This is the eighth of a series of 10 articles on the Paramis, the “perfections” of character that Theravaden Buddhism encourages you to develop.
Resolve is the energy that translates good intentions into action. It is 8th of the 10 Paramis, the perfections of Theravaden Buddhism.
“If you see a greater happiness that comes from forsaking a lesser happiness, be willing to forsake the lesser happiness for the sake of the greater one.”
The Dhammapada – 290
Everyone has good intentions, plans to practice more, study more, help others more. But just thinking about these things, imagining what it would be like, doesn’t do much good. You have to transform those thoughts into actions. This requires effort, determination.
One of the definitions of resolve you’ll find in the dictionary is “to reach a firm decision about.” The key word here is “firm.” No “maybe.”No “If I find the time.” You are going to do this, as my Dad used to say, “come Hell or high water.”
Nothing will stop you.
To bring resolve into your life you need to start with something small, doable. “I’m going to sit for 20 minutes every morning.” Make the resolve, and then stick to it. The important thing is that the resolve should be around something that clearly takes your practice to another level. You could resolve to sleep in as late as possible every morning. This would be resolve, but not particularly worthwhile.
Resolve means taking a long term view of things. It’s not “I’m going to practice today,” it’s “I’m going to practice for the rest of my life!” You see clearly that the more you practice, the more you dedicate your life to the practice, the less you and those around you suffer.
At the same time you need to be aware of not forcing things, of not falling into striving. If practice becomes a grim task that must somehow be endured, then you need to step back and reassess your resolve.
This sounds so simple. Why don’t you do this then? Why do you have many good ideas and plans, but so little follow through?
Mainly it’s because you have become an expert at making excuses for not doing what you know you should do.
“I’ll do it when my work is a little less busy.”
“I’ll do it when my kids are older.”
“I’ll do it in the fall when I don’t want to be outside so much.”
The excuses are endless.
Partly this is because you create a life that is packed with constant activity. The idea of having unscheduled time, time when you might actually just sit, be still, is counter to our whole modern culture. There is always something left undone, some important book you haven’t read, some new garden project that needs to be tried, and children or aging parents that need more attention. It can seem so overwhelming.
How can you possibly fit 20 minutes a day into that packed schedule for practice, let alone find time for retreat for day, a weekend, a week or a month?
This is where right understanding needs to arise. You need to understand that the “Greater Happiness” that the Buddha spoke of in the Dhammapada is the most important thing. You need to consciously let go of some of the “lesser happiness” to make space in your life for practice. You have to make a firm resolve. No more excuses. Amazingly, it will all work out. All the reasons that you thought you had for not practicing just fall away.
I had a very clear lesson about this back in 1986.
I was part of the Sivananda Yoga organization at that time. Our teacher, Swami Vishnu Devananda was organizing a five week trip to India in the fall of 1987 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his guru’s birth. My wife and I decided that she should go and I would stay home and take care of our kids, then 7 and 12. Several times in the summer and fall Swamiji would ask if I was going to India. Every time he did I’d explain that my wife was going but I was staying home to take care of the kids. Every time he asked I got a little bit more annoyed, thinking that he “just didn’t understand family life.” We both couldn’t go.
Finally we went to spend a few days with him over New Year’s, a time when we celebrated his birthday—maybe 50 people were there. I decided that if he asked me to go to India again I’d just have to say yes. The whole two or three days of the celebration he totally ignored me, something that was very unusual.
Finally, late on New Year’s Eve, we were gathered around as he was getting his winter clothes on to go to his house. We weren’t going to see him again before we left. I was standing at the back of the crowd, feeling glum, and thinking “Well, I guess I’m not going to India.” Right at that point he turned and looked at me and said “Gopala Krishna, go to India”. I said, “Yes Swamiji.” He turned away and didn’t say another word.
I’d made the resolve.
Back home the next day I was caught in a whirl of “now what?” How could we get care for our two kids for five weeks? Maybe friends some of the time, maybe their grandmothers, though neither of them lived in the same city as we did. We decided to call my mother-in-law first, since she lived further away. She said she’d come for the entire 5 weeks! Problem solved. All my worry and excuses just washed away.
There is one more idea to consider. What does it mean to have complete resolve, to dedicate your entire life to the practice. In Theravaden cultures, the answer is simple. Complete resolve means taking vows and becoming a monk or nun. But as the teachings have come to the west both the teachers and practitioners are now primarily householders. You have jobs, families, responsibilities to your communities and all the other things that go along with being a householder, not a renunciate.
How do you express complete resolve?
For me this is an open question that goes directly back to the quote from the Dhammapada at the beginning of the article. I look at my life and see what I have given up. For instance, I haven’t been on what is conventionally thought of as a “vacation” for many years. No two weeks living on the beach, no tours of exotic places. I go away for a few days, a long weekend, but never longer than that. It’s not that I think vacations aren’t a good idea, it’s not that I wouldn’t love to tour the art museums in Europe, but if I have a big chunk of time “off” I go and sit retreat. It’s as simple as that. I’ve given up the lesser happiness for the greater happiness. Does this mean I have “complete” resolve? I don’t think so. I think for householders the practice is more small steps instead of giant ones. Maybe I’ve just taken a few small steps.
So find time to practice. Take a firm resolve to practice more. You’ll be surprised how easy it is, once you actually do it.
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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Sara Crolick