One use of “obstinacy” in the Pali canon is to refer to monks or nuns being resistant to hearing or practicing the Buddha’s teachings, especially the rules governing how to live in harmonious community (the vinaya). The opposite of obstinacy in this case is “easy to admonish”; that is, willing to be corrected, open to learning.
Some of us have an unreasonable fear of “being wrong”, or a deep need to “be right”. These attitudes can be roadblocks to learning. In the Pali canon, some followers of other teachers (not the Buddha) were obstinate in clinging to a particular view even when the Buddha had carefully dismantled it.
Also, we are often sensitive (or over-sensitive) to what we perceive as criticism. It can be so painful to think that others see our flaws that we react angrily to real or imagined negative comments.
When this is the state of mind we carry, it’s easy to see how it works as a defilement: we go into defensive mode, we shut down. If we can recognise this obstinacy when it rises in our experience, we can correct for it. We can stop, breathe, and keep quiet while we consider our situation and our options.
What are our options? What can we ask ourselves?
– What is this experience right now? (anger, shock, etc.)
– Did I hear and understand correctly what the other person said?
– Did the person’s comment reveal something about the speaker?
– Is there any truth in what the other person said?
In all cases, it is better to listen and consider before responding. Sometimes untoward comments can be safely (and wisely) ignored. Sometimes they require a response, which may be an opportunity for us to correct ourselves, or maybe learn something about the other person. It’s never useful to respond with anger or irritation. If we take a few breaths before speaking, it can be amazing how quickly irritation subsides.
Stubbornness and determination are related qualities, but are not the same thing. We may be determined in pursuing wholesome goals; if we are stubborn, we have stopped listening. In one case we are moving forward; in the other we are immovable. We can ask ourselves: are we trainable? Are we open to working on our imperfections, even when it’s uncomfortable?
Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(6) a domineering attitude
(13) conceit (mana)
from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi