Shantideva’s discussion of the importance of viveka, or isolation, for meditative absorption in Perfection of Meditative Absorption particularly resonates with me. He describes mediative absorption as being ‘born of isolation,’ and it made me think about how conducive our current lifestyles of being socially distanced are to isolating the mind (78). According to Shantideva, this isolation leads to “distracted thoughts being calmed” (96). I actually took a meditation class from Geshe-la Lobsang last semester, and the main obstacle I encountered during the meditations was always in calming/ignoring these “distracted thoughts,” whether they be of my surroundings or things going on in my life. I think Shantideva’s ideas regarding isolation as positive can help us reframe this period of isolation that we are in right now as an opportunity to work on cultivating skills like compassion that we can develop through meditation.
In reading the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, I have noticed that Shantideva has a unique perspective when it comes to dealing with suffering. I think that most people including myself try to avoid situations that could potentially lead to suffering at all costs, but Shantideva seems to instead “seek” out such situations and see them as opportunities for growth (59). This attitude is reflected in verse 100 from the Perfection of Forbearance chapter in which Shantideva questions how “[he can] hate those who liberate [him] from the shackle” and are “a door closed to [him] as [he seeks] to enter upon suffering” (59). I found this verse to be useful because it demonstrates how the people who make us angry are actually giving us an opportunity to learn a lesson and to practice forgiveness. Especially now with COVID-19 creating so much stress in everyone’s lives, it can be easy to become frustrated or angry at others, whether it be the people we are quarantining with or the politicians who we feel are making incorrect decisions. However, I think that maintaining Shantideva’s mindset of suffering and anger can ease this stress tremendously.
I think this week’s in-class discussion was particularly beneficial to me in that it got me thinking about how the doctrines of interdependence and No-Self can contribute to a compassionate attitude. In the wake of the COVID-19 situation, it seems more important than ever to cultivate this attitude of compassion for everyone, from the workers putting themselves at risk for the sake of the functioning of our society to those who have actually been infected with the virus. I had never considered these Buddhist ideas as leading directly to the cultivation of compassion, but the discussion made me realize otherwise. In terms of No-Self, the idea that things/people don’t have an inherent nature leads to the realization that a person cannot be inherently bad and that everyone is therefore deserving of compassion. Keeping this in mind could potentially allow someone to maintain an attitude of compassion when confronted with a situation or a person that he or she might otherwise label as being “bad” or undeserving of compassion. In terms of interdependence, I think recognizing this theme can lead to the realization that every every action we take has a ripple effect and holds a lot of weight. This could make someone more mindful of the importance of our actions, and ultimately make us act more compassionately.
One aspect the “Vigilance Regarding The Awakening Mind” chapter that resonated with me was it’s repeated emphasis on the importance of realizing that “one must act now” (24). I found this concept particularly relevant given our current situation with the coronavirus. This spring semester, I was taking more credits than I have in previous semesters and was struggling to fit in time for my other interests and hobbies. I also found that the weather took a toll on my overall mood and also contributed to my lack of time spent outdoors. As a result of these factors, I had the mentality that “once I get past this wave of midterms or this week of classes or this patch of bad weather, then I’ll take time to focus on my other priorities.” However, once Emory announced that classes would be moving online and students were to move out, I realized that I would no longer have the opportunity to focus on these “other priorities.” The announcement was a bit of a reality check that I should not have been postponing the things that were important to me, and it shed light on the fact that the idea that “one must act now” is something that should be taken seriously since we are not guaranteed anything past the now. This chapter also made me recognize that any despair I feel in response to a situation—such as the current reality with COVID-19—is only a result of my perception of the situation. One verse that I feel demonstrates this idea is verse 28, which states that “enemies such as greed and hate lack hands and feet and other limbs… they are not brave, nor are they wise.. how is it they enslave me?” (27). I interpreted this verse to be emphasizing that barring physical threats, the only negativity I face is a result of my own mind. The following verses expand on this idea, pointing out that the defilements are “lodged within my own mind” and that they “are weaklings to be subdued by wisdom’s glare” (27). To me, this verse seems to argue that with the right mindset, one can overcome any and all perceived negativity. In other words, the negativity we perceive in our lives is only harmful if we allow it to be. Instead of approaching the COVID-19 situation with an attitude of despair, I can reframe my perception of the situation to recognize the positive implications of my new reality with the virus: more time with family, more time for rest, and more time to focus on my hobbies. In conclusion, this chapter helped me to reconsider my previous feelings regarding the COVID-19 situation by replacing my despair with an appreciation for and focus on the positive aspects in my life.