Mar 30, 2015

On Guarding Alertness

Three Fragments from a Buddhist Scripture

Acharya Shantideva 



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Editorial Note:

We reproduce below three groups of
stanzas selected from Chapter V of  the
work “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s
Way of Life”, by Acharya Shantideva.
A Buddhist monk, Shantideva taught in the
monastic university of Nalanda, India, in the 8th
century, CE. Chapter V is entitled “Guarding Alertness”.

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1. Guarding the Mind

Those who wish to guard their practice
Should very attentively guard their minds
For those who do not guard their minds
Will be unable to guard their practice.

In this (world) unsubdued and crazed elephants
Are incapable of causing such harms
As the miseries of the deepest hell
Which can be caused by the unleashed elephant of my mind.

But if the elephant of my mind is firmly bound
On all sides by the rope of mindfulness,
All fears will cease to exist
And all virtues will come into my hand.

Tigers, lions, elephants, bears,
Snakes and all forms of enemies,
The guardians of the hell worlds,
Evil spirits and cannibals,

Will all be bound by binding my mind alone,
And will all be subdued
By subduing my mind alone.

The Perfect Teacher himself has shown
That in this way all fears
As well as all boundless miseries
Originate from the mind.

Who intentionally created
All the weapons for those in hell?
Who created the burning iron ground?
From where did all the women (in hell) ensue?

The Mighty One has said that all such things
Are (the workings of) an evil mind,
Hence within the three world spheres,
There is nothing to fear other than my mind.

If the perfection of generosity
Were the alleviation of the world’s poverty,
Then since beings are still starving now,
In what manner did the previous Buddhas perfect it?

The perfection of generosity is said to be
The thought to give all beings everything
Together with the fruit of such a thought
Hence it is simply a state of mind. [1]

2. Remaining Like a Piece of Wood

Whenever I have the desire
To move my body or to say something,
First of all I should examine my mind
And then, with steadiness, act in the proper way.

Whenever there is attachment in my mind
And whenever there is the desire to be angry,
I should not do anything nor say anything, 
But remain like a piece of wood.

Whenever I have distracted thoughts, the wish 
    to verbally belittle others,
Feelings of self-importance or self-satisfaction:
When I have the intention to describe the faults of others,
Pretension and the thought to deceive others;

Whenever I am eager for praise,
Or have the desire to blame others;
Whenever I have the wish to speak harshly and cause dispute;
At (all) such times I should remain like a piece of wood.

Whenever I desire material gain, honour or fame;
Whenever I seek attendants or a circle of friends,
And when in my mind I wish to be served;
At (all) these times I should remain like a piece of wood.

Whenever I have the wish to decrease or to stop working for others
And the desire to pursue my welfare alone,
If (motivated by such thoughts), a wish to say something occurs,
At these times I should remain like a piece of wood.

Whenever I have impatience, laziness, cowardice,
Shamelessness, or the desire to talk nonsense;
If thoughts of partiality arise,
At these times too I should remain like a piece of wood.

Having in this way examined his mind for disturbing conceptions
And for thoughts that strive for meaningless things,
The courageous (Bodhisattva) should hold his mind steady
Through (the application of) remedial forces.

Being very resolute and faithful,
Steady, respectful, polite,
With a sense of shame, apprehensive and peaceful,
I should strive to make others happy. [2]

3. In the Presence of the Buddhas

O you who wish to guard your minds,
I beseech you with folded hands;
Always exert yourselves to guard
Mindfulness and alertness!

People who are disturbed by sickness
Have no strength to do anything (useful),
Likewise those whose minds are disturbed by confusion
Have no strength to do anything (wholesome).

Whatever has been learnt, contemplated and meditated upon
By those whose minds lack alertness,
Just like water in a leaking vase,
Will not be retained in their memory.

Even those who have much learning,
Faith and willing perseverance
Will become defiled by a (moral) fall
Due to the mistake of lacking alertness.

The thieves of unalertness,
In following upon the decline of mindfulness,
Will steal even the merits I have firmly gathered
(So that)  I shall then proceed to lower realms.

This host of thieves who are my own disturbing conceptions
Will search for a good opportunity,
Having found it they will steal my virtue
And destroy (the attainment of) life in a happy realm.

Therefore I shall never let mindfulness depart
From the doorway of my mind.
If it goes, I should recall the misery of the lower realms
And firmly re-establish it there.

Through staying in the company of spiritual masters,
Through the instruction of abbots and through fear, [3]
Mindfulness will easily be generated
In fortunate people who practise with respect.

“I am ever dwelling in the presence
Of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Who are always endowed
With unobstructed vision.”

By thinking in this way
I shall mindfully develop a sense of shame, respect and fear.
Also through doing this,
Recollection of the Buddha will repeatedly occur.

When mindfulness is set with the purpose
Of guarding the doorway of the mind,
Then alertness will come about
And even that which had gone will return. [4]


NOTES:

[1] “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” (“Bodhisattvacharyavatara”)  by  Acharya Shantideva, translated into English by Stephen Batchelor,  1979, Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India, 212 pp. , pp. 37-38, Stanzas 1-10.

[2] “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life”, pp. 45-46, stanzas 47-55.

[3] There are no “abbots” in the theosophical movement or in lay discipleship, except one’s own higher self and conscience. The word “fear” in this context means “the correct perception that living implies danger”. It is also an overwhelming sense of respect which one feels while being in the presence of truly spiritual masters. 

[4] “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life”, pp. 41-42, stanzas 23-33.

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