(5.19) Just as I would be careful of a wound
When in a jostling and unruly crowd,
So should I always guard the wound of my mind
When among those who might provoke delusions.
(5.20) If I am careful of a physical wound
Out of fear of even the slightest pain,
Why do I not protect the wound of my mind
Out of fear of being crushed by the mountains of hell?
(5.21) If I always practise in this way,
Then, whether I am among harmful beings
Or with people I find attractive,
Neither my steadfastness nor my vows will decline.
This is a very special piece of advice that is so relevant to our living and working in the land of the jostling and unruly. This advice we have to take to heart. If we do we will succeed. We will accomplish so much in the society in which we’re working. What is the advice?
There are many people or situations that might provoke our delusions. There are many people already in our lives who provoke attachment. How many car accidents happen due to some guy looking at an attractive woman on the street? And not all attachment is sexual. Attachment to people is thinking that they are causes of our happiness. If we check, no matter who we engage with our first thought is “how can this person help me accomplish my objectives.” In actual fact, we are constantly on the look out for how to use people for our own purposes, and we view everyone through this lens. When we find people who can help us fulfill our proposes, almost instantly attachment develops within our mind.
There are also many people who might provoke impatience, anger, and so on. When we lived in Geneva, my wife worked at the local international school which gave our kids free tuition. They sold the school and the new owner has the bright idea of getting rid of free tuition for the kids of teachers. The end result was this was the primary reason why we had to leave Europe and move back to the U.S. I remember walking on campus once behind the new manager who was spearheading this effort, and for the first time in my life I actually had to physically restrain myself from strangling the guy! There was this sudden surge of aggression in my mind. There are not only extreme cases like this, we can be bothered by the person who sits next to us at work who just never stops talking, preventing us from working; or the little old lady who drives really slowly blocking traffic. Some people we just find terribly arrogant, others very presumptuous. Pretty much everybody bothers us in one way or the other.
We need to identify where we are weak to the attacks of the delusions, and at such times be particularly mindful. We need to examine our life and try identify those situation where we are particularly susceptible to generating delusions. If we were to walk in a dangerous neighborhood at night, we would be on high alert. Yet we think nothing of walking into a shopping mall or into a conference room at work. We need to become alert to dangerous situations for our mind, not just our body.
Shantideva says we should regard our mind as an open wound. It’s exposed—therefore I cannot, dare not, leave it unprotected. If we feel this way about our mind then we’ll be concerned for it. We’ll take care so that no harm will come to us. If I don’t protect my mind I will be hurt, seriously hurt. We need to think not only about short term hurt, but the long term hurt in the future which is far greater.
When people hurt themselves, such as breaking a bone, they put casts or special braces on so as to protect their injury from becoming worse. We need to do the same with our delusions. For example, I have long suffered from jealousy about how I perceive my father loving my brother more. This is a sore and sensitive point for me. Likewise, I often worry about how he judges me and the decisions I make in life. It does not take much for me to become heavily deluded about these things. My mind is already badly injured in this way and the “break” hasn’t fully healed yet (not even close, actually). I need to put on the mental cast of alertness to be mindful of when my mind starts going down the roads of inappropriate attention which lead quickly to delusions.
People who have bad backs know if they twist just wrong or lift something too heavy, they can quickly hurt their back, and back pain can sometimes last for days. As a result, they are very careful. We need to be the same with our mind. At our current state of spiritual development, there are some things we can handle easily without generating delusions, there are some things which are currently way beyond our capacity and then there are those things in the middle which could go either way. For these things in particular, we need to guard our alertness. They are the things which might just be too heavy for us, so we need to be careful.
When we have been sick a long time, our body is weak and we have not yet regained all of our strength. If we push it too hard, too quickly, we could quickly relapse into our illness or set back our recovery by days or even weeks. Instead, we move slowly, gradually regaining our strength and capacity. In the same way, when we are coming off of a long period in which our mind was heavily under the influence of delusions, we should be mindful to not push things too hard or too quickly. Our mind is weak and fragile, and it might not take much to reactivate our delusions quite strongly. We see this in particular with people who suffer from depression. When we are depressed, we think “nothing goes our way, everything is hard.” When just the slightest thing goes wrong, even though in and of itself it is of no great significance, it nonetheless deflates our spirits and we become down and despondent.
Next time you are sick or injured, look and see how your mind naturally has great wisdom of self-preservation guiding you in your recovery. Then take that as an analogy for how you should be with respect to your delusions.