Elephants of the Mind

You’ve probably seen this quote from the Dalai Lama many times: “My religion is very simple . . .  My religion is kindness.”

I imagine that all of us, at one time or another, has found that kindness is not so simple. Especially, when we have had to deal with difficult, unpleasant people. And we’ve all experienced anger.

Certainly, we have been in situations where someone has been angry with us. in such moments, it’s easy to return the anger, and then hold on to resentment.

In the Dhammapada, the Buddha is quoted as saying,

“Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.”

There’s the story of the Buddha’s evil cousin, Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha so that he could take his place. Of course, he failed, and the Buddha forgave him with loving-kindness (metta). Most of us would find that rather difficult to do. After all, he tried to kill me. But the Buddha was able to control his feelings, and redirect his negative thoughts in more positive directions.

That’s what anger is really about: control. Not losing it, that is. Or, from our Buddhist perspective, not losing grip of our mindfulness, our equanimity. Realistically, Buddhas, enlightened persons, do not have extraordinary powers or super-consciousness, they have simply mastered the art of self-control, self discipline. They have trained themselves to think and react mindfully, with equanimity, with direct insight into the heart of reality.

That’s why we often use the phrase “training the mind.” and that’s why in the Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Shantideva says,

MP836With the wish to safeguard my training,
I need to work hard and safeguard my mind;
If I’m unable to safeguard my mind,
I’ll also be unable to safeguard my training.

Left to run loose, the elephant of my mind can ravage me
With (a joyless realm of) unrelenting pain.
Untamed, rutting elephants in this (world)
Can’t cause me such harm.

But, if the elephant of my mind is firmly bound
By the rope of mindfulness on every side,
All fears will vanish and everything constructive
Will come into my hands.

– – – – – – – – – –

Shantideva translated from the Tibetan by Alexander Berzin, 2004


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