“Resolution” has several meanings. The commonly held definition, particularly at the turn of each New Year, is the idea of committing to doing something differently, to improve oneself. Yet people often forget the other definition that needs to accompany this kind of resolution: the resolution denoting a strong will, the idea of perseverance and tenacity. Therefore we need to have two kinds of resolution. Aligning one kind of resolution (what we wish to be and do) with the other resolution (the necessary persistence) requires character. In the meantime, we have our eye on the long-term goal: not to merely benefit ourselves, but to be of service to all beings.
This is not a new idea. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Six Perfections (paramita) of generosity (dana), morality (sila), tolerance (ksanti), energy (virya), meditation (dhyana), and wisdom (prajna) are qualities that, if taken seriously, shape a person into effectively a theological force of nature—a spiritual and ethical force that can fulfill their resolutions with resolution.
In his book, The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character, Dale S. Wright observed: “Character is a disposition to engage in the world in view of a chosen end, a tendency to impress a ‘thought of enlightenment’ upon all acts and choices. When you act in view of your own vision of the good, your acts will be shaped by that vision, and through that shaping, your character will gradually be formed.” (Wright 2009, 8) However, the formation of character only has self-development as one initial step. As Wright notes: “From a Buddhist point of view, we are always in the process of shaping ourselves to be more attentive to the needs of everyone, even when, at an advanced point of development, we no longer think of it primarily as a process of shaping ourselves. There is no end to the need to open ourselves to the world.” (Wright 2009, 12)
Wright’s handling of the Six Perfections is admirable and comprehensive, but what about “the need to open ourselves to the world?” At heart this is about the need for a mindful encounter with the world and other subjective agents. An encounter is, at its deepest level, fundamentally character-building because it is an encounter of different agencies—whether it is an encounter between different cultures and nations, between humanity and the divine, or between people of two different faith traditions. The “encounter” is a theological activity, a meeting of subjects that demands an articulation of meaning. I am not qualified to teach formal theology and I am not trained in any form of pastoral care. Nevertheless, due to my reading Buddhist Studies and Christian theology (and their intersection via interfaith studies or Buddhist-Christian dialogue) in my university years, I like to think of my character as one that approaches life and sees the world in a vitally theological, pastoral way.
Despite my constant failures and mishaps since beginningless time, and taking into account all the mistakes I’ll inevitably commit and shortcomings I’ll have to correct in the future, I resolve to reaffirm this commitment to building my character in this way, in alignment with the Mahayana vision and the theological-pastoral approach. I deeply hope that we can all resolve to nurture our characters this year, and live more happily and meaningfully as a result.
Dale S. Wright. 2009. The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character. New York: Oxford University Press.