We’ve been meandering through the pāramīs or perfections, especially patience. Skipping over truthfulness for the moment, we come to resolve or determination (adhiṭṭhāna pāramī). This has been a problematic perfection for me. It’s easy to set ourselves up for failure by thinking, “I should be able to do X, and I commit to doing it.”, but then if we find the challenge too daunting we may experience guilt, anxiety and/or hopelessness. The whole idea of setting challenges for ourselves can feel awkward.
Another way to understand resolve is as a “home base” that we go back to when doubt arises. We can touch in with our deepest intentions and use those as our guides. If we commit to generosity and ethical behavior, deeply and over the long term, then when we stray from those intentions, resolve brings us back to center. It’s an answer to the question, “where can I turn?”
From the book, Pāramī [Perfections] by Ajahn Sucitto:
The Buddhist emphasis on knowing through one’s direct experience has always felt very sane to me. The Buddha’s Dhamma is shown not through, ‘This is Truth, this is Ultimate Reality and the Secret Law of the Cosmos’, but as, ‘This is what you do to get through the mess.’ And 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.
We may be accustomed to thinking of determination or resolve as a test that we either pass or fail. But we can start with the understanding that we WILL fail sometimes, AND we can always start again. In fact, we have to start again unless we’re just going to give up and take the attitude that nothing matters. Perfection is not possible (for humans), but steady forward motion is possible and is satisfying. As Ajahn Sucitto points out, we’re not aiming at a superhuman state, we are looking for the best way to move through the messy and sometimes painful business of life.