By Daniel Scharpenburg
Shantideva was a monk and scholar in the Mahayana tradition who lived at a popular monastery called Nalanda, in India in the 8th century.
He wrote a text called Way of the Bodhisattva that is still revered by Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists today.
Anyway, I gave that introduction so I could talk about Shantideva’s approach to mindfulness.
There’s a long section in Way of the Bodhisattva about mindfulness and I’d like to share some of it with you here.
Those who wish to keep a rule of life
Must guard their minds.
Without this guard on the mind,
No discipline can be maintained.
Wandering where, the elephant of mind,
Will bring us down to hell.
No beast, however wild,
Could bring us such calamities.
If, with mindfulness’ rope,
The mind is tethered,
Our fears will come to nothing,
Every virtue will drop into our hands.
Training our minds to be here is called mindfulness training. Mindfulness is like a rope that keeps our minds in control. Mindfulness brings us back to our experience, to this moment, to being here now.
It’s important that mindfulness brings us to this moment. It takes effort to cultivate mindfulness, but mindfulness is important. Our mental habits take a long time to work on, so we need to start with diligence. The quality of patience helps us a great deal.
Tigers, lions, elephants, and bears,
Snakes and other hostile beasts,
Those who guard hell,
All ghosts and ghouls,
By binding this mind,
All these things are bound.
By taming this mind,
All these things are tamed.
For all anxiety and fear,
Their source is the mind itself,
Thus the truthful one has said.
Shantideva is telling us that all of our problems go away if we tame our minds. I’m not sure if this is true, but I am sure that many many of our problems are created in our own minds. We often let ourselves be consumed by trivial things and the reason for this is because of our minds. When we are present, our emotions don’t take control of us and dominate us quite so much.
The hellish whips to torture living beings–
Who has made them and to what intent?
Who has forged this burning iron ground;
Whence have all these demons sprung?
All are but the offspring of the mind,
Thus the mighty one has said.
Thus throughout the world
There is no greater bane than the mind itself.
Shantideva is being more direct here. He’s telling us, “These problems come from your mind.” Our minds distract us and lead us to all sorts of harm. Only with mindfulness can we bring our minds under control.
(all quotes taken from Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva and the Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala, 1997.)
Editor: Dana Gornall
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