Tricycle is celebrating poetry this month with weekly videos, blog posts, and other content that will hopefully help spark your own creativity. The excerpt below is from “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” an epic poem that instructs us how to open our hearts in an effort to benefit others, even during troubled times. The classic poem was written by the eighth-century Indian master Shantideva.  


Vigilant Introspection

1. Those who wish to keep the trainings

Must with perfect self-possession guard their minds.

Without this guard upon the mind,

The trainings cannot be preserved.


2. Wandering where it will, the elephant of mind,

Will bring us down to torment in the hell of Unrelenting Pain.

No worldly beast, however wild and crazed,

Could bring upon us such calamities.


3. If, with mindfulness’ rope,

The elephant of mind is tethered all around,

Our fears will come to nothing,

Every virtue drop into our hands.


4. Tigers, lions, elephants, and bears,

Snakes and every hostile foe,

Those who guard the prisoners in hell,

Ghosts and ghouls and every evil wraith,


5. By simple binding of this mind alone,

All these things are likewise bound.

By simple taming of this mind alone,

All these things are likewise tamed.


6. For all anxiety and fear,

And pain in boundless quantity,

Their source and wellspring is the mind itself,

As He who spoke the truth declared.


7. The hellish instruments to torture living beings—

Who invented them for such intent?

Who has forged this burning iron ground;

Whence have all these demon-women sprung?


8. All are but the offspring of the sinful mind,

This the mighty Sage has said.

Throughout the triple world therefore

There is no greater bane than mind itself.


9. If transcendent giving is

To dissipate the poverty of beings,

In what way—since the poor are always with us—

Have former Buddhas practiced it?


10. Transcendent giving, so the teachings say,

Consists in the intention to bestow on every being

All one owns, together with the fruits of such a gift.

It is indeed a matter of the mind itself.


11. Where could beings, fishes, and the rest,

Be placed to keep them safe from being killed?

Deciding to refrain from every harmful act

Is said to be transcendent discipline.


12. Harmful beings are everywhere like space itself.

Impossible it is that all should be suppressed.

But let this angry mind alone be overthrown,

And it’s as though all foes had been subdued.


13. To cover all the earth with sheets of leather—

Where could such amounts of skin be found?

But with the leather soles of just my shoes

It is as though I cover all the earth!


14. And thus the outer course of things

I myself cannot restrain.

But let me just restrain my mind,

And what is left to be restrained?


15. A clear intent can fructify

And bring us birth in such as Brahma’s realm.

The acts of body and of speech are less—

They do not generate a like result.


16. Recitations and austerities,

Long though they may prove to be,

If practiced with distracted mind,

Are futile, so the Knower of Reality has said.


17. All those who fail to understand

The secret of the mind, the greatest of all things,

Although they wish for joy and sorrow’s end,

Will wander to no purpose, uselessly.


18. Therefore I will take in hand

And well protect this mind of mine.

What use to me are many disciplines,

If I can’t guard and discipline my mind?


From The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva, © 2006 by the Padmakara Translation Group. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, MA.

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