The eighth of the ten paramis, or perfections, adhitthana parami is the unshakable determination to engage in actions that benefit others and lead to enlightenment. In the Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 140), a wanderer named Pukkusati tells a stranger he has gone forth into homelessness in a dedicated search for the Buddha­—not realizing that he has just unwittingly found him! Recognizing his great faith, the incognito Buddha offers Pukkusati a teaching on the “four skilled determinations.” A person of the Way, he says, is diligent about discernment, or right view; guards truthfulness; is devoted to renunciation; and trains in tranquility. Someone who understands these teachings “is free from longing…[and is] said to be a sage at peace.”

Just as the Buddha is finishing his discourse, Pukkusati recognizes him and begs to be ordained. Lacking a full set of robes and a bowl (the Buddha’s requirements for ordination), the wanderer sets off in search of what he needs. Unfortunately, before he can return, he’s killed by a runaway cow. Not a happy-ending sutta, it would seem. And yet earnest Pukkusati received the unexpected gift of the Buddha’s private teaching and, as the great teacher later reveals to a group of monks, rebirth in the Pure Abodes—both fitting rewards for Pukkusati’s unshakable faith and determination.

  • “The four aspects of skilled determination highlight the importance of establishing wise priorities and sticking to them regardless of the temptation to sacrifice them for lesser aims. In this way, they help guard against a common problem in approaching practice in daily life: a tendency to indulge in the self-delusion that can justify any activity, as long as it’s done mindfully, as part of the path.” —Bhikkhu Bodhi
  • Tip: Take stock of the reasons you give yourself for engaging in activities that take you away from your aim to be at peace and attain liberation. Resolve to return, again and again, to those actions that will help you along the path.
  • “We must also, and always, be determined to be compassionate. Adhitthana, the spiritual perfection of determination, comes from embracing the whole of our flawed and wondrous humanity.” —Sister Ocean
  • “Even if you have the tendency to make a determination but only stick to it for two or three days, it is OK as long as you keep refreshing that determination.” —Daisaku Ikeda
  • Tip: “Unshakable determination” can be described as determination that when shaken doesn’t shake us. In other words, we don’t have to worry about being perfect in our determination. All we have to do is renew it when we’ve wavered.

This is the eighth installment of Pocket Paramis, our series on the ten perfections: generosity, ethical conduct, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, lovingkindness, and equanimity. A printable version is available here.

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