Tolerance the fifth and final part of a prose translation by Stephen Batchelor of the sixth chapter of Acarya Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhicaryavatara).
If a man condemned to death were released after having his hand amputated, would that be a misfortune? If through human suffering I were spared the misery of hell, would that really be a misfortune?
But if I am unable to bear even the slight suffering of the present, then why do I not resist my anger which is the source of hellish agony? Thousands of times have I been burned in hell on account of my desires, yet none of this has been of any benefit either to myself or others. The harm in this world is so much less and can be of great benefit. So now I should gladly accept this suffering which can conquer the pain of living beings.
If others find joy in praising the fine qualities of another person, why, mind, do you not praise him too and thereby share their joy? That joy of yours would be irreproachable, a source of happiness encouraged by the wise and an excellent means of inspiring others.
But it would make him happy too! If you do not want such happiness to occur, then you should stop paying wages and the like through doing which both the foreseeable and unforeseeable [future] would be jeopardised. When your own fine qualities are spoken of, you want others to be glad as well. But when someone else’s qualities are mentioned, you do not even want yourself to be glad.
You gave birth to the spirit of enlightenment with the wish that all beings find happiness. So why should you get angry if one of them finds happiness by himself? Did you not want all beings to become Buddhas worshipped throughout the triple world? Why then do you get enraged upon seeing one of them win a little mundane respect? If a relative for whom you were caring and providing were to start looking after himself, would that be a cause for joy or would it make you angry? If you do not want someone to have something, how can you wish for his enlightenment? How can the spirit of enlightenment be present in one who gets angry about what others receive?
Whether he gets something or whether it remains in the benefactor’s home, in both cases you will have nothing. So what is it to you if he is given anything or not?
Why waste your goodness and virtues as well as the faith [of others]? Tell me why you do not get angry at the person who has not acquired prosperity. Not only have you no remorse for the evils you have committed, but you struggle to compete with those who have done good.
Even if your enemy suffers, why should this make you happy? For a mere wish in your mind could never have caused him to be harmed. And are you pleased when his suffering is actually brought about through your intentions? There could be nothing more ignoble than to find satisfaction in that. Thus caught on the intolerably sharp hook cast by the fishermen of emotion, it is then certain that the guardians of hell will boil you in their hellish cauldrons.
Such honours as praise and fame cannot be converted into goodness, life, strength, health or physical comfort. If you know what is truly meaningful for you, what possible value could you find in them? And if you are merely concerned about having a good time, you would do better to devote yourself to gambling, drinking and the like. If, in order to become famous, you spend everything you have or even get yourself killed, then what good will be those syllables of praise? Who can enjoy them once you are dead? Just as children cry out in despair when their sandcastles collapse, likewise you, my mind, became like a child whenever praise and fame decline.
Since evanescent sounds have no intelligence it is impossible that they could think of praising me. But could I not consider fame to be a source of happiness insofar that others would be pleased with me? Yet what benefit can I derive from others being pleased either with myself or someone else? That pleasure is theirs alone. I cannot share in even the smallest part of it. If I am truly made happy by their happiness, then this would have to be so in every other case as well. Then how could I ever be unhappy about others being pleased with someone else? Hence to gloat over the fact that I am being praised is ridiculous. It is nothing but childish behaviour.
Such things as praise distract me; they undermine my disillusion [with samsara]; they make me envious of those with noble qualities; they destroy all sense of well-being. Therefore, those around me who put an end to my being praised are surely engaged in protecting me from falling into an evil destiny. I who am seeking liberation do not need to be bound by wealth and honour. So how can I be angry towards those who free me from such bondage?
How can I be angry with those who in wanting me to suffer are also, like agents of the Buddha’s grace, the very barriers which prevent it?
But they hinder my good deeds! It is still unjustified to get angry. For if there is no practice equal to tolerance, shouldn’t I be patient with them? If, due to my own shortcomings, I am not, then it is me alone who hinder this source of goodness which is so close at hand.
If something cannot occur without it and only exists when it is present, then it alone is the cause of that thing. How could one call it a hindrance? The beggar who appears at the appropriate time does not hinder the act of giving. Neither could one call those who inspire renunciation a hindrance to becoming a renunciate.
There are many beggars in this world but few who wish me ill. For if I have not caused harm to others, there will be no one to return it. Therefore, I should love my enemies, because they help me on the way to enlightenment. It is like finding a treasure at home without having made any effort to gain it. And the fruit of patience should first of all be dedicated to them because it comes about through our cooperation. They are indeed the cause of my tolerance.
You might object that an enemy should not be so venerated because he has no intention to give rise to patience. Then why venerate the sacred Dharma, which surely must be a suitable cause for veneration? But an enemy has the intention to do harm; one cannot venerate such a person. How could I ever develop patience if he sought to benefit me as though he were a doctor? For tolerance is produced in dependence upon one with a truly hateful intention. And since he is a cause for patience, he should be venerated just like the sacred Dharma.
Therefore, the Buddha has taught the field of sentient beings to be a Buddha-field. For many who have loved them have thereby reached the highest perfection.
The sentient beings and the Conquerors alike establish Buddha-qualities. So why should I not respect sentient beings in the same way as I revere the Conquerors? However, they are not similar in the nobility of their intentions, only in the results they produce. In this way sentient beings are also noble and therefore equal. The greatness of sentient beings is revealed in the veneration shown to those whose minds are filled with love, just as the greatness of the Buddhas is revealed in the goodness that comes from having faith in them. Sentient beings are equal insofar that they have a share in establishing Buddha-qualities. But none of them are otherwise equal with the Buddhas, who are boundless oceans of virtue. Nevertheless, should even the tiniest fraction of the nobility present in those unique embodiments of virtue be apparent in someone, an offering of the triple world would be insufficient to venerate him. Because sentient beings have a share in producing the supreme Buddha-qualities, they are fit to be venerated on account of that partial similarity alone.
Moreover, other than by loving sentient beings, how could I ever repay those most genuine friends of theirs who grant them immeasurable benefit? Thus in being good to them I will repay those who sacrifice their bodies and enter hell for their sake. Even if they cause me tremendous harm, I will behave in an utterly noble manner. When those who are my lords will disregard their own bodies for their sake, how could I who am so confused remain proud and not deign to serve them? The Buddhas are delighted when sentient beings are happy and distressed when they are hurt. So by loving them I will please all Buddhas and by harming them I will injure the wise. For just as someone whose body is engulfed by fire finds no pleasure in desirable objects, it is impossible for the compassionate ones to be joyous when a sentient being is in pain.
Whatever distress I have caused you compassionate ones by doing harm to sentient beings, today I openly declare such evil. I implore you to tolerate that grief! Henceforth, in order to delight the Buddhas, I will wholeheartedly serve the world. Even should a crowd of people stamp upon my head and try to kill me, may I please the protectors of the world by not getting angry!
There can be no doubt that the compassionate ones regard all beings as themselves. So why do I not revere these Buddhas who appear in the form of sentient beings?
This alone should be my task; for it pleases the Tathagatas, it genuinely accomplishes my own purpose, and it dispels the suffering of the world.
Although a single one of the king’s men may harm a great many individuals, far-sighted people, even were they able, would not retaliate. For they would realise that he is not alone; that he is supported by the might of the king. Likewise, do not underestimate a weak person who is causing you harm. For he is supported by the guardians of hell and the compassionate Buddhas. Hence one should respect all beings just as subjects would respect their irascible king. But even if such a king were angered, would he be able to inflict the agonies of hell such as are experienced by displeasing a sentient being? And even if that king were satisfied, he could not possibly grant one the Buddhahood which could be attained by pleasing another creature.
Leaving aside the future Buddhahood
Which comes from loving sentient beings,
Why can you not even see
The glory, fame and happiness which
could be yours in this very life?
Even in samsara
Tolerance will surely grant you
Beauty, health, renown, long life
And the extensive joys of a universal monarch.
First published in the February 1991 Buddhism Now.
Click here to read the other parts of Tolerance, chapter Six of Bodhicharyavatara (Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life)
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.
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