Before we begin exploring the guide itself, some foundations must first be laid to appreciate its meaning. The next several posts will provide this foundation.
All of Buddha’s teachings on wisdom come down to one thing: we are being deceived by our own mind. The rest is explanations of how we are being deceived. We think we are awake and that we are free, but in reality we are asleep and imprisoned. Everything we see around us is the prison of our contaminated mind projected by our self-grasping and self-cherishing. So complete is this deception that we have no idea that this is the case. In reality we are dreaming uncontrolledly, and it can quickly turn into a nightmare. At present, what appears to our mind is rather benign, but we have the karma on our mind for things to turn terribly bad. And it can happen at any time. The tsunami of death is coming yet we remain oblivious.
The prison of our ordinary mind need not exist. We could be abiding in the infinitely wide open freedom and bliss of the Dharmakaya. A Bodhisattva is somebody who has seen the other side or knows there is a pure world beyond the prison of samsara and has dedicated himself or herself to getting everyone out. Shantideva has come to wake us up and tell us what we need to do to get out. More than that, he is presenting us the path for gaining the ability to get everyone else out too. The question now is what are we going to do? We have arrived at the fork in the road where we will decide our fate and the fate of those we love. This is no exaggeration.
One way to think about it is this: we have two selves – an external self and an internal self. Our external self is our contaminated aggregates – our ordinary body and mind. With our ordinary body and mind we can accomplish some external things. It’s not bad compared to a slug, for example. But we know the future of this body: it will get sick, it will get old, it will hurt and it will die. We also know the nature of this mind. It gets angry, jealous, has attachment, and when we are feeling miserable there is very little we can do to stop it. Its greatest deception is it is convincing us to use our precious human life for the external interests of this life alone. As a result of this, we will arrive at death empty handed having wasted this unique opportunity. Our external self is like the Titanic, after it has already hit the iceberg. It is definitely going down, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. What can we really accomplish with our external self? Not much. The most we can do is rearrange the deck furniture so it is a little more comfortable as we go down.
Our internal self is our true self, or our pure potential. This is our Buddha nature, and when purified it will turn into the omniscient mind of a Buddha. The literal translation of a Buddhist is ‘an inner being.’ Buddhas are beings who abide in the realm of the mind. They live beyond the prison walls of samsara. Our inner self can accomplish anything, and can become an omniscient, immortal being that has the ability to enter into the minds of each and every living being every day and gradually lead them out – they have committed themselves to this task and will work for as long as it takes.
We are now being given a choice. Shantideva has come and laid at our feet a flawless method for ripening fully our pure potential and becoming a Buddha. Shantideva’s Guide is effectively a special presentation of the Lamrim for Bodhisattva’s. The entire lamrim is contained within the Guide, and it is organized in a special presentation for Bodhisattva’s. In particular, it is a systematic attack on our self-cherishing and our self-grasping, which are the generators of our samsara. Shantideva tells things as they are. He hides nothing and pulls no punches. His words are as strong and direct as you can find. But he tells the absolute truth. Everybody who has put this method into practice has accomplished the same result. There is no reason why we would be any different.
Before we didn’t even know about our pure potential, much less have an opportunity to fully ripen it. But now we do. So now we have to decide: do I go back to my ordinary life and pretend this never happened; or do I enter the path of a bodhisattva? We need to ask ourselves: what am I going to do with my life – pursue ordinary goals or pursue spiritual goals? What am I going to do with the rest of eternity – get thrown uncontrolledly from one samsaric rebirth to another or break free and then help others do the same. This is a decision that will radically alter eternity for ourself and for others.