Tolerance part 2 from a prose translation by Stephen Batchelor of the sixth chapter of Acarya Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhi-caryavatara).
Yet suffering does have its good points: through humiliation conceit is dispelled; compassion is aroused for those in samsara; evil is avoided; and a liking is developed for virtue.
When I am not angry with such things as bile, which are the source of great suffering, for what reason do I get angry with beings endowed with consciousness? For they too are provoked by conditions. Illness, for example, breaks out without wishing to do so. Likewise, emotions violently erupt through no wish of their own. People suddenly get angry without first having thought, ‘I will be angry’. Similarly anger arises without first having thought, ‘I will arise’. Whatever difficulties there are, and the various kinds of evil, all come about through the force of conditions. They have no power of their own. The assembled conditions have no intention to produce anything and their product has no intention to be produced.
Nor can ‘Nature’ or the ‘Self deliberately think, ‘I will come into being’ before they actually do. For what could desire to be produced while still unproduced and non-existent? [Such a Self] could also never cease because it would be permanently diverted to its object. And surely if it were permanent, the Self would be inactive, just like space. Even if it were to meet with other conditions, how would they be able to act upon something immutable? For even when they act, it would remain as before. So how could such action affect it in any way? And how could that which acts upon it ever by related to it?
Hence all things are under the power of something else. Since they are so empowered they have no power of their own. When this is understood, do not be angry with such an array of illusion-like objects. But wouldn’t it then be absurd to overcome [anger]? For who would be overcoming what? Yet it is not absurd to maintain that in dependence upon doing that suffering could be brought to a stop. Therefore, if I notice a friend or an enemy doing something wrong I can remain at peace through recognising how such an action proceeds from conditions.
If life were based upon what we liked, then not a single one of us would suffer, because nobody wants to be in pain.
Out of mere carelessness I even injure myself on thorns and other objects. In order to win the heart of a woman, I deprive myself of food because of my infatuation. People kill themselves: they leap from cliff-tops, swallow poison and other harmful things, and get into serious trouble by committing crimes. When, under the pressure of their emotions, they will kill even their treasured selves, how can one expect them not to injure others? How is it possible to not have compassion and instead be angry with those who engage in such acts as suicide on account of a disturbed mind?
If it were the nature of the immature to cause harm to others, it would still be absurd to get angry with them; that would be like getting annoyed at fire for having the nature to burn. Even if this unfortunate characteristic of theirs were accidental, and by nature they were sympathetic, anger would still be unjustified; it would be like resenting space for allowing smoke to fill it.
Completely ignoring the stick, instead I get angry with the person who yields it. But since he in turn is provoked by hatred, I should really be angry with that hatred. Previously I too must have caused similar harm to someone else. Hence it is right that I who have injured others should be hurt in return. His weapon and my body are both causes for the pain. He grasps the weapon and I grasp the body: so with whom should I be angry? Blinded by craving it is I who have acquired this painful human form which, like a sore, cannot bear to be touched. Towards whom should I be angry when it is hurt?
First published in the August 1990 Buddhism Now.
Click here to read the other parts of Tolerance, chapter Six of Bodhicharyavatara
To read more of the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life from Stephen Batchelor click here.
To read more from Stephen click here.