An action is performed for the sake of happiness, and yet happiness may or may not occur. But how can one who delights in action itself be happy when inactive?

In the cycle of existence, there is no satisfaction in sensual desires, which are like honey on a razor's edge. How can there be satiation with the nectar of merits, which are sweet in their maturation and beneficial?

Therefore, even upon the completion of an action, one should immerse oneself in it again, just as an elephant, scorched by the midday sun, immediately approaches a lake.

And when one's strength begins to decline, one should quit so that one can re-engage later. When a task has been well completed, one should leave it with the desire for more and more.

One should ward off the blows of mental afflictions and severely attack them, as if engaged in a sword-combat with a trained enemy.

Just like one would quickly, fearfully pick up a dropped sword, so should one pick up the dropped sword of mindfulness, while bearing the hells in mind.

Just as poison spreads throughout the body once it has reached the blood, so does a fault spread throughout the mind once it has reached a vulnerable spot.

A practitioner should be like someone carrying a jar of oil while under the scrutiny of swordsmen, careful of stumbling out of fear of death.

Therefore, just as one quickly jumps up when a snake creeps onto one's lap, so should one swiftly counteract the advent of drowsiness and sloth.

At every single disgrace, one should burn with remorse and ponder: "How shall I act so that this does not happen to me again?"

One should seek for companionship or for an appointed task with this motive: "How may I practice mindfulness in these circumstances?"

Bringing to mind the teaching on conscientiousness, one should arouse oneself so that one is always prepared before encountering a task.

Just as cotton is swayed in the direction of the wind's coming and going, so should one surrender oneself to one's enthusiasm, and in this way one's supernormal powers will thrive

 

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Shantideva was an 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar at Nalanda University and an adherent of the Prasangika Madhyamaka philosophy. The Bodhicaryavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way Of Life) is a long poem that describes the process of enlightenment from the first thought to full buddhahood.

Vesna A. Wallace is a Visiting Scholar in the Religious Studies Department at Stanford University, where she has also taught Sanskrit and comparative ethics in Indian religions.

B. Alan Wallace trained for more than ten years in Buddhist monasteries in India and Switzerland. He has a doctorate in religious studies from Stanford University.

From A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, by Shantideva. Translated from the Sanskrit and Tibetan by Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace. Copyright © 1997 by Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace. Reprinted by permission of Snow Lion Publications, snowlionpub.com.