Monday, January 23, 2006

Faith, Courtesy of Shantideva

I finished reading Pema Chodron's No Time to Lose recently, and am taking another go at it to get a more in-depth understanding. Like most of the master teachers, Shantideva's text is dense and full of meaning - and Pema Chodron's commentary does a great job of teasing it out.

One of Chodron's recommended courses of study is to memorize at least one meaningful passage from each chapter, so you can mull it over in your mind for days or weeks. You can also use it for inspiration and insight during the day. One of my favorite passages from Chapter 2 is this one:
For if, alarmed by common ills,
I act according to the doctor's words,
What need to speak of when I'm constantly brought low
By lust and all the hundred other torments?
There are a lot of things I love about this little passage. The physician analogy - the Buddha is the doctor, you're the patient, the Dharma is the medicine - is apt as always. But I love even the minor phrasing, such as "alarmed by common ills". I like how it emphasizes that we're not alone in these "torments" of the senses. It's a common ailment of humanity that we lock ourselves inside of our own private hells, and egotistically view our troubles as more important, more devastating, more hellacious than anything that anybody else must feel.

I think back on the past year, during which I spent so much time in narcissistic pursuit of pleasure. I think of how much I trapped myself in my own mind - convincing myself that my job sucked, that my wife and family were "crimping my style", that no one would let me be me. It all seems chimerical now. It was a delusion layered upon a delusion. Shantideva's words help assure me that, however much I thought I was alone, I wasn't: my suffering is shared by billions of souls worldwide. It also reminds me that the cure is as simple as putting my faith in the elixir offered by the Three Jewels.

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