Putting Doctrine Into Practice

The 8th chapter of the Bodhicaryavatara, titled “Perfection of Meditative Absorbtion,” can be looked at as the guide for putting all the doctrines previously discussed into practice. Before even embarking on a journey of becoming a Bodhisattva, one must follow the Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment and leave the personal life behind. All of the connections and relationships made, such as between family, friends, and other loved ones, must be dismissed if one is to become a Bodhisattva. This is because these human connection that we hold dear to ourselves will ultimately end in suffering, due to loss of life or loss of relationship.

Another Buddhist doctrine that is put into practice is the idea of No-Self. By denying the existence of a permanent self, you detach yourself from the ego that was conditioned by your upbringing, to help see equanimity among all beings of the universe. In this same vein of thought, in verse 102, Santideva says, “Without exception, no sufferings belong to anyone.” Here, Santideva is saying that the suffering of beings is dependently arisen, and therefore impermanent. It is thus the job of the Bodhisattva, to use the impermanence of suffering to his/her advantage and help rid the world of it.

The World is a Gym for Your Mind

Everyday, you come across people, actions, or things that bother you in some way. The natural and base response would be to respond negatively towards such annoyances, sometimes with anger or hatred. While a negative response is natural, humans have been gifted with a higher form of consciousness, to where we are able to think before we act.

Just like how exercising strengthens and conditions your physical body, exercising patience strengthens the mind. Through constant sets of practicing patience and forbearance, the mind becomes resilient against things that would previously bother you. However, the mind does not require equipment or time set aside for it to become stronger. Like I said in the first sentence of this post, “Everyday, you come across people, actions, or things that bother you in some way.” Since you encounter these things everyday, according to Santideva, these are constant opportunities for you to condition the mind towards patience. A negative reaction to what you perceive to be a negative stimulus will only further the cycle of negative behaviors in the universe. So why not stop the buck and end a small ounce of suffering for both you and those around you?

While it sucks that suffering is inherent to existence, you can take Santideva’s perspective on this issue and be grateful that suffering exists because it is through the existence of suffering that an escape of suffering is made possible.

Training the Monkey Brain

Although I am not sure of the exact origin of this metaphor, Buddhists have likened the human mind to a monkey. Much like how a monkey swings from branch to branch, the human mind likes to wander and jump from thought to thought. While it is fun to sometimes sit and daydream, lost in your own thoughts, according to Santideva, this is a waste of time and possibly dangerous habit, especially to those who wish to become a Bodhisattva.

In the chapter titled “Guarding of Awareness,” Santideva explicates the importance of guarding the mind, as well as instructions on how to do so. Although I believe none of us will take on the vows of becoming a Bodhisattva (at least anytime soon), I believe that being constantly aware of the mind is an important tool to master yourself. Santideva points out that all anguish stems from the defilements which originate in the mind. Throughout this time of isolation, it is easy to get caught up in your own thoughts, especially if they are negative. Therefore, as Santideva suggests, it is important to train your mind and restrain it from constantly wandering. To quote Alan Watts, “The mind is a great servant but a bad master.” If you are subject to the whims of your own mind, then you will inevitably suffer from the defilements that are present in the mind. However, if you train the monkey in your head to be calm and heed your direction, you are left with a clearer, decluttered mind that is ready to serve your (hopefully good) intentions.

My Refuge in Trying Times

During trying times, such as one that we currently face, I take refuge in my version of a Sangha, which are my friends. Although there is no teaching or teacher that we collectively follow, if I am allowed to redefine the Sangha as a community, then my Sangha is where I turn to for solace and relief. While I am not able to see my friends face to face, I keep in touch with them as much as I would if I were to be with them in person. It’s definitely harder to keep in touch with friends through digital communication because the level of intimacy and ease of access is not the same but I understand that we are all going through this crisis together so I try to keep in touch as much as possible. I believe everyone should have a Sangha that they turn to, whether it be family or friends. When in times of trouble, it is important to maintain human connections because suffering in isolation can lead to a lot of mental burden. While I don’t necessarily burden others with my issues, just talking and laughing with friends make my day a lot better than if I were to stay isolated, lost in my own thoughts. I am sure that it is also beneficial to those that you stay connected with because they are also facing trying times, so just reaching out can help make a positive difference in others.