by Jihii Jolly
Almost half a year ago many of us made resolutions for the new year. Perhaps we resolved to do more or less of something, depending on if we were in a glass half full or empty kind of mood. For most, resolutions are born of the desire improve the quality of our lives and kick the habits that prevent us from being healthy, productive, and enjoying great relationships.
But to sustain these resolutions is no small feat; we may not even remember what our resolutions were. Bringing out your best self can be terribly challenging when faced with the daily grind of work, or school, topped with the endless cycle of negative media about tragedy, corruption, and war.
Can Buddhism help? Nichiren Buddhism is centered on the lifelong practice of human revolution or bringing forth our inner reserves of courage, wisdom, and compassion to all of our daily actions and interactions.
Here are five Buddhist resolutions (for any time of year!) on bringing out your best self in a very fundamental way, as explained by philosopher Daisaku Ikeda.
1. Find the strength in your weaknesses.
We often lament our weaknesses. Every day we go over our laundry lists of things we’d like to change about ourselves: “I’m too quiet, slow, careless,” etc. What we don’t realize is that each of these shortcomings are actually also indicative of our strengths. “For example,” explains Ikeda, “a person’s shyness can be transformed into valuable qualities such as prudence and discretion, while someone’s impatience might be transformed into a knack for getting things done quickly and efficiently.” (Discussions on Youth pg. 97) What’s most important is that we don’t begrudge ourselves (or anyone around us) for seemingly undesirable characteristics, but instead, focus our energy and intention on making the best use of those characteristics.
2. Face the things that make you unhappy or uncomfortable.
Running away from the things that make us unhappy is actually what causes suffering. We have to “look unflinchingly at the people and things in our lives that are making us unhappy,” writes Ikeda (Discussions on Youth pg. 100). Anxiety, for example, often comes from uncertainty about our future. If we don’t look squarely at what is making us feel this way, our anxiety only grows. Looking at the source of our fears, which are often smaller and more manageable than we think, makes them easier to conquer.
3. Take the first step now, even if it’s a small one.
Buddhism is a philosophy of action. Getting into the habit of immediately taking the first step toward our goals or tasks, even if it’s uncomfortable, propels us toward the next one, and the next one after that. “Life is a struggle with ourselves,” writes Ikeda. “It is a tug-of-war between moving forward and regressing, between happiness and unhappiness.” (Discussions on Youth pg. 98) He encourages young people to try challenging some task--anything at all--and keep at it until they are certain they have done their best. This helps develop the habit of taking action, which is strengthened by the belief we gain in our capacity to actually get things done.
4. See people and situations for what they really are.
According to Buddhism, every person is endowed with the same limitless potential for enlightenment and happiness no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Their worth isn’t determined by social status, success or wealth. If we strive to view people in this manner, we free ourselves from the delusions of hate or jealousy, because we don’t evaluate the people around us as better as or worse than us based on superficial criteria. “[Buddhism] teaches us to look at a person through the eyes of the Law and the eyes of the Buddha,” writes Ikeda. “In other words, to focus on a person’s life, state of being and what is inside, just as it is, free of external embellishments... Truly respectable are those who based their lives on the truth--on the reality of things.” (Discussions on Youth pg. 30)
5. Courage is the key to developing compassion.
What we typically think of as an act of compassion- simply feeling bad for someone or writing a check to a favorite charity-appear not to require courage. However, everyday forms of compassion such as checking in on a friend who hasn’t seemed like themselves lately or speaking out when you see someone being manipulated or used, require tremendous courage. As Ikeda shares, “Courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin. Compassion without courage is not genuine. You may have a compassionate thought or impulse, but if you don’t do or say anything, it’s not real compassion.” By mustering the courage to take action to relieve the sufferings of others, we manifest true compassion. In this way, Ikeda explains, “if we act with courage, we find that our compassion for others grows deeper.” (Discussions on Youth pg. 336)