the amount of food that is wasted by people eating more than they need; or all the animals that are needlessly slaughtered; or the land that is being ravaged. Then making a determination to limit that instinct feels appropriate. The resolve of renunciation serves to check the instinct in the mind that says, ‘I want this. It’s my right to have it, and I want it now.’ After all, in a shared world, where is that attitude going to take us?
There are also resolves to pick up and encourage a course of action. In my case, when I first came to the West from Thailand, I saw that the bhikkhu training in terms of renunciation, honesty, harmlessness and modesty was a good thing to have going in this confused world. It felt good to look at living in a way that would be for the welfare of others and how one could be part of a scenario that offered calm, attention and a quiet grace for whoever could benefit from them.
Resolutions align themselves to how one can intend for the welfare of other beings: this renunciate life is of value; it brings forth tenderness, strength and trust. And to be part of that is both an honour and a way to shift out of personal obsessiveness. It’s a small Enlightenment, a lightening of the burden of self importance, not some personal statement about how great and wise I am.
Applying Wisdom to Resolve
Mendicant life, in which one has little say over what material resources will come one’s way, automatically provides opportunities for meeting difficulties with resolution. For example, when I arrived here, I only had light-weight tropical robes and a pair of open-toed sandals. Soon it was wintertime, and it began snowing. Lay people gave boots to some of the monks, but not to me. I determined just to bear with the difficulties and not to ask for anything. I resolved to make it a principle not to seek out requisites, because I noticed how the mind whinged and complained, and I wanted to stand firm against that petty voice. It wasn’t my concern; giving was their business; mine was to receive what was offered and give up jealousy and complaining. So I made it a practice to be content with what was offered, with the resolve: ‘If it’s not offered then it is not needed.’
Arguably, to walk three miles on alms round through the snow, one did ‘need’ boots. But I didn’t have any, and so … I could use the opportunity to be here with that, witness what came up and let it all pass — and it wouldn’t kill me. Then the resolve would take me through the vortex of feelings to that emptying out of desire where there was stillness and peace. That felt really good and worthwhile. It was actually more useful than having the boots — because to find the way to the still point was what I was dedicated to, not to warm dry feet. Moreover, learning contentment made life easier and richer. After that, any room, any place to live, and any food was OK. I realized that the body and mind are adaptable, and that we can adapt. And that gave richness to ordinary life. It encourages one to look for opportunities for resolution. One can get over-zealous. I have determined some extreme practices in my life as a bhikkhu, but the most useful ones came through wise reflection on where my attachments lay.
(Continued next week 30 April 2021)