(5.13) Where is there enough leather
To cover the surface of the Earth?
But just having leather on the soles of one’s feet
Is the same as covering the whole Earth.
(5.14) In the same way, it is not possible
To control all external events;
But, if I simply control my mind,
What need is there to control other things?
I think that we all have this bad habit of wanting to control. On one level we’re all control freaks. Why? Because we want everything to be how we want it to be. This desire arises from our self-grasping and self-cherishing minds. If we examine closely our thoughts, even our speech and our physical behavior, the truth of this will become apparent. We need to know these things. We need to identify these things in our own mind. To destroy our enemy of delusions, we must first identify them.
This controlling mind is a horrible mind. Rather than accepting happily whatever happens, we prefer to control. We mentally grasp at some things being good and others being bad, and as a result we seek to control what happens. We exhaust ourselves doing this to no avail. We can take a simple example of just listening to somebody else. Are we able to happily allow the other person to say what they want, how they want, for as long as they want, and we simply listen and enjoy listening. There are levels of impatience that we suffer from all the time, in every aspect of our life. Do we genuinely leave people free to do what they wish or do we try control them?
Our mind seeks to control, it wishes to change things, it seeks to push certain things away. Instead, we need to learn to accept them all. This will sometimes mean our selfish wishes go unfulfilled, and this can be painful. But what is bad for our self-cherishing is good for us. Generally we get too concerned with immediate results. We do the slightest virtue, and we expect to get our karmic benefits right away. If they don’t, we are not willing to engage in the virtue. This comes from worldly concerns. This is a real training of the mind. Yes, it is hard work, but the rewards are infinite. If we have the mind of patient acceptance, it is as if we are in a pure land while still abiding in samsara. We accept everything, can go anywhere in any situation and are perfectly happy. We know how to accept everything just as it is without the slightest need to change anything. We can do this because we know how to use everything that arises to accomplish our spiritual purposes. Everything gives us a chance to train in some form of virtue or to realize some truth of Dharma, so we can use everything to advance along the path.
This does not mean we do not alleviate harm where we can do so. Of course if there are things we can do to stop suffering, for ourself or for others, then we should do so for virtuous reasons, such as wanting to protect others from creating bad karma for themselves. But when we can’t do anything to change the external situation, it doesn’t matter because we know how to accept everything as it is.
It is so difficult for us—to let go of our desire to have any control over others. Are we ready to let people be as they want to be, do as they want to do—without any wish to control? We even need to let go of the desire for control over situations. We do this because we are still suffering from the mind that thinks that our inner wellbeing depends on what is happening in the external world, so to be happy we need to manipulate and force the external to conform to our wishes. Most anger comes from this, we strongly convince ourselves that some external thing needs to happen, and we try force the world to conform to our vision of things. This only creates more problems.
A Bodhisattva instead desires only to control their own mind. Shantideva says “if I simply control my own mind, what need is there to control other things?” When we are free from needing to control other things for ourself, then we will be in a position to help people make the right choices for themselves. We don’t want them to change for us. Whatever they do, it is perfect for us. Rather, we want them to change for them. We only help people change the things about themselves that they wish to change, not what we wish to change. For example, we might be with somebody who has huge faults, but doesn’t see any but the smallest. We help them change what they want to change, and we accept the rest as perfect for our training.