Habits, Goals, and Character (Gati or Gathi)


Revised November 26, 2018; revised June 6, 2020

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 (gati) even though the rebirth process.

  • The Pāli (and Sinhala) word for “character” is “gati” (ගති). 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 become deep-seated cravings (“āsāvās“) that form 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. They belong to the ten defilements or dasa akusala. 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 Sabbāsava Sutta explains how one can work towards Nibbāna in a systematic way by developing good habits (“gati“) and removing āsāvās; see “Key Points from the Sabbāsava Sutta” under “The Sotāpanna Stage”.

3. Here we are going to look at it to see how those recommended steps can be used in day-to-day life, i.e., to live a moral life. Those steps can be used to remove any bad habits. Some examples are alcohol or drug use, smoking, and 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 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.

5. The seven steps in the Sabbāsava 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 Sabbāsava Sutta (interpreted conventionally or mundane or “padaparama” interpretation):

  • Cultivate an understanding. Learn all about the direct and indirect benefits, what is involved, the best way to go about achieving the goal, etc.
  • Be Disciplined. 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.
  • Associations are important. Associate with knowledgeable people who can help and get to know other helpful resources.
  • Patience and tolerance. Maintain focus and not get “shaken off” by inconveniences. Perseverance is critical.
  • Avoidance are as important as associations. Dissociate from people who have negative attitudes and avoiding unsafe places, practices, etc.
  • Removal of hindrances. Suppress discouraging thoughts by contemplating on the long-term benefits of the project.
  • Bhāvanā or “immersing in the project.” That means constantly thinking about the main objective and the ways to get there.

6. A good idea of the goal is needed first. One should not undertake a journey without learning about the destination and how to get there. It is a good idea to explore how it can be beneficial to oneself and others (family, friends, and even to society) too.

  • 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 above 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 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.
  • Going out at inappropriate times, in inappropriate places, is just ‘asking for trouble” even in daily life.
  • It is critical to avoid associating with immoral people and also those with negative attitudes.
  • 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 saṃsāric habits or āsāvās, see, “Saṃsāric Habits, Character (Gati)  and Cravings (Āsava)“. Also, “The Four Bases of Mental Power (Satara Iddhipada)“, can be helpful in achieving goals.

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

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