Bodhicaryāvatāra Chapter 4
The children of the Conqueror who thus
Have firmly grasped this bodhichitta,
Should never turn aside from it,
Strive never to transgress its disciplines.
Whatever was begun without due heed,
And all that was not properly conceived,
Although a promise and a pledge were given,
It is right to reconsider: Shall I act or not?
Yet what the Buddhas and their heirs
Have scrutinized in their great wisdom,
I myself have probed and scrutinized.
Why should I now procrastinate?
For if I bind myself with promises
But fail to carry out my words in deed,
Then every being will have been betrayed.
What destiny must lie in store for me?
If in the teachings it is said
That those who in their thoughts intend
To give a small and paltry thing but then draw back
Will take rebirth as hungry spirits,
How can I expect a happy destiny
If from my heart I summon
Wandering beings to the highest bliss,
But then deceive and fail them?
As for those who, losing bodhichitta,
Lead others nonetheless to liberation,
Karmic law is inconceivable
And only understood by the Omniscient.50
This failure, for the Bodhisattva,
Is the gravest of all downfalls.
For should it ever come to pass,
The good of every being is thrown down.
And anyone who, for a single instant,
Halts the merit of a Bodhisattva
Wanders endlessly in evil states,
Because the welfare of all beings is reduced.
Destroy a single being’s joy
And you will work the ruin of yourself.
No need to speak of bringing low
The joy of beings infinite as space itself!
And those who circle in saṃsāra,
Mixing powerful downfalls
With the power of bodhichitta back and forth,
Will long be hindered from the Bodhisattva grounds.
And so, according to my promise,
I will act attentively.
From this day forth, if I now fail to strive,
I’ll fall from low to even lower states.
Striving for the benefit of all that lives,
Unnumbered Buddhas have already lived and passed away.
But I, by virtue of my sins, have failed
To come within the compass of their healing works.51
And this will always be my lot
If I continue to behave like this,
And I will suffer pains and bondage,
Wounds and laceration in the lower realms.
The appearance of the Buddhas in the world,
True faith and the attainment of a human form,
An aptitude for good: all these are rare.
When will they come to me again?
Today, indeed, I’m hale and well,
I have enough to eat and I am not in danger.
But this life is fleeting, unreliable,
My body is like something briefly lent.
And yet the way I act is such
That I shall not regain a human life!
And losing this, my precious human form,
My evils will be many, virtues none.52
Here is now my chance for wholesome deeds,
But if I fail to practice virtue,
What will be my lot, what shall I do,
Bewildered by the sorrows of the lower realms?
Never, there, performing any virtue,
Only ever piling up my sins,
And for a hundred million ages,
I’ll not even hear of happy destinies.53
This is why Lord Buddha has declared
That like a turtle that perchance can place
Its head within a yoke adrift upon the mighty sea
This human birth is difficult to find!
If through the evil action of a single instant
I must spend an aeon in the hell of Unrelenting Pain,
The evils in saṃsāra stored from time without beginning—
No need to say that they will keep me from the states of bliss!
And mere experience of such pain
Does not result in being freed from it.
For in the very suffering of such states,
More evil will occur, and then in great abundance.
Thus, having found this moment of reprieve,
If I now fail to train myself in virtue,
What greater folly could there ever be?
How more could I betray myself?
If having understood all this,
I’m stupidly despondent still,
Then at the moment of my death,
My sorrows will be black indeed.
And when my body burns so long
In fires of hell so unendurable,
My mind, there is no doubt, will also be tormented,
Burned in fires of unendurable regret.
For it’s as if by chance that I have gained
This state so hard to find, wherein to help myself.
If now, while having such discernment,
I am once again consigned to hell,
I am as if benumbed by sorcery,
As if reduced to total mindlessness.
I do not know what dulls my wits.
O what is it that has me in its grip?
Anger, lust, these enemies of mine,
Are limbless and devoid of faculties.
They have no bravery, no cleverness;
How then have they reduced me to such slavery?
They dwell within my mind
And at their pleasure injure me.
All this I suffer meekly, unresenting—
Thus my abject patience, all displaced!
If all the gods and demigods besides
Together came against me as my foes,
They would be powerless to throw me down
To fires of hell of Unrelenting Pain.
And yet the mighty fiend of my afflictions
Flings me in an instant headlong down
To where the mighty lord of mountains54
Would be burned, its very ashes all consumed.
O my enemy, afflictive passion,
Endless and beginningless companion!
No other enemy indeed
Is able to endure so long!
All other foes that I appease and wait upon
Will show me favors, give me every aid,
But should I serve my dark defiled emotions,
They will only harm me, draw me down to grief.
If thus my ancient and unceasing foes,
The wellspring only of my growing pain,
Can lodge so safe within my heart,
How can I live so blithe and fearless in this wheel of life?
And if the jail guards of the prisons of saṃsāra,
The butchers and tormentors of infernal realms,
All lurk within me in the web of craving,
What joy can ever be my destiny?
I will not leave the fight until, before my eyes,
These enemies of mine are all destroyed.
For if, aroused to fury by the merest slight,
Incapable of sleep until the scores are settled,
Proud but wretched rivals, destined all to suffer when they die,
Will draw the battle lines and do their best to win,
And careless of the pain of cut and thrust,
Will stand their ground refusing to give way,
No need to say that I will not lose heart,
Regardless of the hardships of the fray.
From this day forth I’ll strive to crush
These foes whose very nature is to bring me pain.
The wounds inflicted by the enemy in futile wars
Are flaunted by the soldier as a prize.
So in the high endeavor, for so great a thing,
Why should I be dismayed by hurt or injury?
When fishers, butchers, farmers, and the like,
Intending just to gain their livelihood,
Will suffer all the miseries of heat and cold,
Why, for beings’ happiness, should those like me not bear the same?
When I pledged myself to free from their afflictions
Beings who abide in every region,
Stretching to the limits of the sky,
I was myself not free from such defilements.
To speak like that, not knowing my capacity,
Were these not, truly, but a madman’s words?
More reason then for never drawing back
Abandoning the fight against defiled affliction.55
This shall be my all-consuming passion.
Filled with rancor I will wage my war!
Defilement of this kind will halt defilement
And for this reason it shall not be spurned.
Better if I perish in the fire,
Better that my head be severed from my body
Than ever I should serve or reverence
My mortal enemies, defiled emotions.
Common foes, when driven from the state,
Retreat and base themselves in other lands,
And muster all their strength the better to return.
But enemy afflictions are without such stratagems.
Miserable defilements, scattered by the eye of wisdom!
Where will you now run, when driven from my mind?
Whence would you return to do me harm?
But oh, my mind is feeble. I am indolent!
Defilements are not in the object,
Nor within the faculties, nor somewhere in between.
And if not elsewhere, where is their abode,
Whence they inflict their havoc on the world?
They are simple mirages, and so take heart!
Banish all your fear and strive to know their nature.
Why suffer needlessly the pains of hell?
This is how I should reflect and labor,
That I might apply the precepts thus set forth.
What invalids in need of medicine
Ignored their doctor’s words and gained their health?
50. The celebrated case of this was that of the Buddha’s disciple Shāriputra, as recorded in the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra, the Lotus Sūtra. It is said that Shāriputra was a practitioner of the Mahāyāna who had progressed far along the path. One day a demon appeared to him and, wishing to put him to the test and if possible contrive his downfall, asked him for his right hand. Shāriputra cut it off and gave it to the demon. But the demon was angry and refused to accept it, complaining that Shāriputra had impolitely offered it to him with his left! At this point, it is said that Shāriputra lost hope of ever being able to satisfy the desires of beings, and turned from the Mahāyāna to pursue the path to arhatship.
51. The ability to perceive and benefit from the teachings of a Buddha
requires the correct karmic disposition and implies the presence of a
considerable degree of merit in the mind-stream of the beings concerned. The fact that one has not been liberated through the teachings of the Buddhas of the past serves to underline the importance of the present moment, when one has encountered the Dharma, and throws into relief the great significance of a relationship with an accomplished spiritual master.
52. According to Buddhist teachings (see remarks in the introduction),
karmic results follow ineluctably upon the perpetration of acts,
irrespective of conscious attitude or moral conscience (although the
quality and force of the act may be significantly affected thereby). Thus beings in the lower realms, animals for example, do indeed accumulate karma and must sooner or later experience the consequences of their actions, even though these may be performed under the irresistible influence of instinct. And the karmic situation is compounded, rather than mitigated, by an unconsciousness of the Dharma. The strength of instinctual habit and the ignorance of what behavior is to be adopted and what behavior is to be abandoned are among the principal miseries of existence in states other than that of the precious human condition.
53. See note 45.
54. Mount Sumeru, the axis of the universe according to traditional HinduBuddhist cosmology.
55. The point being made is that pledges should be honored. In order to liberate others it is necessary to be free oneself; and Shāntideva is saying that the purification of one’s own defilements is the best way of helping others. It is the indispensable first step.