(5.47) Whenever I wish to move my body
Or to utter any words,
I should first examine my mind
And then steadfastly act in an appropriate way.
All our actions need to be considered, rather than be habitual. We’re learning to be in control at all times of our mental, physical, and verbal behavior. To always have a good heart and follow our wisdom. We have unusual habits that we’ve been carrying for years and years — responding in ways that have never actually been considered. We need to become conscious of these habits. We need to pay attention to not just of what we’re saying, but how we’re saying it; not just what we’re doing but how we’re doing it. Huge problems can arise just from how someone says or does something, even if what they are doing is good.
It is true that as Buddhists we say the most important component in the creation of karma is our mental intention. But our goal as Bodhisattva’s is to lead all beings to freedom, and we do that primarily through our verbal and physical actions. Our verbal and physical actions are the medium through which our mental intentions take form in the world. If our mind is correct but our verbal and mental actions wrong, our karma may be good but our benefit in the world will be limited. For this reason, just as we need to bring our mental actions under control, we also need to bring our bodily and verbal actions under control.
As with the mind, it begins with becoming aware of what we are physically and verbally doing. Most people are completely unaware how they come across to others. Internally they don’t mean to, but externally they can come across as haughty, aggressive, careless, rude, ungrateful, clumsy, or just plain dumb. Of course we should not be attached to what others think of us, meaning we shouldn’t think our own happiness depends on others thinking certain things of us. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about what others think of us as part of our bodhichitta wish to help them. In the mind of the spiritual person, they are just trying to be a good person, but to others they can come across as uptight, self-righteous judgmental moralizers. Our pride often blinds us to seeing our own faults, but usually makes us keenly aware of the faults of others. If we are to change our behavior, we must first become aware of it.
Once we become aware of it, we should seek to identify what we are doing wrong and how we can do better, then we should apply effort to do so. It is important, though, that we don’t become awkward about it. If we come across like some motionless, heartless robot or we become so paranoid about doing anything wrong we become paralyzed or overly apologetic for every slight mistake, then people will just think we’re weird! We need to be natural yet controlled, relaxed yet clear of purpose, easy-going yet meaningful, approachable yet different than others, supple yet strong, confident yet humble, kind yet firm, the list goes on and on. We are to embody every good quality simultaneously, especially those that seem contradictory. Such is the path of the middle way.
To keep it simple, though, we shouldn’t do anything with our body or speech unless we have a clear and meaningful purpose for doing so. If we just remember this, while remaining natural and easy-going, we will gradually find our way to correct action. Ultimately, our real objective is to bring the guru into our heart, generate a compassionate motivation for those around us, and request that our every action of body, speech and mind is the guru working through us to liberate all beings. If we can learn such reliance, all of our actions will naturally fall into place.