Book Bits, The Masters

Focusing the Mind: Santideva’s Verses on Meditation and Relationship

“Having understood that disturbing conceptions are completely overcome
By superior insight endowed with calm abiding,
First of all I should search for calm abiding.
This is achieved through the genuine joy of these unattached to worldly life.”

– Santideva

Santideva was an 8th century Buddhist scholar at the University of Nalanda in India, and an adherent of Nagarjuna’s teachings. The story goes that Santideva was a lazy monk who showed little interest in applying himself until one day he was called upon and challenged to give a teaching. What he then surprised his audience with was his seminal work, the Bodhisattvacharyavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life) is an inspirational text in the form of a long poem that charts the journey of a spiritual seeker from a state of searching and despair through Buddhist teaching into clarity and wisdom. This excerpt is from the chapter on concentration, or meditation, in which Santideva talks about the practice of meditation as a means to reveal Awakening Mind, here particularly focuses on the discipline and skill of relationship. This chapter on concentration and calming of the mind follows previous considerations of moral discipline, patience and enthusiasm.

Having developed enthusiasm in this way,
I should place my mind in concentration;
For the man whose mind is distracted
Dwells between the fangs of disturbing conceptions.

But through solitude of body and mind
No distractions will occur;
Therefore I should forsake the worldly life
And completely discard distorted conceptions.

Worldly life is not forsaken because of attachment (to people)
And due to craving for material gain and the like;
Therefore I should entirely forsake these things,
For this is the way in which the wise behave.

Having understood that disturbing conceptions are completely overcome
By superior insight endowed with calm abiding,
First of all I should search for calm abiding.
This is achieved through the genuine joy of these unattached to worldly life.

Because of the obsession one transient being
Has for other transient beings.
He will not see his beloved ones again
For many thousands of lives.

Not seeing them I am unhappy
And my mind cannot be settled in equipoise;
Even if I see them there is no satisfaction
And, as before, I am tormented by craving.

Through being, attached to living beings
I am completely obscured from the perfect reality,
My disillusion (with, cyclic existence) perishes
And in the end I am tortured by sorrow.

By thinking only of them,
This life will pass without any meaning.
(Furthermore) impermanent friends and relatives
Will even destroy the Dharma (which leads to) permanent (liberation).

If I behave in the same way as the childish
I shall certainly proceed to lower realms,
And if I am led there by those unequal (to the Noble Ones),
What is the use of entrusting myself to the childish?

One moment they are friends
And in the next instant they become enemies.
Since they become angry even in joyful situations,
It is difficult to please ordinary people.

They are angry when something of benefit is said
And they also turn me away from what is beneficial.
If I do not listen to what they say,
They become angry and hence proceed to lower realms.

They are envious of superiors, competitive with equals,
Arrogant towards inferiors, conceited when praised,
And if anything unpleasant is said they become angry:
Never is any benefit derived from the childish.

Through associating with the childish,
There will certainly ensure unwholesomeness
Such as praising myself and belittling others
And discussing the joys of cyclic existence.

Developing myself to others in this way
Will bring about nothing but misfortune,
Because they will not benefit me
And I shall not benefit them.

I should flee far away from childish people.
When they are encountered, though, I should please them by being happy,
I should behave well merely out of courtesy.
But not become greatly familiar.

In the same way as a bee takes honey from a flower,
I should take merely (what is necessary) for the practice of Dharma
But remain unfamiliar
As though I had never seen them before.

ʺI have much material wealth as well as honour,
And many people like me,ʺ
Nurturing self‐importance in this way
I shall be made terrified after death.

So, you thoroughly confused mind,
By the piling up of whatever objects
You are attached to,
Misery a thousandfold will ensue.

Hence the wise should not be attached,
(Because) fear is born from attachment.
With a firm mind understand well
That it is the nature of these things to be discarded!

Although I may have much material wealth,
Be famous and well spoken of,
Whatever fame and renown I have amassed
Has no power to accompany me (after death).

Santideva (685-763)
Translated by Stephen Batchelor

From: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

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