Difference between a Wish and a Determination (Pāramitā)

1. It is easy to just wish for things, but a real determination has a firm commitment attached to it. A determination is a wish accompanied by a plan to make the wish come true.

  • One can drop a stone in water and can wish for it to come back up. That is NOT going to happen.
  • Some goals (wishes) can be attained in this life: quitting smoking, passing an exam, getting a good job, etc. But still one has to make an effort, i.e., one has to act with determination to achieve the wish.

2. Other goals can take many lifetimes to attain. These are called “pāramitā” (pronounced “pāramithā”). Depending on the goal, a pāramitā can take many, many lifetimes. It is said that to become a Buddha, one needs to have a firm commitment carried over billions of lives; that is a pāramitā. And it is not like that someone just makes a wish to become a Buddha; that “gati” or the ‘tendency” has to develop first over many lifetimes, initially starting with the habit of helping others and generally living a moral life.

  • Buddha Dhamma is all about causes and effects. If one can understand the causes for something to happen, and then work to make such cause to materialize, the effects WILL follow.

3. We can see that there are many people — some even may not have heard about Buddha Dhamma — making great efforts to help others even at the risk of their own lives. Those people have such saṃsāric habits and they do have goals, even if it may not be clear to them at all times. They are just driven by that saṃsāric habit. If they come across pure Dhamma by any chance, they may be able to focus their efforts accordingly.

  • To become an Arahant one needs to make a commitment and maintain it over many, many lives. We all are likely to have made that commitment in one or more lives; of course, we do not know. And if we had made such a commitment and have worked on it over many lives, it may be possible to fulfill it in this very life. Even otherwise, we can make a real effort to maintain that “pāramitā” and strengthen it.
  • Some make firm determinations to become a deva, a Brahma, an emperor, or just to be rich; there are millions of things that people wish for, and sometimes make firm determinations on. Some of them can come true in this lifetime itself, especially if that is a firm commitment coming from previous lives. Normally the word “pāramitā” is reserved for those commitments that target Nibbāna.

4. In physics, there is a simple law that says, “every action has a reaction”. In Buddha Dhamma, there is an even more generalized law: when one keeps doing something, an invisible energy buildup occurs that will result in a kamma bhava (potential energy) that will bring about a result (even a birth) of a similar kind.

5. For example, if one keeps drinking heavily, it WILL become a habit; the brain’s neural connections will get wired-up for it. If done long enough, it will get embedded in one’s psyche (i.e., in kamma seeds), and one is likely to be matched up with a mother who has similar drinking habits, and then it is likely that habit to continue in that life too. It takes a determined effort to “unwire” those neural connections, more than just a wish.

  • If one keeps doing activities that are suitable for a dog, one will increasingly act like a dog with such habits, and if that is kept up, eventually will be born a dog. It does not matter whether that person wished to be rich or powerful, what matters is what one habitually does. In his/her mind, one made that determination indirectly by acting accordingly.

6. In the same way, when one makes a determination to be “good”, and starts helping out others, and start learning and living by Dhamma, one will be heading to “good births” whether one wishes or not. Then they become deeply-ingrained habits that are taken from birth to birth, and become “pāramitās”.

  • Such dominant pāramitās may manifest as one’s character (“gati”).  As I mentioned previously, we can see such visible “gati” in many people, regardless of their official religion or culture.

7. Thus habits cultivate character (“gati”), and persistence of such strong character qualities or “gati” through many rebirths develop into “pāramitās”.

  • Especially in young children such “gati” may manifest and then it will be easier to cultivate them. For example, in the post on “Evidence for Rebirth” there is a video of a child reciting complex suttā; if he was encouraged to follow that path, he could be able to attain a stage of Nibbāna in this very life. Similarly, a child with any kind of natural talent can be encouraged to cultivate it easily, because those are saṃsāric habits.

8. Breaking a bad habit takes time too. It is best to cultivate an opposing good habit, or at least a neutral one so that one has the option of doing something when the urge comes. For example, if one wants to quit smoking, one could start chewing gum instead.

  • Both in developing a good habit or breaking a bad habit, one is bound to break the trend once in a while. A child learning to walk will fall many times. That is why one needs to have the perseverance to get back up with a renewed determination.

Whether one is making a determination on a mundane goal or to attain a stage of Nibbāna, the posts “Four Bases of Mental Power”, “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsavas)”, and “Habits, Goals, and Character (Gati)” could provide helpful information.

Next, “Key to Calming the Mind – The Five Hindrances“, …

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