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Power of resolve: Rooted in regret

Power of resolve: Rooted in regret

Part of a series of teachings given at the Winter Retreat from December 2011 to March 2012 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • The greater our determination, the more able we are to refrain from harm
  • Link between power of determination and power of regret
  • Examples of how the power of determination can be used
  • Keeping in mind the long-term benefit of purification

Vajrasattva 29: Power of determination, part 2 (download)

The next part in the sadhana of the power of determination says:

Then make the following determination. I shall do my best not to do these destructive actions again in the future.

We make this statement with as much power as we can. This is because the greater the strength of this power determines or increases the possibility of being able to keep it. I have also found, in thinking about this, that there is no way to talk about the power of determination without going back to the power of regret. The more I think about this, the more I see that they are inextricably connected. Part of it is that the power of regret supplies so much information on determining the power of the resolve. For example, you get to understand what the action was and the heaviness of the karma created. Was it a complete karma? Who was it towards? We see the suffering that was experienced in the past, and hopefully through understanding somewhat about karma, we’ll understand also the suffering results in the future. To have this really heartfelt, intense feeling about regret fuels the power of determination. So you can make a promise that you can honestly keep to Vajrasattva. Much of it relies on that.

What I decided to do today was give two hypothetical situations where they come up in the power of regret and how to use them to fuel the power of determination. This is the best way that I know how to do this because they are so connected.

We are meditating and we are thinking about the ten non-virtues. We are at the power of regret in the practice right now. We have been doing it for some time and really finding some benefit in it. We have come back to the non-virtue of killing. It comes out of nowhere—this idea about fly fishing with Aunt Martha comes up. You are thinking that is kind of odd, fly fishing with Aunt Martha. At that point you have no idea, you have never thought about the karmic dimensions, the ethical constraints, the ethical considerations of fly fishing with Aunt Martha. What is there not to like about fly fishing with Aunt Martha? You left your stressful job, you are with your aunt—whom you absolutely adore—you drive for two days up to Glacier Park, go up a beautiful road, park the car, and set out camp. It is beautiful, the stars are out, the sky is blue, the fish are delicious; frying them in an open pan with herbs and butter under the stars. What is there not to like? Besides, they are just fish. What is the big deal?

This is what ignorance does in our minds. Through the power of purification it is up there and you are looking at it and it is changing. It is like the romance and the fantasy about fly fishing with Aunt Martha is gone. For the first time you are seeing the reality of this experience for what it is. First of all, for five days for the past five years you have intentionally killed sentient beings.

You have completed all four branches with a huge amount of attachment and, by the way, let us throw in a whole bunch of rejoicing just to add a little more power to the karma. It is at that point you are thinking, “Oh my gosh, the romance is gone.” The veil is gone and you are seeing the harm that you have caused other living beings. You are at least intellectually aware of the suffering results that you are going to experience if you don’t purify this. So you bring that intent, that sincerity, that depth of regret into the power of determination. You say to Vajrasattva, “I am done with fly fishing.” You do that from a very strong clear place of knowing. There is no question.

On the other hand, the second example is probably going on since beginningless time—we have gossiped. As Zopa said a few weeks ago, gossip sails into divisive and harsh speech almost all the time. We do this almost every day of the week. It doesn’t matter who we do it with—friends, family, colleagues, even strangers in a grocery line. We have no control. It gives us this kind of jazzed, energized feeling in our mind, like we know something that nobody else knows. We think that we have got some power, we know there is something special about us when we get into this chatting that turns into, “Can you believe it….” Or, “Wait until I tell you….” Or, “I am so furious….” Or however you start the pattern.

What is difficult but also fortunate about this one is that since you have probably been doing it since beginningless time, you are already experiencing the results of it. Results like we have heard at work some very unkind things said about us behind our backs; things that have really hurt our feelings and have really got us upset. And that there is disharmony starting in the family because you said that she said that they said; and it’s all pointing back to you. So you are experiencing the results of this harsh and divisive speech already.

Now you come to Vajrasattva knowing the propensity. As you come to Vajrasattva and you say, “Gosh, what can I honestly say here? I am going back to see family for the holidays in about three days and that is not a good time to make a promise that long. So I promise you Vajrasattva for the next two days I will not say anything unkind to anybody.” And that is the best that you can do.

In both of these examples it’s the same level of the power of determination brought over from the power of regret that fuels the promise—for however long you can keep it. The added difficult thing that we have to realize is even though the killing one, (we are so clear about the determination not to do it again because of the heaviness of the karma, and the completion of the karma) we have got a lot of purifying to do. We figured that we have taken the life of at least twenty-three sentient beings in five years and we have to purify those karmic seeds. That heavy karma is on our mindstreams right now and we will have to continually purify that.

On the other hand the harsh speech, though not as heavy although still complete, we need to purify—you are already experiencing the suffering results. But the difficulty to break the habit, and to keep the promise is going to be the far more difficult part of the power of determination. The regret is going to really need to be strong and really be clear on the suffering results and harm that you have caused to really feel that. Those are two examples of how the power of determination can be used.

Then there is a crucial point that Venerable Chodron talked about last year at Vajrapani which really seals this power. She said that the determination not to do certain behaviors, to overcome the denial (like in the fishing example) and justification of why we do a non-virtue in the first place, we need to get very clear about that. It is not just for the happiness of this life. It’s great that we are changing habits, cultivating our good qualities, healing our relationships, and working on our anger. That is all well and good. The short-term benefit is very helpful and very good. But she says to not think that that is all the Dharma has to offer—happiness in this life, to be a kinder, gentler person.

We are not getting the full profound benefit of the Dharma and the Buddha’s teachings by aiming for all these changes in our habits just to make this life happier and easier. We want to do it for our liberation and our full awakening or enlightenment. With full awakening we are going to be in a position to really be of benefit. So we are aiming for the long term. We are going to have the short-term benefit and this is great because that propels us to be able to keep doing it for as long as we need to for the long-term benefit of becoming awakened for the benefit of all beings. Bodhicitta must always be our motivating force for this entire practice—and in particular when we get down to the nitty-gritty of the power of determination where it really seems to be a lot about us. In fact, it is a lot about the benefit of all sentient beings.

This is what I have so far gleaned and the next time we are going to find out what Vajrasattva thinks about our promises.

Venerable Thubten Semkye

Ven. Semkye was the Abbey's first lay resident, coming to help Venerable Chodron with the gardens and land management in the spring of 2004. She became the Abbey's third nun in 2007 and received bhikshuni ordination in Taiwan in 2010. She met Venerable Chodron at the Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle in 1996. She took refuge in 1999. When the land was acquired for the Abbey in 2003, Ven. Semye coordinated volunteers for the initial move-in and early remodeling. A founder of Friends of Sravasti Abbey, she accepted the position of chairperson to provide the Four Requisites for the monastic community. Realizing that was a difficult task to do from 350 miles away, she moved to the Abbey in spring of 2004. Although she didn't originally see ordination in her future, after the 2006 Chenrezig retreat when she spent half of her meditation time reflecting on death and impermanence, Ven. Semkye realized that ordaining would be the wisest, most compassionate use of her life. View pictures of her ordination. Ven. Semkye draws on her extensive experience in landscaping and horticulture to manage the Abbey's forests and gardens. She oversees "Offering Volunteer Service Weekends" during which volunteers help with construction, gardening, and forest stewardship.

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