Śāntideva has taught innumerable life lessons that I will cherish so long as I live, but upon submitting my final and finishing my freshman year of college I am filled with new perspective due to this class. Attachment leading to suffering is an idea that is stressed frequently in Buddhism. It was difficult for me to understand in the beginning of the year as I feel attached to many things that bring me only joy. My friends, my family, my animals, etc. However, what I see now is that we need to control our attachments. In this time of quarantine where it is so essential to stay at home, people are blindly following their attachment to the chagrin of American society. People who are having difficulty staying at home are giving in to their urges too often and have caused this country to suffer worse than it should have. This, combined with our current administrations lack of a proper/timely response, has led to devastation of our economy and fellow citizens. What I have learned from my time at home, from the end of my first year in college, is how to make the best of a situation. This will be a memorable year for me, ironic as this year has been so heavily associated with boredom. I appreciate that this experience has given me the time to pursue my hobbies and studies unobstructed by previous attachments. Would I prefer to be outside with friends? Of course! Am I not allowing myself to think this way in order to stay at home and make the best of my situation? Yes. Upon finishing my first year, I will never take college for granted as the few months I had experience were amazing and I would never want to miss out on any more. Thank you for a great class!
Śāntideva opens his “final lesson” with a sense of praise and a blessing. He blesses those who seek/achieve the power of awakening and he wishes that their happiness will last forever. Furthermore, he wishes their happiness will spread throughout the world. I really enjoyed this chapter because Śāntideva shows that there is a reward for the hard journey. Many texts in Buddhism seem to give instruction, but do not necessarily explain what will happen if one abides by them. Śāntideva explains in his teachings what someone must do to achieve enlightenment, and now he displays the rewards. It makes for a much more convincing “sell” on Buddhism as I feel that people search for happiness above anything else. I really enjoyed his philosophical teachings, he was obviously a very wise and humble man. I hope that I can connect his passion for achieving happiness to my current issues with COVID-19 and how it has temporarily halted my college career.
“A person whose mind is distracted stands between the fangs of defilements. Distraction does not occur if body and mind are kept sequestered. Therefore, one should renounce the world and disregard distracting thoughts” (88). When I first read these lines, that opened this impactful chapter, I laughed to myself. I laughed because we are all sequestered in this moment and we are actively seeking distractions to pass the time. Tiger King would not have been a world wide success if it was not for this quarantine. It was a distraction that more than served its purpose. Śāntideva did not have Tiger King or any other tv show in mind when he wrote this, distraction to him was in regards to bad thoughts, thoughts that revolved around attachment. What is the modern equivalent? In my opinion, it is the self pitying thoughts that I hear, occasionally feeling them on my own, everyday about this situation. The worried anxieties of people who can not stand staying home. I understand them, but I think we need to move past it. This quarantine can be awful if we make it awful, but it can easily be tolerable. We need to focus on ourselves, this is a time where we can experiment. Trying new things to find new hobbies. One of my close friends is now obsessed with woodworking and I commend him for it. We need to ignore our baseless thoughts that we have to go out, thoughts that we know at the moment should not happen, and attempt to make our current situation better.
“I have not started this! This I started, but it remains half done! Death has come from nowhere! Oh no, I am stricken!” (Śāntideva, 67). Śāntideva writes this piece of dialogue during his discussion of “The Perfection of Vigour.” He writes this among other cautionary accounts of the opposing forces to vigour. This one particularly resonated with me as I consistently have trouble managing my time. When I was juggling tons of school work, friendships, family, relationships, and personal hobbies, there were many times where I left things unfinished. Whether that was a book I was reading, a video game I played, and so on, I consistently felt as though I was never able to finish something I had started because I was always drawn to something else. With this quarantine, while it has many draws, I am not gifted with a full and undisturbed day. I have gone back to finish many books and games that I always wondered their endings. This has ultimately taught me to stress less about small things, there will be a time in which we can get all things done. If it is important to us, it may be half-finished now, but one day it will be completed.
Śāntideva discusses how to achieve enlightenment, in chapter 5, by focusing on an essential step, perfecting our generosity. By relinquishing all of our attachments and giving what we own to the needy we take a step towards the path of righteousness. How does this look today? In my personal opinion, this can be done by respecting the quarantine. With the number of victims increasing each day, America is now in dire straits. Regardless of our grim situation, people are still not taking this quarantine seriously. Whenever I browse social media I see videos, pictures, and descriptions of people leaving their house to do unessential activities and hang out with friends. It’s almost as if a symptom of corona is the sudden and uncontrollable urge to leave the house and go hiking. Sarcastic descriptions of people social distancing among large groups are doing nothing to help our situation. It is my belief that relinquishing our desire to be outside and taking the initiative to stay inside is the modern equivalent of perfecting generosity. Instead of giving our personal items, we give our social lives to save others. I hope that our country’s citizens can rally behind this idea, otherwise, the time we need to quarantine will only continue to extend. Something needs to change!
The first chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra contains deep appreciation and praise for the Awakened mind. It discusses the benefits of acquiring this level of mindfulness in great detail and the elation that one feels as a result of this achievement. While not completely applicable to my current life, this chapter does carry familiar ideals to how I feel today. Unfortunately, this virus has left devastating effects throughout the world emotionally, physically, and financially. However, certain perspectives of mine have been strengthened as result of this pandemic. For one, I am consistently more grateful to and for my family members. In quarantine, I now spend all of my time in the vicinity of my family. This has brought us closer together. Surprisingly, it has brought my friends and I closer as well. We video chat everyday for hours on end, proving to me how important they are in my day to day life. While I have unfortunately not achieved the true Awakening that Śāntideva discusses in this chapter, I am satisfied by the deepened appreciation that I now feel for the people I love most.