Full Moon Day: Watch out for that lawyer!

March 21, 2008

 

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DETERMINATION

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“Even if my flesh and blood dry up… I will not leave this seat until I have attained Full Enlightenment.”

The Buddha-to-be, prior to his enlightenment.

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Here we look at determination – one of the Ten Perfections – both in general terms and in relation to our meditation.

DETERMINE!

I recall a time on personal retreat when I was struggling somewhat. I was sat cross-legged in my kuti feeling particularly down – I had little enthusiasm to do anything and this negative state of mind felt like a sumo wrestler sitting on top of me. In Thai they have an expression meaning he or she is ‘in hell‘; that summed up my state of mind. Never-the-less, when it was time to go outside to do walking meditation I peeled myself up off the floor and dragged myself to my path.

I got to the beginning of my path and my mind started whining: “I REALLY don’t want to walk!” Anyway, I forced myself to walk, but all the time my mind was haranguing me to do something else. I knew I’d be depressed no matter what I did though, so I resisted and kept on walking. But the mood just kept getting bigger and uglier, and my mind was becoming more and more pathetic: “Oh please, do something else, anything but walking meditation.” After a while of this something had to give – either me or the mood…. This time, it wasn’t going to be me.

“FOR GOODNESS SAKE – LISTEN TO YOU!!” I thought. I’d had enough of being pushed around by this mind; and of listening to its whinging; and of being bullied by this big, fat, ugly mood! And I realised that if I didn’t stand up to it, it was going to overwhelm me. So I said to it: “RIGHT YOU! I’m not leaving this path until you’re GONE!”

And do you know, it didn’t know what to do. It was stunned. And as I walked that big, bully of a mood, shrunk and shrunk until it was as big and as threatening as a ladybird, and my mind shut up. And this was all because of my firm DETERMINATION to get through this little puddle of tar that we sometimes get stuck in. When we hit hard times we DETERMINE to get through them, no matter how long it will take. And as that little story shows, once you actually make that determination, that’s half the battle done. As soon as I stood up to my difficult mind, and especially to that mood, it realised that I meant business and it immediately weakened as it realised I wasn’t going to leave the path until it was gone. It was a revelation for me, because now, whenever I’m stuck in a negative state, I know I can do this.

And so, full of energy, I continued walking, just daring my mind to test me. As I walked though, that little ladybird would keep on trying to grow into that big, ugly monster again; but as soon as I spotted him I would immediately mentally shout at it and tell him: “JUST YOU TRY!”, and then he gulped and hid. And after a time, feeling quite proud of myself, my mind started saying: “It’s gone now, you can go into your kuti…. Well done…” — “Mmmmm… that smells like Mara* to me!”, I thought, and I looked carefully and saw that little ladybird hadn’t quite disappeared, and he was ready to start mutating into a quite large and ugly mood given half a chance. So I said “NO! – I’ll keep on walking, thank you very much!” And the ladybird knew the game was over and he gave up and eventually vanished. Job done, all thanks to that firm determination at the beginning.

So, whenever you have difficulty with your meditation, or your mind is misbehaving, or you’re lacking motivation, or you’re ‘in hell’ – DETERMINE! Make that iron willed resolution. This will do half the job for you. Once you have made that determination it will carry you through the hard times, and upon making that determination, you might even find that you practically solve the problem on the spot, as with what happened to me.

*MARA: the Buddhist personification of greed, hatred, delusion and all unwholesome states.

Sharpen the knife of meditation

It isn’t often that I ask for help with my meditation; in the Forest Tradition it is a central tenet that we rely on our own cunning. But on one particular occasion I felt I really needed some advice from an experienced meditator as I believed my personal barrel of solutions had been well and truly scraped. I imagine that it was clear what the problem was when I described it to Luangpor not so much from what I said, but from the way I said it. He responded with one word: “Determination”. That was enough; I knew why he had said it. I had been lacking that clear and incisive resolve and my meditation was wobbling. I didn’t see this though, as it had been developing for some time. I had been losing that incisive and definite edge. When we meditate we need to be definite about what we are doing.

The goal needs to be clear (here regarding the breath):

  1. DETERMINE to be loyal to your subject of meditation, and to persist with it, without flitting between techniques.

  2. DETERMINE to sustain your attention on the breath for as long as possible without interruption. (Samadhi means ‘the fixing of the mind on a single object’.)

  3. DETERMINE to gradually refine your awareness of the breath and experience it in more and more detail.

  4. DETERMINE to go beyond the five hindrances of sensuality; ill-will; sloth and torpor; restlessness and worry; and doubt, so that your mind will be clear to see the Dhamma

We can remind ourselves of these determinations each time we sit.

We can also set ourselves other little goals. So if we are focusing on the breath we can determine to focus on ten breaths without interruption, or five breaths, or one breath. I will sometimes determine, or resolve, at the beginning of each breath to know that breath completely and fully. Then the next breath begins and I make the same resolve. And as we carry on like this the little individual resolves become one big resolve and our mind engages with the breath.

Think of meditation as a knife and determination as a sharpening stone. If your meditation has lost its edge, sharpen it with enthusiastic determination.

There is no substitute for determination. If you have been struggling against a particular obstacle for some time and you feel all hope is lost, take heed of these words from Winston Churchill, a man of great determination:

“When you feel you cannot continue in your position for another

moment, and all that is in human power has been done, that is the

moment when the enemy is most exhausted, and when one step

forward will give you the fruits of the struggle you have borne.”

Perfect. Substitute ‘enemy’ as you please.

We all need to develop determination. Our minds would much rather do things the easy way. But the easy way is often not the best way. DETERMINE to sit every day, even for ten minutes. DETERMINE to sit half-lotus for ten minutes, twenty minutes… If you really have aversion towards sitting, DETERMINE to sit for half an hour and watch and wait as your mind throws a tantrum until it wears itself out – “Give me all you’ve got!” you can say to it. It’s great fun! And you’ll learn a lot. Doing this will make you feel better because you are in control. As Ajahn Chah said: “Don’t be afraid of your defilements, make your defilements afraid of you!”

The little lawyer within

I’ll tell you a story. It’s a little embarrassing, but I’ll tell it anyway, just to show how our minds can be like little lawyers that try to find loopholes in our determinations. This was before the time of the story I began this piece with.

It was the beginning of my third Rains Retreat. This annual retreat is a three month period when monks will often undertake special practices in order to develop themselves. Some monks will determine to not lie down for the three month retreat period; some will decide to eat only the food they receive in the villages; some will determine to read a particular portion of the Tipitika. But I was going to do something else; something of phenomenal difficulty that would test me to the core. I decided that I would – cue drum roll – only drink

ONE

CUP

OF

TEA

A DAY.

It’s true. As you can imagine a nice, hot, sweet cup of tea (with the consistency of syrup once you put all the honey and sugar in) occupies a special place in a young monk’s heart. As cruel as it may have been, one cup a day it was to be. (Note: In my determination ‘tea’ was a blanket term that covered all hot, sweet drinks, though I wasn’t utterly clear to myself on this crucial point….) And so I made my solemn determination and it seemed, for a moment, that the birds outside stopped their chirping, and a cloud temporarily blocked the sun. But then they started chirping again and wondered what all the fuss was about.

And it went quite well for a few weeks. But then the little lawyer in my mind started drumming his fingers on his desk and rubbing his chin, plotting how a loophole in this determination might be found. “Aha!” he thought and a little light bulb appeared over his head. Then in the most charming voice he said to me: “Now what exactly did you mean by tea?” Now, not being experienced with the ways of the mind, I was caught off guard and innocently thought: “He has a point. What did I mean by tea?” And before I knew it, as pathetic as it was, I had stepped onto the slippery slope and was drinking everything but tea, and then eventually, yes – tea. Half way through the Retreat the little lawyer in my mind had completely undermined my determination, and I was left utterly helpless with a cup of tea in either hand (figuratively speaking). Such are the ways of a good lawyer, and a mischievous mind.

One final point

Determination must be tempered with wisdom and patience. Wisdom, so that we recognise what is within our capabilities; and patience, as determination wrongly executed can bring impatience. Skillful determination should have an effortless element to it as well. We inscribe our determination on the rock-face of our mind and that mental resolve carries us through. When I determined to walk until my bad mood had gone, I made that initial resolve but then I backed off and it carried me through.

So, don’t take any rubbish from that lawyer! Develop your determination. Resolve to get through the difficulties and half the work will be done. And use it to get a good, sharp edge on your meditation.,

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THE NEXT TEACHING WILL BE ON

THE HALF-MOON DAY, SATURDAY, 29TH MARCH

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5 Responses to “Full Moon Day: Watch out for that lawyer!”

  1. Maureen said

    Just what I needed! Thank you very much!

  2. Kris said

    It seems we share the same lawyer!

    Many thanks,

    Kris

  3. Tahn Manapo said

    Kris,

    He’s very good isn’t he!

    Tahn Manapo

  4. Justin said

    This was just what I needed. Sometimes I’m too hard on myself and sometimes not “hard” enough. Your tea story was humorous and lighthearted and your point about determination is inspiring. May you stay determined to put an end to suffering in your own heart. I wish you well in the Bhikkhu life.

  5. Tahn Manapo said

    Thanks for the kind comments. It’s very encouraging to know these words are appreciated.

    Tahn Manapo

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