Determination as a Tool Along the Path of Mindfulness

posted in: Dharma Topics | 0

Once a month, our Sangha recites the Five Mindfulness Trainings and spends an evening focused on discussing one of the Trainings, which include: 1) Reverence for Life, 2) True Happiness, 3) True Love, 4) Loving Speech and Deep Listening, and 5) Nourishment and Healing. Here is how Thich Nhat Hanh describes the Five Mindfulness Trainings in Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices:

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are one of the most concrete ways to practice mindfulness. They are nonsectarian, and their nature is universal. They are true practices of compassion and understanding.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are based on the precepts developed during the time of the Buddha to be the foundation of practice for the entire lay practice community.

During our recitation of the Trainings last month, the word “determined” really seemed to stand out to me. In fact, the word “determined” is used at least once in each of the Five Mindfulness Trainings:

1. Reverence For Life
a) I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.


2. True Happiness
a) I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.


3. True Love
a) Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends.


4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening
a) When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak.
b) I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord.


5. Nourishment and Healing
a) I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations.
b) I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption.

Having noticed how many times this word is used in the trainings, I decided to look it up to be clear on its meaning. According to Webster’s dictionary, the word “determine” is defined as: “having reached a decision: firmly resolved; was determined to become a pilot; is determined not to let it happen again.”

It was a bit surprising to me to see the word “decision” in the definition, because I do not always relate to determination as an active choice. In fact, I have always thought of determination as more of a passive perseverance or perhaps unyielding motivation. However, according to this definition, determination begins with a decision.

Pema Chodron describes “determination” as:

Rather than some kind of dogged pushing through, strong determination involves connecting with joy, relaxing and trusting. It’s determination to use every challenge you meet as an opportunity to open your heart and soften, determination not to withdraw.

I really like Pema Chodron’s description of “determination” because it rings true with my own experience. About three years ago, I took the Smiling Like a Buddha class and decided at that time that I wanted to sit for at least 10 minutes every day. For the past three years, I have experienced how that decision has become the determination for me to continue my practice on a daily basis.

Most of the time, it seems my determination is borne out of desperation to change unfavorable circumstances. Realizing I am not happy with various circumstances, I become determined to change. Determination requires a decision to make time for practice. Oftentimes, it means practice comes before other things. Practice moves to the top of the priority list.

By being determined to study and practice what I have learned, other things fall into line and the change happens. For example, noticing how I am feeling allows me the opportunity to offer myself compassion, which allows me to be kinder in my responses to others.

So, I am very interested in hearing about your experiences with determination and what role it plays in your practice. This Thursday evening after our sitting and walking meditation, we will have a dharma discussion on determination, which will be guided by these three questions:
1.  What is your experience with determination?
2. What has motivated you to be determined in your practice?
3. How do you stay dedicated to your determination?


Shawna Donaldson

From Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

“The problem is whether we are determined to go in the direction of compassion or not. If we are, then can we reduce the suffering to a minimum? If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *