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On Making and Maintaining Determinations

Illustration by VectorStory / Getty Images

New Year’s resolutions have existed, in some form, for around 4,000 years. (Think ancient Babylonians making promises to the gods to return borrowed objects and pay off debts.) And while these resolutions have decidedly religious origins, today, they are largely promises we make to ourselves. Perhaps being the only one to hold ourselves accountable is one reason we have trouble keeping them. Recent research shows that of the 45% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, 8% are successful.[1]

Now with 2022 upon us, our resolutions might seem a lot different than they were nearly two years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic began and when we may have sought to reduce single-use plastic consumption and read more, scroll less. Be that as it may, setting a goal is the starting point for our development. As Ikeda Sensei puts it: “A person with firm goals is way ahead of a person who has none.”[2]

So, in the SGI’s Year of Youth and Dynamic Progress, how do we not only maintain our New Year’s resolutions but realize them? Let’s take a look at four key takeaways from the Buddhist perspective.

LESSON 1: Decide to Achieve Something Without Fail

First things, first: When we set New Year’s resolutions, a good place to start is to decide that we will achieve them no matter what. In Buddhism, making a determination is different than wishing or hoping. When we simply wish for something to happen, it implies that achieving our goals is beyond our control. Setting a determination, however, means that we will achieve our goal regardless of the obstacles that come our way. Sensei explains to a member struggling in this regard:

All things, our struggles in life and activities for kosen-rufu included, are determined by powerful and unwavering resolve. The cause for defeat, too, lies not in the obstacles we face or the severity of our situation but only in an ebbing or breakdown in our inner determination. … When our resolve weakens, all we can see are giant obstacles looming on the horizon. We end up believing that they are immovable realities.[3]

So now that we’ve developed a vision, what is our plan of action? Some say that it takes, on average, 250 job applications to receive one solid offer. If we want to entertain at least four offers, that means we should send out 1,000 applications. (This amounts to applying to three jobs a day on average for nearly a year.) In any case, Sensei taught us the formula for victory during the historic Osaka Campaign of 1956, writing in The New Human Revolution:

Shin’ichi [Yamamoto][4] began by determining to win the victory and then traced the process backward to decide on the first step to be taken in the campaign.[5]

So let’s firmly decide that we will achieve our 2022 goals and use a clear action plan to create a path to victory.

LESSON 2: Fuse Our Personal Goals With a Grand Purpose

Remember the mere 8% of Americans who achieved their New Year’s resolutions? It can be challenging to strive toward our goals without a purpose that extends beyond our personal satisfaction. On the road to sending a thousand job applications, we are bound to second-guess ourselves or become discouraged. When we hit an obstacle, why push through the resistance?

At Soka University in Japan, you’ll find these words from Sensei engraved on a monument. They read: “For what purpose should one cultivate wisdom? May you always ask yourself this question! Only labor and devotion to one’s mission give life its worth.”[6] When we establish a deeper purpose and sense of mission in striving toward our goals, we develop an inner conviction that can weather any storm along the journey.

Consider this episode from The New Human Revolution, where, on Shin’ichi Yamamoto’s first visit to France, he encouraged a member who was determined to buy a house. Sensei said, “If your only motivation is that you simply want a house, it might take a long time for your prayer to be answered.” He continues:

You should make a pledge to carry out kosen-rufu for the sake of the happiness and prosperity of the people of France and chant wholeheartedly for that. For example, you can pray, “I will dedicate my life to achieving kosen-rufu in France. Therefore, I need a house so that I may gain trust in the community and be able to provide members with a place to meet.” …

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo based on a vow and wish to achieve kosen-rufu by showing people the way to attain absolute happiness is the same type of prayer shared by all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Earth. When you pray like this, the Buddha nature within your own life will open up and raise your life condition to such a degree that you can even move the universe. When that happens, you will be able to realize your wish to buy a house without fail.[7]

As we strive toward our goals this year, consider how they will contribute to the happiness of ourselves and others. After writing down our goals, try adding “for the sake of kosen-rufu” and chanting toward that end. By fusing our personal determinations with our vow for kosen-rufu, we can tap into the profound inner qualities necessary to realize even more astonishing achievements still.

LESSON 3: When Our Determination Wanes, Redetermine!

Throughout the year, we are bound to face obstacles that weaken our determination. A few days into the New Year, after the sheen of the holidays wears off, we may begin to question whether our goals are really possible. Or come December, we may feel like, despite our best efforts, we won’t be able to achieve our resolutions. These feelings are quite natural, as we can never predict what life will throw at us; and yes, sometimes our determinations take on different shapes throughout the year.

The key is to continue refreshing our determination until our goals are realized. When asked about the difficulty in following through with determinations, Sensei says:

Even if you have the tendency to make a determination but only stick to it for two or three days, it is OK as long as you keep refreshing that determination.[8]

If we renew our determination every three days, that equals refreshing our resolve some 120 times throughout the year. If we continue in this way, not only will we make outstanding progress toward our goals, but we will also develop into people of great perseverance who are not defeated by their circumstances.

It’s natural to get down on ourselves, or feel like there’s something wrong with us if our goals slip out of reach. But a crucial aspect of Buddhist practice is to never give up. Japanese philosopher Inazo Nitobe, who was a close friend of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, observed: “Those courageous enough to fall down seven times but get up eight have a bright future ahead of them.”[9] Ultimately, this means that no matter how many times we fall, as long as we get back up, we will develop an inner confidence that cannot be shaken by any external obstacle.

Developing this undefeated self is the ultimate purpose of our Buddhist practice. In this sense, striving toward specific goals provides us with the means to develop ourselves and attain Buddhahood. Sensei writes about the importance of this journey, saying:

No one has ever triumphed in life without experiencing failures and setbacks. True victors in life are those who have persevered through hardship, stood often on the edge of despair, yet pressed forward, again and again. Though you may have defeats and failures, you mustn’t allow them to make you downcast and pessimistic. The only real defeat is when you give up and devalue yourself. Those who are patient and persistent win out in the end.[10]

Here, we learn that victory or defeat is decided in our hearts, not by anyone or anything outside us. By developing an undefeated self, we are guaranteed to savor profound victories that are ours eternally.

LESSON 4: Continue Chanting No Matter What

Throughout our journey, remember, above all, the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to realize our determinations. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that when we chant, we activate the life state of Buddhahood from time without beginning. Nichiren Daishonin writes, “It is the power of the Buddhist Law that enables the deities of the sun and moon to make their rounds of the four continents.”[11] Sensei elaborates on this passage, writing:

The fundamental power activating and moving all stars, planets and other celestial bodies in the universe is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. It is an incredible force. And we of the SGI embrace faith in this great Mystic Law. We chant the most powerful and supreme rhythm of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. … Let’s win and open the way forward in all spheres, day after day and year after year, living in rhythm with the Mystic Law and making the entire universe our ally.[12]

How fortunate we are to have Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the Gohonzon, the most powerful tools for fighting for our dreams and building a life state of unshakable happiness. When we chant, let’s have the conviction that our determination will permeate the universe. Sensei discusses the power of our determination in this way:

Our innermost determination can move the universe. Because cause and effect are simultaneous, all results are encompassed in our present resolve. Determination is not just words. True determination contains earnest prayer and brims with concentrated energy. It gives rise to wholehearted action and leads without fail to splendid victory.[13]

As we embark on 2022, the Year of Youth and Dynamic Progress, let’s set bold determinations for our personal development and for the dynamic progress of our districts, the “provinces” where we have been entrusted with the propagation of Buddhism.[14]

Now, for a recap: 1) Set concrete goals and determine to achieve them no matter what. Our determinations aren’t dictated by our circumstances but rather by our inner resolve to achieve something without fail. 2) Fuse our determinations with a vow for kosen-rufu. Think about how our personal achievements this year will inspire our friends, family and fellow members in our districts. 3) If our determination wanes, it’s OK. We just need to redetermine and never give up. Through this process, we will deepen our confidence in ourselves and become people who are never defeated by anyone or anything, which is ultimately the purpose of practicing Buddhism. 4) Have conviction in the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the Gohonzon. When we chant with a focused determination, we propel our lives forward in the most positive direction. Through these efforts, we will definitely find ourselves on the path to victory in all our endeavors.

References

  1. https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-
    resolution-statistics/ <accessed on November 22, 2021>. ↩︎
  2. Discussions on Youth, third edition, p. 24. ↩︎
  3. The New Human Revolution, vol. 3, pp. 11–13./ref]

    Another reason people tend to give up on their determinations is that, from the start, they are vague. When our goals aren’t defined, it can be difficult to figure out where to start or what steps to take to achieve them. Some examples include: “Become healthier,” “Make more friends” or “Get a better job.” While making these goals in general is a great start, it’s important to consider more specifically what we want to achieve. For example, “Walk 5,000 steps a day,” “Carve out time once a week to build a friendship” or “Get a job where I can apply my passions.” Sensei shares this about taking the next step:

    If you set a concrete goal, clearly visualize what you want to achieve and then do your absolute best, you are certain to attain results that will satisfy you. The important thing is that you make daily, diligent efforts. No matter how difficult or challenging your circumstances, you need to keep striving with all your might without giving up. That is how you develop the roots of your life. Great trees have deep roots.[ref]NHR-14, 271–72. ↩︎

  4. Daisaku Ikeda appears in The New Human Revolution as the character Shin’ichi Yamamoto. ↩︎
  5. The Human Revolution, p. 1311. ↩︎
  6. www.soka.ac.jp/en/about/philosophy/mission <accessed on November 22, 2021>. ↩︎
  7. NHR-21, 249–51. ↩︎
  8. Discussions on Youth, p. 24. ↩︎
  9. December 3, 2021, World Tribune, p. 3. ↩︎
  10. NHR-26, 46. ↩︎
  11. “On Consecrating an Image of Shakyamuni Buddha,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 685. ↩︎
  12. February 12, 2010, World Tribune, p. 5. ↩︎
  13. NHR-10, 197. ↩︎
  14. See “The Properties of Rice,” WND-1, 1117. ↩︎

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