Originally posted at Buddhist in Nebraska as “Stubborn Is” on May 14, 2009. Recently remembered while watching ‘How to Train Your Dragon.’ The main character describes Vikings as having “stubbornness issues.” Great movie!
Someone suggested being stubborn is merely a manifestation of the desire to be right. Naturally, I immediately disagreed. Stubborn has nothing to do with being right, I proclaimed, and anyone who understands their own stubborn nature will tell you that. True, it was agreed, but it still has everything to do with wanting to be right, they claimed. Of course, I held my ground. Being a trained skeptic with a stubborn nature leads me to arguements as surely as if I had a ring in my nose.
Stubborn is a much more subtle thing, I insisted. It is an addiction that is difficult to overcome for it lives deep inside our very bones. When stubborn rises up, I feel not the desire to be right, but simply a desire to be stubborn, to hold fast, to push and be pushed. I view it in the same way a sportsman may view a worthy opponent or a connoisseur a very good bottle of wine.
This is, perhaps, a mistake – more than a mistake, a perverse irony of nature. I have often also written of the suffering in obstinacy. I sometimes feel I am being stubborn not out of spite, but rather in spite of myself. In spite of my own higher reasoning. Yet I make a virtue out of what is sometimes a flaw in character. Why? Because I’m damned good at it! This, then, is also pride, and pride is ego. In order to believe that “I” am “good” at something, there must first be an “I” to be good, or bad, or any other adjective.
The First Noble Truth shows all life is suffering. I push because it gives me pleasure, but in too short a time, that pleasure turns to suffering, is underlain by suffering, is built upon a foundation of suffering as surely as the walls of a fortress. If the suffering were absent, I would feel no need to push at all, no need to seek pleasure as a temporary distraction. But if stubbornness is born of suffering, that leads us back to ego, for “who” is it that suffers? I do. Right?
It seems right at first blush because we have stubbornly clung to this notion for the entirety of our existence, from the moment of our first wail in that cold delivery room. Then something changes, something comes along and tells us “Nope, sorry kids, ya got it all wrong.” We have found the Dharma. As a skeptic, I naturally think “Ah-ha! Here is something that questions the most fundamental assumptions of my nature! I like this!” Suddenly I find myself stubbornly clinging to two competing ideas, both born of the desire to end suffering. One seeks to destroy the suffering, to quench it with an ocean of pleasure, while the other seeks to destroy that which suffers, or rather, to see that it was never really there to begin with.
Like two knights in battle, the same blacksmith made their swords. I stubbornly refuse to give up my ideas about the person that I am – that person is a skeptic and because I am a skeptic I stubbornly refuse to believe I am the person that I appear to be. I won’t give up samsara but I won’t give in to it at the same time. I’m chock full of clinging, raging with attachment! And I just can’t get over it. Not that there is anything to get over and not that there is anyone to do the getting over, but all the same, I just can’t get over it.
This idea that “I can’t get over it” I know to be completely and utterly false. I have no desire for it to be right, no desire to be vindicated in this mockery of a belief, every desire to be wrong. In the end, what I desire and what I cling to are completely separate from and often in contradiction of one another. It’s the great irony of stubborness. It’s wanting the person you are arguing with to be right, but more, to be able to prove they are right in a way that somehow pries open our minds and cuts the strings of our attachment! We are all seeking that “Eureka!” moment, on the cushion or anywhere else. Some of us are waiting for the bell to ring, while others of us are demanding it like a slap in the face. I’ll settle for nothing less – nothing less than being completely and utterly wrong.
That is what being stubborn is.