Bodhicaryāvatāra Chapter 7
Thus with patience I will strive with diligence.
For in such diligence enlightenment is found.
If no wind blows, then nothing stirs,
And neither is there merit without diligence.
Diligence means joy in virtuous ways.83
Its contraries have been defined as laziness,
An inclination for unwholesomeness,
Defeatism and self-contempt.
A taste for idle pleasure
And a craving for repose and sleep,
No qualms about the sorrows of saṃsāra:
Laziness indeed is born from these.
Snared by the trapper of defiled emotion,
Enmeshed and taken in the toils of birth,
Again you’ve strayed into the maw of Death.
What is it? Have you still not understood?
Don’t you see how, one by one,
Death has come for all your kind?
And yet you slumber on so soundly,
Like a buffalo beside its butcher.
All the paths of flight are blocked,
The Lord of Death now has you in his sights.
How can you take such pleasure in your food,
And how can you delight to rest and sleep?84
Death will swoop on you so swiftly.
Gather merit till that moment comes!
For even if you then throw off your indolence,
What will you do when there is no more time?
“This I have not done, and this I’m only starting.
And this—I’m only halfway through . . .”
Then is the sudden coming of the Lord of Death,
And oh, the thought “Alas, I’m finished!”
You’ll look upon the faces of your hopeless friends,
Their tearstained cheeks, their red and swollen eyes
(For such will be the depths of their distress),
And then you’ll see the heralds of the Deadly Lord.
The memory of former sins will torture you,
The screams and din of hell break on your ears.
With very terror you will foul yourself.
What will you do in such delirium?
If, like a living fish that twists and writhes,
You are so terrified while still alive,
What need to speak of pain unbearable
In hells created by past evil deeds?
How can you remain at ease like this
When you have done the deeds that lead
To contact on your tender baby-flesh
Of boiling liquids in the hell of Extreme Heat?
So testy and thin-skinned, you want results without endeavor—
Many are the troubles now in store for you!
Though in the grip of death, you are behaving like a god,85
And suffering, alas, will beat you down!
So take advantage of this human boat.
Free yourself from sorrow’s mighty stream!
This vessel will be later hard to find.
The time that you have now, you fool, is not for sleep!
You turn your back upon the Sacred Doctrine,
Supreme joy and boundless source of bliss.
Why delight in mere excitement,
In distractions that will cause you misery?
Do not be downcast, but marshal all your powers;
Make an effort; be the master of yourself!
Practice the equality of self and other;
Practice the exchange of self and other.86
“Oh, but how could I become enlightened?”
Don’t excuse yourself with such despondency!
The Buddha, who declares the truth,
Has truly spoken and proclaimed
That if they bring forth strength of perseverance,
Even bees and flies
And gnats and grubs will gain
Supreme enlightenment so hard to find.
And if, by birth and lineage of human kind,
I’m able to distinguish good from ill
And do not leave aside the Bodhisattva deeds,
Why should I not attain the state of Buddhahood?
“That I must give away my life and limbs
Alarms and frightens me”—if so you say,
Your terror is misplaced. Confused,
You fail to see what’s hard and what is easy.
For myriads of ages, measureless, uncounted,
Your body has been cut, impaled,
Burned, torn—for times past numbering!
Yet none of this has brought you Buddhahood.
The hardships suffered on the path to Buddhahood
Are limited in their extent
And likened to the pain of an incision
Made to cure the harms of inward ills.
And all our doctors cure disease
By means of bitter remedies.
Likewise, to destroy a vast amount of pain,
We should be patient with our little hurts.
And yet the Supreme Healer does not use,
Like them, these common remedies.
With ways of extreme tenderness
He soothes away intense and boundless suffering.
Our guide instructs us to begin
By giving vegetable greens or other little things,
That later, step-by-step, the habit once acquired,
We may be able to donate our very flesh.
For when we truly feel
Our bodies are no different from the given herbs,
What hardship can there be
In giving up, relinquishing, our very flesh?
Sin has been abandoned, thus there is no pain;
Through having wisdom there is no more sorrow.
For so it is that mind and body both
Are injured by false views and sinfulness.
Merit is the true cause of the body’s ease,
While happiness of mind is had through understanding.
What can sadden those who have compassion,
Who remain within saṃsāra for the sake of beings?
For through their power of bodhichitta,
Former sins are totally consumed,
And merit, ocean-vast, is gathered in,
It’s therefore said that they excel the Shrāvakas.87
Mounted on the horse of bodhichitta,
Which puts to flight all mournful weariness,
What lucid person could be in despair
Proceeding in this way from joy to joy?
The forces that secure the good of beings,
Are aspiration, steadfastness, relinquishment, and joy.
Aspiration grows through fear of suffering
And contemplation of the benefits to be attained.
Therefore leaving everything that is adverse to it,
I’ll labor to increase my diligence,
Through aspiration and self-confidence, relinquishment and joy,
By strength of earnest application and exertion of control.
The boundless evils of myself and others—
I must bring them all to nothing,
Even though a single of these ills
May take unnumbered ages to exhaust!
And if I find within myself
No sign that faults are even starting to be cleansed,
Why does my heart not burst asunder,
Destined as I am for boundless pain?
Good qualities for my and others’ sake,
Though they be many, I must now accomplish,
Even though for each of them
I must endeavor for unnumbered ages.
Acquaintance I have never gained
With even part of such great qualities.
It is indeed amazing that I render meaningless
This life that somehow I have gained.
Offerings to the Buddhas I have never made;
No feasts were ever held through my donations;
No works have I accomplished for the Teachings;
The wishes of the poor I left unsatisfied.
I have not saved the frightened from their fear;
The wretched I have not consoled.
My mother’s pain, her womb’s discomfort:
These alone are my accomplishments.
My failure to aspire to Dharma
Now and in the past
Has brought me to my present dereliction.
Who therefore would spurn such aspiration?
Aspiration, so the Sage asserted,
Is the root of every kind of virtue.
Aspiration’s root in turn
Is constant meditation on the fruits of action.
The body’s pains, anxieties of mind,
And all my fears of various kinds,
To be deprived of what I want—
Such is the harvest of my sinful deeds.
But if my acts are good, sincerely intended,
Then no matter where I turn my steps,
The merit gained will honor me
With its resulting benefits.
But if, through seeking happiness, my deeds are wrong,
No matter where I turn my steps,
The knives of misery will cut me down,
The wage and retribution of a sinful life.
Through virtue I will rest within the cool heart of a fragrant spreading lotus,
With splendor nurtured by the sweet words of the Conqueror.
Then from the lotus opened in the Sage’s light, in supreme form I will arise
To dwell, the blissful Buddha’s heir, in presence of Victorious Ones.88
Or else as wages of my many sins, my skin completely flayed, I shall be
utterly brought low
By creatures of the Lord of Death, who on my body pour a liquid bronze all
melted in the dreadful blaze.
And pierced by burning swords and knives, my flesh
Dismembered in a hundred parts will fall upon the white-hot iron ground.
Therefore I will aspire and tend to virtue,
And steep myself in it with great devotion.
And with the method stated in the Vajradhvaja,89
I will train in confident assurance.
Let me first consider my reserves—
To start or not to start accordingly.
It might be better not to start,
But once begun, I should not then withdraw.
For if I do such things, the pattern will return
In later lives, and sin and pain will grow.
And other actions will be left undone
Or else will bear a meager fruit.
Action, the afflictions, and ability:
Three things to which my pride should be directed.90
“I will do this, I myself, alone!”
These words define my pride of action.
Overpowered by their minds’ afflictions,
Worldly folk are helpless to secure their happiness.
Compared with those who wander, I am able!
This therefore shall be my task.
When others give themselves to low behavior,
What shall be my stance in their regard?
In any case, I’ll not be arrogant;
My best way is to give up such conceit.
When they find a dying serpent,
Even crows behave like soaring eagles.
Therefore if I’m weak and feeble-hearted,
Even little faults will strike and injure me.91
But if, depressed, I give up trying,
How can I gain freedom from my abject state?
But if I stand my ground with proud resolve,
It will be hard for even great faults to attack me.
Therefore with a steadfast heart
I’ll get the better of my weaknesses.
But if my failings get the upper hand,
My wish to overcome the triple world is laughable indeed.
“I will be victor over all,
And nothing shall prevail and bring me down!”
The offspring of the Lion, the Conqueror,
Should constantly abide in this self-confidence.92
Those whom arrogance destroys
Are thus defiled; they lack self-confidence.
Those who have true confidence escape the foe,
While others fall into the power of an evil pride.
When arrogance inflates the mind,
It draws it down to states of misery—
Or ruins happiness, should human birth be gained.
Thus one is born a slave, dependent for one’s sustenance,
Or feebleminded, ugly, without strength,
The butt and laughingstock of everyone.
These “ascetics” puffed up with conceit!
If these you call the proud, then tell me who are wretched?
Those who uphold pride to vanquish pride, the enemy,
Are truly proud, victorious, and brave.
And they who stem the increase of that evil pride,
Perfect, according to their wish, the fruit of victory for beings.
When I am beleaguered by defilements,
I will stand and face them in a thousand ways.
I’ll not surrender to the host of the afflictions
But like a lion I will stand amid a crowd of foxes.
However great may be their peril,
People will by reflex guard their eyes.
And likewise I, whatever dangers come,
Must not fall down beneath defilement’s power.
Better for me to be burned to death,
And better to be killed, my head cut off!
At no time will I bow and scrape
Before that foe of mine, defiled emotion.93
Thus in every time and place
I will not wander from the wholesome path.
Like those who take great pleasure in their games,
Whatever task the Bodhisattvas do,
Let them devote themselves without reserve,
With joyfulness that never knows satiety.
People labor hard to gain contentment
Though success is very far from sure.
But how can they be happy if they do not do
Those deeds that are the source of joy to them?
And since they never have enough of pleasure,
Honey on the razor’s edge,
How could they have enough of merit,
Fruits of which are happiness and peace?
The elephant, tormented by the noonday sun,
Will dive into the waters of a lake,
And likewise I must plunge into my work
That I might bring it to completion.
If impaired by weakness or fatigue,
I’ll lay the work aside, the better to resume.
And I will leave the task when it’s complete,
All avid for the work that’s next to come.
As seasoned fighters face the swords
Of enemies upon the battle line,
I’ll lightly dodge the weapons of defilement,
And strike my enemy upon the quick.
If, in the fray, the soldier drops his sword,
In fright, he swiftly takes it up again.
So likewise, if the arm of mindfulness is lost,
In fear of hell, I’ll quickly get it back!
Just as poison fills the body,
Borne on the current of the blood,
Likewise evil, when it finds its chance,
Will spread and permeate the mind.
I will be like a frightened man, a brimming oil-jar in his hand,
And menaced by a swordsman saying,
“Spill one drop and you shall die!”
This is how practitioners should hold themselves.
Just as a man would swiftly stand
If in his lap a serpent were to glide,
If sleep and lethargy beset me,
I will speedily repulse them.
Every time, then, that I fail,
I will reprove and chide myself,
Thinking long that by whatever means
Such faults in future shall no more occur.
At all times and in any situation,
How can I make mindfulness my constant habit?
Thinking thus I will desire
To meet with teachers and fulfill the proper tasks.
By all means, then, before I start some work,
That I might have the strength sufficient to the task,
I will recall the teachings upon carefulness
And lightly rise to what is to be done.
Just as flaxen threads waft to and fro,
Impelled by every breath of wind,
So all I do will be achieved,
Controlled by movements of a joyful heart.
83. The Tibetan word translated here as “diligence” is brtson ’grus, a rendering of the Sanskrit vīrya. While expressing a sense of strong
endeavor, the Tibetan, according to Shāntideva, suggests a sense of joy and enthusiasm, features that are brought out powerfully in the course of the present chapter. The Sanskrit term carries with it a sense of indomitable strength and courage, and is connected with our words
“virile,” “virago,” as well as “virtue.” The general sense is one of great courage and perseverance: fearlessness in the face of adversity.
84. The Tibetan word for “sleep” here is gnyid log. Judging from the translations of Crosby and Skilton, V. and A. Wallace, and Berzin, the
Sanskrit term can be construed as referring also to sexual intercourse. Sleep and sexual activity are of course natural human functions. But the question “How can you take pleasure in sleep and sex?” expressed in such a matter of fact way and without further comment, is a strange one to put to an audience of celibate monks. The second syllable of the Tibetan term could perhaps be interpreted as an abbreviation for log
g.yem (sexual misconduct), in which case, the question in the given context would have some point. However, the commentary of Kunzang
Pelden does not advert to this and understands gnyid log simply as “sleep.”
85. In other words, as though one’s death were an event far off in the future. According to Buddhist teaching, the worldly gods, although not actually immortal, enjoy an immense longevity. Compared with them, the length of human life is the merest flicker.
86. These practices are discussed at length in chapter 8. See also appendixes 2 and 3.
87. Shrāvaka (Tib. nyan thos, lit. “hearers”) is the name given to the Hīnayāna disciples of the Buddha. They aim to free themselves from
saṃsāra and attain the perfect cessation of all suffering. They lack, however, the attitude of universal compassion and responsibility, which is bodhichitta. The fruit of their path is arhatship, not Buddhahood.
88. This is a description of the way Bodhisattvas are born in Sukhāvatī (Tib. bde ba can), the pure land of the Buddha Amitābha. A pure land or buddhafield (Skt. Buddha-kṣhetra, Tib. rgyal ba’i zhing) is a dimension or world manifested through the enlightened aspirations of a Buddha or Bodhisattva in conjunction with the meritorious karma of sentient beings. Those born in a buddhafield are able to progress swiftly to enlightenment.
89. The Vajradhvaja-sūtra, The Diamond Banner Sūtra, is in fact a subsection of the larger Avataṃsaka-sūtra. The following passage is
taken from it: “When the sun shines, O Devaputra, it illuminates the entire world, regardless of the blindness of beings and the mountain
shadows. In the same way, Bodhisattvas appear for the liberation of beings, regardless of the obstacles that these may present.”
90. In other words, one should confidently undertake the action of applying the antidotes, courageously decide not to fall under the power of the afflictions, and have self-assurance in affirming one’s ability to abandon evil behavior and cultivate wholesome qualities.
91. Following the terms of the comparison, the crows are the faults; one’s weakness is the dying serpent.
92. Here, and in the following verses, a distinction is drawn between two kinds of pride. On the one hand, there is the positive quality of
confidence leading to courage and perseverance and, on the other, the negative quality of arrogance and conceit, resulting in the overweening behavior that is often the mask of weakness and self-doubt. Using the same term in both senses, Shāntideva plays on the word “pride” in a way that might at first be confusing. For the sake of clarity in the translation, the two kinds of pride are more pointedly distinguished.
93. This stanza does not appear in the Sanskrit text that is now available to us. Some commentators have, moreover, questioned the authenticity of the half-stanza 62a. It is, however, generally included.