Every new year, I feel like “Gosh, what happened to the last 12 months? What did I do”? I think about what I did last year and then about what I will do for the next 12 months. Sometimes, it is a little uneasy because you are interrogating yourself. My mind has to say, “I played a lot of disc golf”. Then when you think, “What did you do what was meaningful?”, it can be hard to show a big thing. But when you sit down and think carefully you realize, “Yes, there were some meaningful things.
Sometimes though, when you wonder what you did in the past, it is hard to be satisfied. Why? Because you don’t see how much you did. Instead, you see a lot of things that you could not do. “I read that book but could not finish. I wrote that thing I wanted to write but could not finish. There were a lot of things we could not do. Then, reflecting on the past year to the next year, we think, is it going to be the same or not? Maybe many of you are doing similar things. Some people are very lucky and don’t think that way.
Then there is the New Year Resolution. You are trying to promise to yourself to do something: “In this new year I will do something. I will change something. I will fix some of my problems.” I think that is great. That is a good sign if you have this kind of thing in your head. In that case, in the beginning of the year is really important to create a dream for the new year, setting a sort of goal, even if there is only a 40% chance to accomplish it.
Even if you set up a goal this year but you can’t do it, then maybe next year you will do it. But if you don’t set up anything, there is no difference between the New Year and a new day. Every day is a new day.
When you set up a goal, and if you are very slow mover doing things very slowly, like taking a month to take one thing from this table to another table, you can’t finish things on time and have problems with finishing things. If you have these problems, create a goal to finish something. Finishing is very important. If you don’t finish something, it is hard to start another thing.
Therefore, set up a goal to finish something. If you have the tendency to do things slowly, if you have anxiety problems, feeling anxious very easily, feeling uncomfortable about small things and getting scared and worrying too much, then create a goal to learn how to keep calm most times.
If you are impulsive, doing things immediately without thinking, then learn how to not act immediately. If someone says something to you, you don’t have to say something back immediately.
Motivation and Discipline
The first thing you need is the motivation to fix it, to learn it. The second thing is to train yourself in it.
Then if you are bad at managing your money – some people are very kind and gentle but cannot manage their money. When they get money today, tomorrow everything has disappeared. They spend it here and there and give here and there. If you have this kind of problem, set a goal to save money on the side. I think this is very practical. There are many, many things you can set up as a goal for the New Year.
Then when you are planning small things like changing your behavior or finishing a particular work, to do that, when you plan it, don’t plan too many things. If you plan too many things that will become an obstruction. You will not fix everything. If you think, “I will fix my desire, may anger, my jealousy, my laziness – all those negative emotions – the whole list”, then what you are saying is: I will not fix anything. It will not happen.
So always prioritize one thing to fix. Prioritizing one thing first is the best method to accomplish something.
Atisha, the great Indian teacher who came to Tibet and revised Tibetan Buddhism, said, “Life is too short and there are too many things outside.” For example, think about sports: you can play tennis or golf, you can ride bikes, you can play soccer, football, hockey, ice hockey, field hockey, you can play pickleball, you can jump from airplanes, or you mountain bike riding – there are tons of things.
But do one thing that is available, that you like and that fits in your lifestyle. You can do hiking or whatever exercise and enjoy your life that way. Otherwise, when you plan a whole bunch of things you are actually doing nothing.
Life is very short and there are too many things to do. Not only sports, there are shows to watch, places to go to, there are lots of things.
If you want to study, there are lots of things to study. If you want to study about food you can spend your whole life on learning about food. There are lots of things to study.
Choose one thing to do, something you need, something that is necessary. Why? Even though you have the guts to do these things, you don’t have time to do all of these things.
Since we don’t have that much time to waste, we have to prioritize. Pick up something that you really need to do or want to do – and do it first, as animals do. That’s very interesting. Atisha uses the example of ducks drinking milk from the water.
When you look at animals, they are so smart in their way. The dogs will choose their toys or food over money. If they are hungry they will choose food, if they are not hungry they will choose toys. If you give birds food and they find a twig, what are they going to choose? They may choose the twig over food. Why? They need twigs to build their nest. They may already have food. So those little, small animals take what they need, what’s useful and meaningful.
We human beings keep lots of stuff, things we don’t need, things that no longer even fit. Likewise, we are doing too many things we don’t have to do and don’t need to do. And we are not doing what we really need to do.
Time is limited and we don’t have extra time to do extra things. Therefore, sometimes, in order to do one thing, you have to give up another thing. That is very important.
There’s a Tibetan phrase about a toothless old dog with a big bone. The dog cannot chew the bone, but it won’t let another dog have it and they will sit next to the bone and growl at other dogs, yet they cannot chew on it.
Sometimes we are like that. We cannot do the job, but we don’t let other people do it. We keep thinking, “I will do that, I will do that, I will do that”, but we cannot finish it. Instead of doing that, we should think, “I will do this, I can do it” and give up on other things or let other people do them.
So therefore, don’t plan too many things. Just plan one thing for next year. It could be a small thing like “I will develop how to handle my emotions”, or “I will develop how to be satisfied with things”, “I will develop not complaining about everything”, “I will develop forgiveness”, “I will develop being more friendly to others” – right, “I will develop going out”.
Honestly, if you stay indoors all the time, like in a lock down with your doors locked – unless you are doing big meditation retreat there – you are just suffocating yourself in a small house. If there is snow you should enjoy, saying “Oh yeah, there is snow!”, instead of saying, “The snow is so bad, I have to shovel it.” Then if it is a little bit warmer, also appreciate that.
Anyway, to develop things, like if you have a goal to develop bodhicitta, the first thing is the motivation. That is a seed. Then even if you cannot do it now, you can do it next year. The second step is to have some discipline. That’s the first thing to move forward.
If you don’t have discipline, you need to create discipline. It is like putting yourself in the driver’s seat. If you don’t put yourself in the driver’s seat you cannot drive the car. How can you drive? Maybe you can do it like a backseat driver! So you first have to motivate yourself, and then, sit in the driver’s seat.
Likewise, if you want to do something you have to give a time. You have to put yourself in the situation to do it. I don’t mean to force yourself but give yourself the opportunity to do something and the discipline for yourself to do something.
If you want to learn something you dedicate time to do that. Maybe you have to go to a place and just put yourself in the situation. That is very important. Then don’t be scared to say yes – or no. Some people are scared to say yes. Some people are scared to say no. Both are wrong.
When people give you the opportunity, if there is a situation and you think that is good for you, don’t be scared to say yes. If you are scared to say yes that means you are not giving an opportunity to yourself. If you think you should do it, at least you should say, “I can try”, or “I will try to be there.”
Then some people are scared to say no. That is also a problem. They are torturing themselves in their lives doing things they don’t like to do, that they don’t want to do. Therefore, don’t say always no, don’t say always yes. But don’t say it randomly. Don’t think, “I said yes yesterday, so I should say no tomorrow.” That is wrong. You should think: shall I do it or not?
Meritful people’s wishes will come true
In one of the sutras, Buddha said: “Merit, virtue, good karma, brings you happiness and eliminates your problems. Meritful people’s wishes will come true.”
Buddha did not say: People’s wishes will come true, nor that faithful people’s wishes will come true. He said meritful people’s wishes will come true.
So what is merit? Merit is your work, what you accumulate, what you earned. If you do nothing, if you sleep the whole day, lying down here and there, always being a couch potato or whatever, then you don’t accumulate merit at all. If you don’t have merit, your wishes will not become true.
Even if want to pray for something, you need to do something. If you are helping others, if you are being kind….. look at the laughing Buddha. The image of the laughing Buddha – do you think it is kind? As a human being, if you are just sitting in a corner and not bugging others and you might have that smile all the time even if you get upset, but that will not accumulate merit enough.
To accumulate merit you should show your kindness to others. If someone says something to you, if something happens to you, then you can practice patience and helping others. Praying for others, whatever. You have to work and through the work you accumulate merit. Once you have merit there is a chance that your wish will become true or that something happens.
The main point is: a New Year is not a year where you make a wish and do nothing. The New Year is when you make a wish, make a plan and try to do it. Even if there is just a 40% chance that it will happen, that is still okay. You plan that way.
Then next year, sometimes you don’t remember what you planned last year, but sometimes you remember, “Last year I planned that I will do this and that. Now look, I didn’t even start it.” Or you might find, “I did a little bit.” Then you do it again if you really want. Or you can close the chapter. You can do something else.
You will accomplish something
I wish you will accomplish something in this new year. I am not thinking any of you will build pyramids or something, but do at least small things, change yourself, from being lazy to becoming a little active, from being short-tempered to becoming less short-tempered, whatever – develop something. If you develop these good qualities then I am 100% sure it will make you happier.
I am talking about your education of training, of handling yourself. This kind of knowledge. The more knowledge you have, the less and less problems you will get and even though there are problems you can solve them by yourself.
Demo Rinpoche – Ancient Wisdom. Modern Times # 153, January 22, 2023
Posted on Monday, October 16th, 2023