For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been attracted to wisdom literature. In my early teens, that attraction was felt most strongly toward Thoreau, Tolstoy, Marcus Aurelius and the other Stoics, Joseph Smith’s King Benjamin (from the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon) & Enoch (from the Book of Moses in the LDS Pearl of Great Price), and Ecclesiastes’ Koheleth, all voices that really gripped and engaged me. It wasn’t their status as scripture so much as it was their moral voice, perhaps even their austerity, their asceticism, their renunciation of materialism and their claims to wisdom, virtue, and even joy. My reading interests have certainly meandered since my early teens, but much of that core attraction remains. Scouring our library for some late night reading recently, I found a copy of one of Laurel’s books that exerted the same attraction on me as other wisdom literatures had previously done. The book was Vesna and Alan Wallace’s translation of Santideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, published in 1997 by Snow Lion press.
I knew nothing about Santideva, and only very little about the Tibetan Buddhist tradition which the text represented, and so it took me a little while to really dig into the context and ideational framework of the book, but once I had a rudimentary understanding of some key terms, I was hooked. I found the book deeply interesting, and am presenting a collection of fragments/notes that I found persuasive, strange, compelling, or profoundly mistaken below. Enjoy!
If I stand very attentive even on a smaller cliff, then how much more so on an enduring chasm of a thousand leagues. It is inappropriate for me to be at ease, thinking, “Just today death will not arrive.” The time when I will not exist is inevitable. Who can give me fearlessness? How shall I escape? I shall certainly not exist. Why is my mind at ease?
May that virtue that I have acquired by doing all this relieve every suffering of sentient beings. May I be the medicine and the physician for the sick. May I be their nurse until their illness never recurs. With showers of food and drink may I overcome the afflictions of hunger and thirst. May I become food and drink during times of famine. May I be an inexhaustible treasure for the destitute. With various forms of assistance may I reamin in their presence. For the sake of accomplishing the welfare of all sentient beings, I freely give up my body, enjoyments, and all my virtues of the three times. Surrending everything is nirvana, and my mind seeks nirvana. If I must surrender everything, it is better that I give it to sentient beings. For the sake of all beings I have made this body pleasureless. Let them continually beat it, revile it, and cover it with filth. Let them play with my body. Let them laugh at it and ridicule it. What does it matter to me? I have given my body to them. May those who falsely accuse me, who harm me, and who ridicule me all partake of Awakening. May I be a protector for those who are without protectors, a guide for travelers, and a boat, a bridge, and a ship for those who wish to cross over. May I be a lamp for those who seek light, a bed for those who seek rest, and may I be a servant for all beings who desire a servant. To all sentient beings may I be a wish-fulfilling gem, a vase of good fortune, an efficacious mantra, a great medication, a wish-fulfilling tree, and a wish-granting cow. Just as earth and other elements are useful in various ways to innumerable sentient beings dwelling throughout infinite space, so may I be in various ways a source of life for the sentient beings present throughout space until they are all liberated.
Health, daily sustenance, and lack of adversity? Life is momentary and deceptive; and the body is as if on loan.
If I do not perform virtue even when I am capable of it, what then shall I do when fully dazed by the sufferings of miserable states of existence?
Human existence is extremely difficult to obtain, like a turtle’s head emerging into the ring of a yoke on a vast ocean.
How many malicious people, as [unending] as space, can I kill? When the mind-state of anger is slain, then all enemies are slain. Where would there be leather enough to cover the whole world? The earth is covered over merely with the leather of my sandals. Likewise, I am unable to restrain external phenomena, but I shall restrain my own mind. What need is there to restrain anything else? I should well control and well guard my mind. Once I have forsaken the vow of guarding the mind, of what use are many vows to me? Just as those standing in the midst of boisterous people carefully guard their wounds, so those standing in the midst of evil people should always guard the wound of their minds.
Let my possessions freely vanish; let my honor, my body, livelihood, and everything else pass away. But may my virtuous mind never be lost. … Always guard your mindfulness and introspection. Just as a person smitten by disease is unfit for any work, so the mind lacking those two is not fit for any work. What has been heard, pondered, and cultivated, like water in a cracked jar, does not remain in the memory of the mind that lacks introspection.
When mindfulness stands guard at the gate of the mind, introspection arrives, and once it has come, it does not depart again. First, I should always establish this mind in such a manner, and I should always remain still as if without sense faculties, like a piece of wood.
The mad elephant of the mind should be watched diligently so that it is not loosed while tied to the great pillar of the thought of Dharma.
First, with your own intellect, peel off this sheath of skin, and with the knife of wisdom loosen the flesh from the skeleton. Breaking the bones, look inside the marrow and examine for yourself, “What is the essence here?” If searching carefully in this way, you do not see an essence here, then say why you are still protecting the body today.
… it is proper to guard it [the body] for the sake of feeding the vultures and jackals. This wretched body of humans is an instrument for action [This human body is just something to be used] Even though you protect it so, merciless death will snatch the body away and give it to the vultures. What will you do then?
One who has become self-controlled in that way should always have a smiling face. One should give up frowning and grimacing, be the first to greet, and be a friend to the world. One should not inconsiderately and noisily throw around chairs and the like. One should not pound on the door, and one should always delight in silence. The crane, the cat, or the thief, moving silently and covertly, achieves its desired goal. A sage should always move in such a way. One must respectfully accept the advice of those skilled in directing others and providing unsolicited aid. One should always be the pupil of everyone.
In a soft and gentle voice one should speak sincere, coherent words that have clear meaning and are agreeable, pleasant to the ear, and rooted in compassion. One should always look straight at sentient beings as if drinking them in with the eyes, thinking, “Relying on them alone, I shall attain Buddhahood.” … Skillful and vigorous, one should always do the work oneself. With respect to all works, one should not leave the opportunity to someone else.
… one should always strive for the benefit of others. Even that which is prohibited has been permitted for the compassionate one who foresees benefit. … Except for the three robes, one should give away everything. … When the thought of compassion is impure, one should not sacrifice one’s life, but it should be sacrificed when one’s thought is unbiased. Thus, life must not be wasted.
One should not teach the profound and vast Dharma to the disrespectful, to a healthy person wearing a headdress, to a person with an umbrella, a stick, or a weapon, to one whose head is veiled, Flagrantly discarding a tooth-stick or spitting is undesirable, and urinating and so forth into water or on land that is usable is contemptible. … One should not call out to someone and wave one’s arms when there is little urgency; instead, one should snap one’s fingers or the like. Otherwise, one would lose composure.
In brief, this alone is the definition of introspection: the repeated examination of the state of one’s body and mind. I shall practice it with my body. What is the use of merely reading the words? Will a sick person have any benefit merely by reading about medical treatments?
Even if I fall into extreme adversity, I should not disrupt my happiness. When there is frustration, nothing is agreeable, and virtue is forsaken. If there is a remedy, then what is the use of frustration? If there is no remedy, then what is the use of frustration?
Those who conquer the enemy while receiving the enemies’ blows on the chest are the victorious heroes. The rest just kill the dead.
When under the influence of mental afflictions, they kill even their own dear selves in this way; then how could they have restraint toward the bodies of others? If you do not even have compassion toward those who, intoxicated by mental afflictions, commit suicide, then why does anger arise? If inflicting harm on others is the nature of the foolish, then my anger toward them is an inappropriate as it would be toward fire, which has the nature of burning. If this fault is adventitious and if sentient beings are good by nature, then anger toward them is inappropriate as it would be toward pungent smoke in the sky. Disregarding the principal cause, such as a stick and the like, if I become angry with the one who impels it, then it is better if I hate hatred, because that person is also impelled by hatred. In the past, I too have inflicted such pain on sentient beings; therefore, I, who have caused harm to sentient beings, deserve that in return. Both his weapon and my body are causes of suffering. He has obtained a weapon, and I have obtained a body. With what should I be angry?
For the sake of fame, some sacrifice their wealth and even kill themselves. Can words be eaten? And when one dies, who feels that pleasure? At the loss of praise and fame, my own mind appears to me just like a child who wails in distress when its sand castle is destroyed.
Just as there is no mental pleasure in all sensual gratification whatsoever when one’s body is on fire, likewise there is no way for the Compassionate Ones to be happy when sentient beings are in pain.
Even in great troubles, the eye does not perceive flavor. …
One should diligently apply oneself to the action in which one engages. Intoxicated by that action, one should be of an insatiable mind, like one striving for the satisfaction of the result of a game. An action is performed for the sake of happiness, and yet happiness may or may not occur. But how can one who delights in action itself be happy when inactive?
In the cycle of existence, there is no satisfaction in sensual desires, which are like honey on a razor’s edge. How can there be satiation with the nectar of merits, which are sweet in their maturation and beautiful?
… a person whose mind is distracted between the fangs of mental afflictions.
Quiescence is due to detachment toward the world and due to joy.
If the naked body, containing the slime of filth, is frightening in its natural condition with its long hair and nails and stained yellowish teeth, Why do you meticulously polish it like a weapon for suicide? The earth is crowded with insane people, diligent in deluding themselves.
The fortunate ones, caressed by silent and gentle forest breezes, pace on pleasant boulders, spacious like palaces, cooled by sandalwood-like moon rays, and ponder how to benefit others. Dwelling here and there for as long as one likes, freed from the exhaustion of guarding one’s possessions and free from care, one lives as one pleases in an empty dwelling, at the foot of a tree, or in a cave. Living as one wishes, homeless, and not tied down by anyone, one savors the joy of contentment, which is difficult even for a king to find …
One should first earnestly meditate on the equality of oneself and others in this way: “All equally experience suffering and happiness, and I must protect them as I do myself.” Just as the body, which has many parts owing to its division into arms and so forth, should be protected as a whole, so should this entire world, which is differentiated and yet has the nature of the same suffering and happiness. Although my suffering does not cause pain in other bodies, nevertheless that suffering is mine and is difficult to bear because of my attachment to myself. Likewise, although I myself do not feel the suffering of another person, that suffering belongs to that person and is difficult to bear because of his attachment to himself. I should eliminate the suffering of others because it is suffering, just like my own suffering. I should take care of others because they are sentient beings, just as I am a sentient being. When happiness is equally dear to others and myself, then what is so special about me that I strive after happiness for myself alone? When fear and suffering are equally abhorrent to others and myself, then what is so special about me that I protect myself but not others? If I do not protect them because I am not afflicted by their suffering, why do I protect my body from the suffering of a future body, which is not my pain?
Why do I not also consider another’s body as myself in the same way, since the otherness of my own body is not difficult to determine? Acknowledging oneself as fault-ridden and others as oceans of virtues, one should contemplate renouncing one’s self-identity and accepting others. Just as the hands and the like are cherished because they are members of the body, why are embodied beings not cherished in the same way, for they are members of the world? Therefore, just as you wish to protect yourself from pain, grief, and the like, so may you cultivate a spirit of protection and a spirit of compassion toward the world. One who wishes to protect oneself and others quickly should practice exchanging oneself for others, which is a great mystery.
All those who are unhappy in the world are so as a result of their desire for their own happiness. All those who are happy in the world are so as a result of their desire for the happiness of others. Without forsaking one’s own self, one cannot avoid suffering, just as without avoiding fire one cannot avoid being burned. Therefore, in order to alleviate my own suffering and to alleviate the suffering of others, I give myself up to others and I accept others as my own self.
O mind, make this resolve: “I am bound to others.” From now on you must not be concerned with anything but the welfare of all sentient beings.
Craving has its cause in feeling, and they have feeling. The mind that has mental objects has to dwell on one thing or another.
Without emptiness, the mind is constrained and arises again, as in non-cognitive meditative equipoise. Therefore, one should meditate on emptiness. No refutation is possible with regard to emptiness, so one should meditate on emptiness without hesitation. Since emptiness is the antidote to the darkness of afflictive and cognitive obscurations, how is it that one desiring omniscience does not promptly meditate on it? Let fear arise toward something that produces suffering. Emptiness pacifies suffering. So why does fear of it arise? If there were something called “I,” fear could come from anywhere. If there is no “I,” whose fear will there be? Teeth, hair, and nails are not I, nor am I bone, blood, mucus, phlegm, pus, or lymph. Bodily oil is not I, nor are sweat, fat, or entrails. The cavity of the entrails is not I, nor is excrement or urine. Flesh is not I, nor are sinews, heat, or win. Bodily apertures are not I, nor, in any way, are the six consciousnesses. If the awareness of sound were I, then sound would always be apprehended. But without an object of awareness, what does it cognize on account of which it is called awareness? If that which is not cognizant were awareness, a piece of wood would be awareness. Therefore, it is certain there is no awareness in the absence of its object.
However, grasping on the “I,” which is a cause of suffering, increases because of the delusion with regard to the Self. If this is the unavoidable result of that, meditation on identitylessness is the best. The body is not the feet, the calves, nor the thighs. Nor is the body the hips, the abdomen, the back, the check, or the arms. It is not the hands, the sides of the torso, or the armpits, nor is it characterized by the shoulders. Nor is the body the neck or the head. Then what here is the body? If this body partially exists in all of these and its parts exist in their parts, where does it stand by itself? If the body were located in its entirety in the hands and other limbs, there would be just as many bodies as there are hands and so forth. The body is neither inside nor outside. How can the body be in the hands and other limbs? It is not separate from the hands and the like. How, then, can it be found at all? Thus, the body does not exist. However, on account of delusion, there is the impression of the boy with regard to the hands and the like, because of their specific configuration, just as there is the impression of a person with regard to a pillar [the Tibetan text uses the idea of a scarecrow instead of a pillar].
The mind that has a dreamlike and illusionlike nature sees and touches. Since feeling arises together with the mind, it is not perceived by the mind. The mind is not located in the sense faculties, not in form and other sense-objects, nor in between them. The mind is also not found inside, nor outside, nor anywhere else. That which is not the body nor anywhere else, neither intermingled nor somewhere separate, is nothing. Therefore, sentient beings are by nature liberated.
If cognition is prior to the object of cognition, in dependence on what does it arise? If cognition is simultaneous with the object of cognition, in dependence on what does it arise? If it arises after the object of cognition, from what would cognition arise?