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I will not leave the fight until, before my eyes,
These enemies of mine are all destroyed.
For if, aroused to fury by the merest slight,
Incapable of sleep until the scores are settled,
Foolish rivals, both to suffer when they die,
Will draw the battle lines and do their best to win,
And careless of the pain of cut and thrust,
Will stand their ground, refusing to give way,
No need to say that I will not lose heart,
Regardless of the hardships of the fray.
These natural foes today I’ll strive to crush—
These enemies, the source of all my pain.
Because Shantideva was a prince in the warrior tradition, it’s natural for him to use images of war. His words, however, are not meant to convey aggression. The courage of the samsaric warrior is used as an analogy for the compassionate courage of the bodhisattva. We need bravery to nonaggressively stand our ground against the kleshas. With the weapons of clear determination, intelligent awareness, and compassion, we can short-circuit their seductiveness and power.
Of course, we may experience discomfort in the process, the same discomfort and restlessness we go through with any withdrawal. According to tradition, giving in to the lure of kleshas is easy in the beginning, but makes our lives increasingly more difficult in the end. In contrast, withdrawing from habitual responses is difficult in the beginning, but our lives become increasingly more relaxed and free in the end.
When we’re going through klesha withdrawal, it helps to know we’re on the right track. Shantideva remarks that—just as foolish rivals endure physical pain, sleeplessness, and even death—he will go through the anguish of detox to cease being a slave to his kleshas. He will not lose heart and give up because of pain or fear.
The wounds inflicted by the enemy in futile wars
Are flaunted by the soldier as a trophy.
So in the high endeavor for so great a prize,
Why should hurt and injury dismay me?
In the wars fought because of greed or hatred, soldiers proudly display their wounds: their injuries are like trophies for bravery. We can also expect “wounds” when we interrupt the momentum of the kleshas. In such a worthy endeavor as liberation from samsara, we could take pride in the suffering we go through. Instead of complaining, let’s regard these wounds as trophies.
When fishers, butchers, farmers, and the like,
Intending just to gain their livelihood,
Will suffer all the miseries of heat and cold,
How can I not bear the same to gain the happiness of beings?
People go through hell for their livelihood. Fishermen go out on icy waters in the bitter cold. Farmers lose everything when there’s an untimely frost. Athletes endure incredible pain to win the prize. We’re willing to go through almost anything if we think it will pay off. What if we were that willing to do what it takes to nurture the bodhi heart? With this kind of intention, we could achieve the greatest satisfaction for ourselves and others—far greater than the benefits of any other pursuit.
When I pledged myself to free from their affliction
Beings who abide in every region,
Stretching to the limits of the sky,
I myself was subject to the same afflictions.
Thus I did not have the measure of my strength—
To speak like this was clear insanity.
More reason, then, for never drawing back,
Abandoning the fight against defiled confusion.
This is what distinguishes a mature bodhisattva, such as Shantideva, from bodhisattvas-in-training. When he says that taking the bodhisattva vow was clear insanity, he’s not expressing feelings of despondency or inadequacy. He’s saying it as an incentive to get busy, to do whatever it takes to live his life as attentively and wakefully as possible. Instead of indulging in guilt and other variations on the theme of failure, he spurs himself on.
The next time you are feeling hopeless because you can’t make a dent in your confusion, you can encourage yourself with Shantideva’s words: More reason, then, for never drawing back.
Every courageous gesture we make, whether or not we think it’s successful, definitely imprints our mind in a positive way. The slightest willingness to interrupt our old habits predisposes us to greater bravery, greater strength, and greater empathy for others. No matter how trapped we feel, we can always be of benefit. How? By interrupting our defeatist story lines and working intelligently and wisely with our kleshas.
This shall be my all-consuming passion;
Filled with rancor I will wage my war!
Though this emotion seems to be defiled,
It halts defilement and shall not be spurned.
In verse 43, this emotion is anger. Although it is usually seen as a problem, Shantideva takes a homeopathic approach and vows to use anger to cure anger. Rousing his passionate enthusiasm for the task, he proceeds with all-consuming warriorship and joy.
Better if I perish in the fire,
Better that my head be severed from my body
Than ever I should serve or reverence
My mortal foes, defiled emotions.
As the years go by, I understand this kind of passionate determination and confidence more and more. The choice is mine. I can spend my life strengthening my kleshas or I can weaken them. I can continue to be their slave; or, realizing they’re not solid, I can simply accept them as my own powerful yet ineffable energy. It’s increasingly clear which choice leads to further pain and which one leads to relaxation and delight.
Common enemies, when driven from the state,
Retreat and base themselves in other lands,
And muster all their strength the better to return.
But our afflictions are without such stratagems.
Defiled emotions, scattered by the eye of wisdom!
Where will you now run, when driven from my mind?
Whence would you return to do me harm?
But oh—my mind is feeble. I am indolent!
Now Shantideva presents the bright side. He is joyful that he can free himself from the kleshas and expresses this joy from verse 45 to the end of the chapter.
Happiness comes with knowing that once they’re uprooted by the eye of wisdom, the kleshas can never return. Their power evaporates once we see their empty, ephemeral nature. Dzigar Kongtrul recalls how terrified the youngest monks in his monastery would be by the annual snow lion dance. When they got older and realized the snow lion wasn’t real, that it was only a costume, they automatically lost their fear. This is an apt analogy for the essential emptiness of the kleshas.
And yet defilements are not in the object,
Nor yet within the faculties, nor somewhere in between.
And if not elsewhere, where is their abode
Whence they might wreak their havoc on the world?
They are simple mirages, and so—take heart!
Banish all your fear and strive to know their nature.
Why suffer needlessly the pains of hell?
Despite all this war imagery, Shantideva is not really encouraging us to do battle with the kleshas. He is asking us to examine them carefully and discover their illusory nature.
The next time you start to get angry, ask yourself, “Where does this klesha abide? Does it abide in the person I’m angry with? Does it abide in my sense perceptions? Or somewhere in between? What is the nature of this anger? And who is it that’s angry? ”