Bodhicharyāvatāra – Shanti Deva

I wanted to write something about language. Good language. These days, it seems vulgarities are thrown in all directions, and no one even flinches. These days, public shaming seems a favorite pastime, and many have forgotten to simply stay quiet and wait to take a person aside and speak with a kind tone. These days, the notion of humility is no longer spoken about, nor taught, most equating it with weakness; while notions like strength, pride and winning are taking the forefront -even when it comes to children.

Yet, I found myself lacking words or to be more precise, I found myself not wanting to preach or admonish anyone. So I turned to a text that has been with me for some 20 years and that I read regularly when I feel I am straying away from kindness. This text dating from the 8th c. AD is known as “The way of the Bodhisattva – Bodhicharyāvatāra” by Shanti Deva. It is a text that has been read and studied for centuries and, according to the Dalai Lama, the only text one should read to understand compassion.

So I have copied here a few paragraphes that I hope you shall read with joy and an open heart.

Thank you.

Kenza.

When you feel the wish to walk about,
Or even to express yourself in speech,
First examine what is in your mind.
For they will act correctly who have stable minds.

When the urge rises in the mind
To feelings of desire or wrathful hate,
Do not act! Be silent, do not speak!
And like a log of wood be sure to stay.

When the mind is wild with mockery
And filled with pride and haughty arrogance,
And when you want to show the hidden faults of others,
To bring up old dissensions or to act deceitfully,

And when you want to fish for praise,
Or criticize and spoil another’s name,
Or use harsh language, sparring for a fight,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

And when you want to do another down
And cultivate advantage for yourself,
And when the wish to gossip comes to you,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

Impatience, indolence, faint heartedness,
And likewise haughty speech and insolence,
Attachment to your side—when these arise,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

Examine thus yourself from every side.
Note harmful thoughts and every futile striving.
Thus it is that heroes in the Bodhisattva path
Apply remedies to keep a steady mind.”

Text: “The way of the Bodhisattva – Bodhicharyāvatāra” by Shanti Deva (ca. 700 AD), Chapter 5 “Vigilance,” Paragraphs 47-54 – translated from the Tibetan by the Padmakara Translation Group. Text originally in Sanskrit. First Tibetan translation dates from the 8th c. (Shambala Classics Publishers, 1997)

Some thoughts on thoughts

The ability of the mind is infinite and yet, few seem aware of it.

Take a word, any word.

Let me take “lemon.”

If I use my voice, I would need at least 15 minutes to describe everything that comes to my mind: yellow, sometimes green, small, sometimes medium, sour, a drop in the eyes hurts, le gâteau au citron dans le restaurant à Cannes, lime, los tacos del señor sobre Avenida Insurgentes, excellent for digestion, the flowering lemon tree in Ismael Kadare’s book “Le concert” I read many years ago, etc. And I am not even finished.

Now if you use just your mind without trying to assign words or even images, a seemingly insignificant thing such as a lemon, can produce an incredible number of thoughts.

Some say we average 3’000 to 4’000 thoughts every waken hour. This makes about 50’000 a day.

Just imagine what they maybe.

Take the next two minutes, observe your thoughts and see for yourselves.

What happened?

One thing happened: you did not have precise thoughts and had to force yourself to invent them since you were thinking about what to think! Isn’t it amazing? —amazing enough that it is often described as “advaita” in Sanskrit, no-thought, no-duality, one step away from illumination. Amazing indeed!

Now, looking at the last 30 minutes, try and list in your head all that you thought about.

It is exhausting isn’t it? And most of it was not … very profound, was it not?

Where does this lead us?

For a start, we need not have profound and life changing thoughts all the time. Rather just noticing the color of the sky and the smile on someone’s face are enough. Equally so, some thoughts are practical such as applying a recipe while making lunch, or putting together a schedule.

Another thing is reducing the number of thoughts. It is in fact a good idea and does not render us less intelligent, rather the opposite. It makes us think better and be more focused. So if we could manage to have a thought and “think it through” without wavering all over the place, as so many Buddhist and Tao masters urge us to do, we may untangle our minds and perhaps even our selves.

Finally, so as to keep the thought process related to this essay as parsimonious as possible, can you imagine how the world would be if only a fraction of the thousands of thoughts we have every hour were positive? I mean, no negativity, no criticism, no comparison, no judgement. Just imagine that!

Now I have given you something to think about.

Thank you for reading and I hope you smile.
Kenza.