Now Shantideva enters into an explanation of skillful means, and how a Bodhisattva should behave.
Each one of us has a great responsibility now for helping Buddhadharma to flourish. To do so we know we have to go out into the world and be very much part of society, giving people the opportunity to meet the Buddhadharma, the Kadam Dharma. To do this, no doubt that we need strength of mind, stability of practice, a lot of courage. In one sense what we’re doing is very unusual. If we look throughout history, what we’re doing now is quite extraordinary. We are taking a set of spiritual instructions that has been in India and Tibet for thousands of years, and we are trying to bring it into the modern world and integrate it into our modern lives. This has never been done before, and we have been tasked with doing it!
If we are to succeed, then there’s no duobt we need to be able to protect our mind, guard our practice. In particular, we need many different types of skillful behavior; we need to maintain strength of mind, stability, courage, etc. With this chapter in particular, there is a lot of advice that is of particular relevance. If we are to succeed in our work, we must follow this advice. It is absolutely essential. Please take this advice right to heart. It is important for us all—if we are to succeed, it’s quite necessary to take this advice to heart. Otherwise we’ll blow it!
(5.18) Therefore, I will guard my mind well
And protect it from what is inappropriate.
Without the discipline of guarding the mind,
What is the use of many other disciplines?
What is inappropriate? Shantideva is primarily referring to protecting our mind from inappropriate attention. Inappropriate attention is synonymous with exaggeration in a way that produces delusion.
With inappropriate attention, we exaggerate the apparent qualities of an object. This is something we do all the time. First we exaggerate the objects attractiveness or repulsiveness. We think the object is actually attractive or unattractive from its own side. Then we exaggerate its ability to be a source of happiness or suffering. We project all sorts of hopes or fears onto the object and relate to the object as if it actually had these powers. On this basis we generate attachment or aversion. And we always exaggerate how much it exists. We think the object actually exists as an independent thing. On this basis we generate ignorance.
Shantideva is encouraging us to guard our mind well. We do this by binding our mind to the pillar of virtue. If we are to protect our mind from all that is inappropriate, all exaggeration, then we won’t allow our mind to go out to an object of attachment to pull it in. We won’t allow our mind to go out to an object of attachment or be pushed away from an object of aversion. We will stay within and recognize that an object being attractive or unattractive is an appearance of mind. In other words, there’s nothing to go out to. We feel it is just a pleasant or attractive appearance. Just an unpleasant our unattractive appearance. Just a karmic appearance to mind. In this way we can protect our mind, guard our mind, keep control over our mind, and thereby keep a very peaceful mind.
As soon as we go out to an object, there’s naturally an exaggeration taking place. We know in dependence upon that delusion will naturally arise. All stemming from that inappropriate attention. Even though we may know intellectually about inappropriate attention, we need to look deeply within our own mind to discriminate the different types and levels of inappropriate attention in order to protect our mind from it. If we don’t, we will fail in all other disciplines.
In particular, we need to do this with strong attachment and strong anger. There might be certain objects we have particularly strong attachment towards or certain people we have particularly strong aversion towards. It is certain there is strong exaggeration present in our mind. If we are not reacting to situations as they actually are, we are certain to make mistakes and make things worse. Bringing things down a notch always helps.
To keep it simple: there is no delusion without exaggeration. So if you find your mind is unpeaceful or disturbed about something, your first task is to identify how you are exaggerating things. This alone will help bring you under control and give you the space to then apply other opponents. Ultimately, if there is no exaggeration in our mind, there is no delusion. Our mother was right, “stop exaggerating!”