Paul Williams points out in the General Introduction to Crosby and Skilton’s translation of The Bodhicaryāvatāra , that “to heed so many of Śāntideva’s wonderful verses” requires only “that one is human, living an ordinary human life.” Śāntideva’s ends the Dedication chapter with verses 57 and 58 which make clear the fact that the path laid out is accessible to all that are willing to dedicate themselves.
57. The sole medicine for the ailments of the world, the mine of success and happiness, let the Dispensation long endure, attended by support and honor.
58. I bow down to Mañjughosa through whose inspiration my mind turns to good. I honor the spirtitual friend through whose inspiration grows strong.
The opportunity of simply being human is revealed as exceptional. The privilege to participate is extraordinary. And everywhere you cast your gaze, you will find inspiration.
This chapter has been surprising in that I had hoped for a clear set of instructions on “how” to go about meditation, and Santideva focused more on illustrative examples of the basics that evoked quite powerful imagery. The commentary provided by Crosby and Skilton in their translation was enormously helpful in laying out how the curriculum of meditation in the Buddhist tradition. It prompted me to look at the other translations, which did not have much in the way of commentary, but presented different perspectives on the narrative. The footnotes provided by Vesna and Wallace in their version were like a running commentary. The sectioning gave bones to the flesh of the the passages by Steinkeller in his version. As Henry alluded to in his comment on Lacey’s post, the calming meditation is a foundational practice which is both immediately useful and accessible. The insight into how to deal with discursive thought in samatha meditation makes sense in this light. However, the understanding of how one uses discursive thought in vipaśyanã, insight meditation had always eluded my grasp until reading this section. I like the footnote: “recognizing that the mental afflictions are eradicated by insight and imbued with quiescence, one should first seek quiescence. That is achieved with detachment toward the world and with joy.”(BCA, Vesna/Wallace, p 89)
In the sixth chapter of Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra, the Perfection of Forbearance, the three phases of its cultivation include the endurance of suffering, a reflection on the teachings and the endurance of injuries from others. The concept of patience is also introduced as a means of enduring. It is clear from the number and detail of the verses, that the instructions given are not simply scholarly reflections. Thoughout this chapter, Śāntideva moves from the third person(him, their, those etc.) to the first person. It is in verse 42, that he states, “Previously, I too caused just such pain to living beings.” The development, embodiment and teaching of wisdom is reflected in these verses, as in the method presented, it is as if Śāntideva instructs the monks in training as a father would give sage advice to their son or daughter. Certainly, a fully lived existence requires some element of awakening such as these passages imply. Yet there is simplicity in the first two verses, “hatred destroys it all,” and “there is no evil equal to hatred.” The direct instruction of how to deal with the complexity of hatred is promptly given: “no spiritual practice (is) equal to forbearance,” and “Therefore, one should practice forbearance….with great effort.” As we navigate the complexities of the today and the days ahead, it is worth taking these words to heart. When frustration and anger inevitably arise, look a little deeper. Verse 34 states, “no one wishes for suffering.” Realizing this, reflecting on their conditions and realizing that “they are doing the best they can,” then patience can arise and…”we reduce our tendency to anger or to despair, and enable ourselves to work calmly, and to respond effectively to the needs around us. This both reduces our own suffering in these times and makes us more effective agents for the benefit of others. And by developing the resolution that enables serious effort, we ensure that we do not lose hope or heart.”(Jay Garfield, Beyond Catastrophe)
Tonight was powerful. Sara Khan is doing great work with trying to get masks to providers in hospitals in need though Dharma Relief. Wow. Talk about putting thoughts into action. Upali led the meditation as the planned teacher could not make it, and he was remarkable. He gave a passage and opened the floor to reflection which was very instructive. We are all living in a monastic householder state where “metta” can be embodied in action.
In these times, the mind certainly has an astonishingly powerful ability to wander. In chapter 5, Śāntideva establishes the foundation of addressing this problem in the very first verse, “one who wishes to guard his training must scrupulously guard his mind. It is impossible to guard one’s training without guarding the wandering mind.” This is critical, as to aspire for Awakening, one must first be Aware. As such, the goals and “perfections” of generosity, morality, forbearance, vigor, meditative absorption and wisdom all require this as a basis. In keeping with the extension of intent of the bodhisattva to work hard for all beings, this sentiment is seen in the sustained and focused concentration of a surgeon, an airline pilot or aspiring buddha. The subsequent one hundred and nine verses go into detail in a comprehensive and instructional way. Yet, chapter 5 ends as it began, ” In brief, this alone is the definition of awareness: the observation at every moment of the state of one’s body and one’s mind.”(verse 108). In modern psychology, this is analogous to what is termed a “flow state” is the “mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.”(Wikipedia) Our current times are such that this state might be accessed by many of us if we focus. Time slows. Every moment is completely perceived. In medicine, this is what one tries to cultivate as a way of embodying the science of medicine. I believe that this is what Śāntideva in the last verse(109) is referring to, “I shall express this by means of my body, for what use would there be in the expression of words? For someone who is sick what use could there be in the mere expression of medical knowledge?” This is a compelling insight in light of the coronavirus challenge. Paying attention to oneself and one’s action is the starting point. Being there for others in the “now” is the opportunity for us all.