Habits, Goals, and Character (Gathi)

1. As I mentioned before, Buddha Dhamma can be interpreted at three levels; see, “Foundation of Dhamma“. But the key to making progress at ANY LEVEL is to get rid of bad habits and instill good habits, because they mold one’s character even through the rebirth process.

  • The Pali (and Sinhala) word for character is “gathi“. One’s character can be changed (for good or bad) via changing one’s habits. These habits take deep roots when practiced over many lives, and becomes deep-seated cravings (“asavas“) that forms one’s character.
  • Some habits are harmless. For example, some people have the habit of shaking their legs while sitting. It could be annoying to some, but it is not “morally wrong”, i.e., it is not one of the ten defilements; see,  “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“.
  • But there are other habits, such as drinking, stealing, sexual misconduct, etc that are morally wrong and do belong to the ten defilements. Generating greedy or hateful thoughts can be a bad habit too. Some have a tendency to easily “flare up”.
  • Then there could some, like gambling, that could lead to immoral actions.
  • There are good habits too: giving, helping others, teaching, and being compassionate in general.

2. For someone at the highest level, the Sabbasava Sutta explains how one can work towards Nibbana in a systematic way by developing good habits (“gathi“) and removing asavas; see “Key Points from the Sabbasava Sutta” under “The Sotapanna Stage”.

3. Here we are going to look at it to see how those recommended steps can be used in the day-to-day life, i.e., for a moral life. Those steps can be used to remove any bad habits, for example, from alcohol or drug use, smoking, to eating too much.

  • They can also be used in achieving goals, say lose weight, getting rid of depression, or starting a new business. Achieving goals require building good habits.

4. A habit is something one gets used to by repeating it over and over. Good habits make a life easier to live with, and bad habits lead to bad results. Scientific studies have confirmed that our brains “can rewire its connections” (plasticity of the brain), thus getting rid of bad habits and instilling good ones. The trick is to “stick to a set procedure”. Many people give up before giving their brains enough time to “rewire”; this is why many “New Year resolutions” go unfulfilled.

One way to remove bad habits is to look at the bad consequences of such habits; see, “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gathi), and Cravings (Asavas)“.

5. The seven steps in the Sabbasava Sutta can be helpful for developing good habits for a moral life. These steps basically convince the mind of the benefits of good habits/downside of bad habits and set up a conducive environment.

The 7 steps in the Sabbasava Sutta (interpreted conventionally or “padaparama” interpretation):

  • Develop an understanding (learn all about the direct and indirect benefits, what is involved, the best way to go about achieving the goal, etc)
  • Discipline (Avoid getting distracted by things that provide “temporary pleasures”, like a drug addict thinking it is OK to “take a small puff” while working to be free of drugs).
  • Association (associate with knowledgeable people who can help and get to know other helpful resources)
  • Patience and tolerance (being thoughtful and not being agitated or “shaken off” by small inconveniences; having perseverance)
  • Avoidance (dissociating with people who have negative attitudes and avoiding unsafe places, practices, etc.)
  • Removal (suppressing discouraging thoughts by contemplating on the long-term benefits of the project)
  • Bhavana or “immersing in the project” (bhavana or meditation is constantly thinking about the main objective; getting the mind to focus on it).

6. A careful overview of what one has in mind (the goal) is needed first. Just like one should not undertake a journey without learning about the destination, the path, and the reason for the journey, one needs a clear vision of the goal, how it can be beneficial to oneself and others (family, friends, and even to the society), and the way to achieve it.

  • However, the steps are not to be followed sequentially. Once the overview is done and the decision to undertake the project is made, all steps should be used as appropriate. For example, the first and last items on the list (understanding and meditating) go hand-in-hand.

7. Those steps can be used by anyone to enhance the quality of life in general, a moral life with a “peace-of-mind”. They are the sensible things to do. For example, an important decision for anyone should be to live in a good area not prone to crime, floods, etc. Associating with immoral or people with negative attitudes is always to be avoided. Going out at inappropriate times, in inappropriate places, is just ‘asking for trouble”. If one carefully goes through the list, it will be clear why all those steps make common sense.

If you would like to read about how these habits develop into deep-seated sansaric habits or asavas, see, “Sansaric Habits, Character (Gathi)  and Cravings (Asava)“. Also, “The Four Bases of Mental Power (Satara Iddhipada)“, can be helpful in achieving goals .

Next, “Wrong Views (Micca Ditthi) – A Simpler Analysis“, ……….

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