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An excerpt from the Mahayana Buddhist classic composed in the eighth century,

A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

by Acharya Shantideva

(translated by Stephen Batchelor)

 

GUARDING ALERTNESS

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.

Nowhere has the killing
Of fish and other creatures been eradicated;
For the attainment of (merely) the thought to forsake (such things)
Is explained as the perfection of moral discipline.

Unruly beings are as (unlimited) as space:
They cannot possibly all be overcome,
But if I overcome thoughts of anger alone
This will be equivalent to vanquishing all foes.

Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But (wearing) leather just on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.

Likewise it is not possible for me
To restrain the external course of things;
But should I restrain this mind of mine
What would be the need to restrain all else?

Although the development of merely a clear state of concentration
Can result in (taking birth in) Brahma's realm,
Physical and vocal actions cannot so result
When (accompanied) by weak (mental) conduct.

The knower of reality has said
That even if recitation and physical hardships
Are practised for long periods of time,
They will be meaningless if the mind is distracted elsewhere.

Even those who wish to find happiness and overcome misery
Will wander with no aim or meaning
If they do not comprehend the secret of the mind -
The paramount significance of Dharma.

This being so,
I shall hold and guard my mind well.
Without the disciplines of guarding the mind,
What use are many other disciplines?


Just as I would be attentive and careful of a wound
When amidst a bustling uncontrolled crowd,
So I should always guard the wound of my mind
When dwelling among harmful people.

And if I am careful of a wound
Through fear of it being slightly hurt,
Then why do I not guard the wound of my mind
Through fear of being crushed by the mountains of hell?

 

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