Over the next several verses, Shantideva goes on to describe the different types of moral discipline observed by a Bodhisattva: the moral disciplines of restraint, the moral discipline of gathering virtuous Dharmas, and the moral discipline of benefitting living beings.
One question we can ask ourselves is what is the difference between restraint, practicing virtue, and benefitting others, and the moral discipline of restraint, the moral discipline of practicing virtue, the moral discipline of benefitting others? There is a difference. If we’re going to be practicing moral discipline perfectly, we need to know. We can practice restraint, virtuous Dharmas, benefitting others, but it doesn’t follow that we’re practicing moral discipline. Moral discipline is defined as a virtuous mental determination to abandon any fault, a bodily or verbal action motivated by such a determination. In other words, what makes these practices practices of moral discipline is the virtuous wish to abandon a fault. If our motivation for doing these three things is selfish or deluded, then even if we are practicing restraint, virtue or benefiting others, we are not practicing the moral discipline of these three. Why does this matter? Because if we want the karmic result of the practice of moral discipline, namely future higher spiritual rebirths, we need to engage in these three as practices of moral discipline.
Shantideva begins with the moral discipline of restraint, which in Joyful Path Geshe-la said includes any spiritual discipline which avoids or overcomes any fault.
(5.34) First, I should check to see how my mind is;
And, if I see it is polluted with negativity,
I should remain unmoving,
With a mind as impassive as wood.
Before we undertake any action, we must check our motivation. We need to actively ask ourselves the question “why am I doing this?” What mind is underlying my activity and behavior? If we find any negativity there, best simply to stop. We make our mind remain unmoving, like a block of wood. In short, we become like Charlie Brown, who Lucy would always refer to as a “Blockhead.”
Why do we do this? Because when our mind is under the influence of delusion, everything we do will make our situation worse. In such a situation, it is better to not think at all then act on our delusions. Delusions are like storm clouds passing through the sky – eventually they fade and pass. When our mind is suddenly seized by delusions and we are likely to act on them, it is far better to make our mind like a block of wood, free from all conceptual activity, than to act on our delusions.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion about this practice. One such confusion, sometimes known as the Hashag fallacy, so named after an ancient monk who taught his disciples the path to enlightenment was to make our mind completely blank, free from all conceptual activity. Geshe-la refutes this view in many of his books. Virtually all Dharma minds begin as conceptual minds, then through increasingly familiarity with them they eventually transform into direct perceptions of the Dharma truth. If we don’t first realize the Dharma truth through a conceptual mind, we can never gain a direct perception of its truth. So just making our mind blank actually blocks our spiritual progress.
Another common confusion about this practice is we think it means we are supposed to repress our delusions, forcibly pretending they are not there. But we know from our own experience that when we do this, we just shove them under the surface where they grow in strength until eventually they blow in some dramatic fashion. To avoid suppression, we need to have a good reason why we remain unmoving. So we recall that if we follow this negative motivation we will just make our situation worse and create the cause of suffering. Motivated by this, we then make our mind like a block of wood, free from any conceptual activity.
It is important to know how exactly we make our mind like a block of wood. It is not a forcible holding back of our delusions, like somebody wrestling opponents to the ground so they can’t get up. Rather, it is more like simply unplugging a computer. If our computer is under attack from a hacker or a computer virus, sometimes the best defense to limit the damage is to simply unplug the electricity of the computer. Without electricity, the computer simply has no activity going on whatsoever. In the same way, when we make our mind like a block of wood, free from all conceptual activity, it is like we pull the electricity (of conceptual thought) and there is simply no activity at all taking place in our mind. Each time a new thought flares up, we again let it go completely, literally paying it no mind.
Once the storm has passed and our mind once again as a semblance of control, we can then use other methods to root out our delusions, such as applying the various opponents found in the Lamrim.