A selection from the chapter on mindfulness in Shantideva’s The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, translated by René Feusi in The Beautiful Way of Life.
Without guarding the mind attentively
guarding one’s practice is impossible.
Even a crazed elephant can’t cause as much harm
as an untamed mind.
But for a mind bound with mindfulness,
everything becomes possible.
Wild animals, spirits, enemies—
all will be tamed by having tamed this mind.
All the suffering there is,
up to the worst suffering of the hells,
originates from the untamed mind.
Nothing is more dangerous.
As poverty still exists,
how is giving perfected?
Through a mind with the sheer wish
to give everything.
Animals are still being killed,
but the mind that gives up such acts
is considered ethically perfect.
Enemies are too numerous to destroy,
but abandoning anger achieves the same purpose.
I cannot cover the planet with leather,
but I can cover my feet.
Likewise, I am unable to control external events,
but if I tame my mind,
what else needs to be controlled?
Speech and action don’t achieve the results
achieved by a subdued mind;
prayer and meditation are futile
if practiced with a distracted mind.
Thus those who seek happiness
without understanding the mind
work in vain.
Therefore, I must tame my mind;
without this, what use are many other trainings?
Living amid difficult people,
like a wounded one I should protect my mind.
For if I protect a common wound,
why not protect a wounded mind
for fear of hell?
If I always remain so diligent,
then neither attractive nor harmful people
will unsettle my mind.
Though my fame, fortune, or other virtues fade,
never will I let my mind degenerate!
O you who wish to guard your mind,
I pray that you always be mindful and introspective.
Like a sick man drained of strength,
the scattered mind accomplishes little,
and like a leak in a jar,
lack of introspection prevents
what has been heard, pondered, and meditated upon
from being retained in memory.
Many otherwise devoted and learned
commit downfalls from lack of mindfulness.
To steal our merit
and send us to lower realms,
the thieves of distraction and delusion
lie in wait for a breach in mindfulness.
I will practice mindfulness at all times,
and if momentarily lost,
restore it by recalling the hells.
Surrounded by masters,
practicing with respect,
mindfulness develops easily.
Buddhas see everything, including me,
so with respect I should remember their presence.
When introspection is set to guard the mind,
mindfulness will come and,
even when lost, be regained.
First I should check my mind
and, if a delusion is present,
refrain from action.
I will not let my gaze wander aimlessly
but will always look down
as in meditation.
However, to rest for a while,
I may look around and greet those I see.
Walking, I may sometimes stop
and check around me for any danger
and then proceed accordingly.
If I decide “my body should act like this,”
I should periodically check to see that it does so.
Likewise, I should watch my mind to ensure
it remains bound to the pillar of Dharma.
Photograph by Risto Kuulasmaa