Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Taming the wild elephant mind

(5.2) A crazy, untamed elephant in this world
Cannot inflict such harm
As the sufferings of the deepest hell
Caused by the rampaging elephant of the mind;

(5.3) But if the elephant of our mind
Is bound tightly on all sides by the rope of mindfulness,
All fears will cease to exist
And all virtues will fall into our hands.

It is no exaggeration to describe our mind as crazy and untamed. It goes wherever it wants with no real direction, no beneficial purpose. It goes all over the place.  And wherever it goes it causes damage.  We have to acknowledge that.  Don’t we feel damaged all the time?  Every day, especially at the end of the day, don’t we feel damaged?   Sometimes we use the expression “wrecked”. “I feel mentally and physically wrecked.” it’s our mind that has wrecked us in this way. What else has the power to do so?

Sometimes we want to say “stop” to our delusions, and our mind won’t stop.  It doesn’t take any notice whatsoever. It is like saying to an actual rampaging elephant, “stop.”  Even when it does stop, the effects of the damage it’s caused carry on way into the future.  We normally only think about the consequences of our negativity and delusions in this life alone, but generally their long-term effects are much, much worse.  There’s only one way to stop it—through force – the force of mindfulness. Only then will suffering, fears, and dangers come to an end.

It was discussed earlier the need to understand clearly the inter-relationship between alertness, mindfulness and conscientiousness.  Alertness is the ability to distinguish between faults and non-faults.  Mindfulness is the ability to not forget this distinction.  Conscientiousness is a mental factor that, in dependence upon effort, cherishes what is virtuous and guards the mind from delusion and non-virtue.  We need all three.  Alertness identifies the enemy, mindfulness doesn’t lose the target, conscientiousness acts on this by protecting our virtues and being on guard against delusion and non-virtue.  The three together are what is meant by “guarding alertness.”

In many ways, lack of mindfulness is our biggest problem.  We have been around the Dharma long enough to be able to distinguish virtue from non-virtue, wisdom from delusion.  Our problem is we forget this knowledge as we go about our day.  Because we are not paying attention to what is going on in our mind (because we are so busy paying attention to what is going on in the world), delusions and non-virtue roam freely.  When we are reading Dharma books, meditating or attending teachings, it all makes sense, we see it all so clearly.  But then, as we go about our day, we forget to even think about the Dharma, must less practice it.  But if we can strengthen our mindfulness remembering our Dharma wisdom, then it is not hard to practice it.

So how do we strengthen our mindfulness?  One year I forgot my wedding anniversary.  I told my wife, “I’m sorry.  You know it is important to me, and you know I forget everything, even 10 million multiplying days.”  She incisively replied, “we remember what is important to us.”  There is no arguing with that.  Such logic is flawless.  I am terrible with names, and as a diplomat who meets a lot of people, that is a real occupational liability.  Why do I forget their names?  Because ultimately I don’t think they are that important.  I have no trouble remembering the names of the people who I think are important in some way for accomplishing my purposes.  Why do we forget the Dharma?  Why do we forget the wisdom realizing what is faulty and not-faulty in our mind?  Because we are not yet convinced of its importance.

The primary reason for this is, despite many years of receiving Dharma teachings, we still remain convinced that our outer circumstance is our problem; and if we want to solve our problem, we need to change our outer circumstance.  We think our mental reaction to our external circumstance is something that occurs passively, without us having any control or influence.  It rarely dawns on us that we can choose to think and respond differently.  And when we are told we do have choice, we dismiss it as being “artificial” and “fake,” not “natural.”  Gen-la Losang explains what is natural is simply what is familiar.  Delusions feel “natural” only because we are so familiar with them.  Virtues seem “artificial” only because we lack familiarity with them.  But with effort, we can reverse this.  We don’t force ourselves to reject our delusions and follow our virtues, rather we see our delusions are wrong and deceptive and that our virtues are right and reliable.  Seeing this, we choose to not be fooled.  If we keep recalling our Dharma wisdom, we will slowly break the spell delusions have cast on us until eventually they have no power at all.  We may need to repeat this exercise again and again, many times over long years, but eventually we will reach the point where it feels “artificial” to get angry, and entirely “natural” to be patient.  The same is true for all our other virtues.

Alertness, mindfulness and conscientiousness.  This is how we tame the wild elephant of our mind.

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