This is the time of year when many of us feel compelled to strengthen our resolve – often with the practice of setting new years’ resolutions. The word ‘resolution’ comes from the Latin resolvō (to loosen, thaw, melt again), In English vernacular “resolution” is used to describe such terms such as: new years resolutions, conflict resolution, legislative resolutions etc…. Resolutions often reflect an individual’s aspirations, and priorities: whether it’s improving physical health, cultivating mindfulness, or enhancing relationships, resolutions tend to be aligned with personal values and their external expressions.
In Vedic philosophy this concept speaks to our inherent willful nature, developing determination known as “sankalpa” The word saṃkalpa is derived from the root klṛp meaning “to bring about/determination” with the prefix sam which means ”to become whole with” it refers to a sacred resolve or intention that serves as the compass directing the course of our actions and thoughts. Saṅkalpa is tied to the yogi’s spiritual aspirations. It is also a conscious commitment, but the main difference from a resolution is that a sankalpa starts from the radical premise that you already are who you need to be to be happy or to reach your dharma. Determination does not take root all of a sudden; it is the revelation of a deep-rooted desire to achieve alignment with our cosmic Self, the Ātman. Much like a seed carrying the potential of a mighty tree, our sankalpa has the capacity to germinate and reveal our greatest purpose.
This biblical scale of conflict in the world right now, magnifies the impetus for our rooted determination. Suffering has always existed and Mother Earth, with her inhabitants of all species, colors and faiths are struggling with conflicts of life and death and all the seasons in between as she always has. However humans create rules, religions, laws, resolutions etc. to control and protect what is ours – moving us further away from our dharma. Master Patanjali describes these obstacles to our Self-realization as 5 kleshas: ávidyā (misknowing), asmitā (ego), rāga (passion), dveṣa (aversion), & abhiniveśāḥ (fear of death). These obstacles are the root of our internal conflicts preventing us from knowing our purpose.
The epic Mahabharata tells the story of Bhishma, son of Ganga who was a warrior of unwavering determination and deep resolve. In the great Kurukshetra war, as arrows filled the air and warriors clashed, Bhishma lay on a bed of arrows, awaiting the moment of his own choosing to depart from this world. This sankalpa, his solemn vow, was born out of his unwaivering commitment to his duty. In the midst of chaos, Bhishma’s sankalpa echoed through the battlefield, serving as a beacon of guidance for those who would listen. Sankalpa is not confined to the serene setting of a yoga studio or the beginning of a calendar year. It is forged in the crucible of life’s challenges, amidst the clamor of conflicting duties and moral dilemmas. Bhishma’s unwavering resolve teaches us that we too can anchor ourselves in our principles and make a conscious commitment to uphold a Higher standard.
What principles do we hold dear? What higher purpose guides our actions in the face of life’s challenges? According to Richard Miller, PhD, a clinical psychologist and scholar in the Advaita Vedanta, a sankalpa arrives with everything needed to fully realize it. This includes icchā (will and energy), kriyā (action), and jñāna (the wisdom of how to deliver that action). “These are all aspects of the Divine, and they live within us. When the true sankalpa arises, we awaken these three qualities of the Divine. You don’t have to ask where you’ll find the will to do it. The energy and will is already there. The sankalpa informs us of the action we’re willing to take into the world.”
In the Gita, Lord Krishna speaks of the power of sankalpa as a force that propels our actions. In this realm, sankalpa is not merely a resolution to do or not do a certain thing, it is a deep, unwavering commitment that emerges as our most Divine will.
Like the asana practice, life’s dance is replete with dualities; joy and sorrow, success and failure, conflict and resolution. Developing sankalpa invites us to move gracefully through these dualities without being ensnared by attachment or aversion. The yogi learns to move through life’s challenges with resilience, wisdom and an open heart. This becomes the thread that connects the beads of breath, movement, and awareness, creating a mala of mindfulness. As Sharon Gannon says: “You cannot do yoga, yoga is your natural state, what you can do are practices that may reveal where you may be resisting yoga”.
Sankalpa is not an idea but a living, breathing force that propels us forward on the path of enlightenment. With each breath, we can renew our commitment to be present and awake.