Acharya Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara translated from the Tibetan edition by Stephen Batchelor
Those who wish to safeguard their training
Must carefully protect their minds.
For if the mind is not protected
They will be unable to safeguard the training.
Wild elephants in rut cannot cause such harm as those torments of the deepest hell inflicted by the rampant elephant of the mind. But if I firmly secure this mental elephant with the rope of total mindfulness, all my anxieties will vanish and every virtue will be at hand. Tigers, lions, elephants, bears, snakes, every kind of enemy, the guardians of the hells, sorceresses and demonic spirits will all be bound by binding the mind alone. They will all be brought under control if this mind alone is brought under control. For the genuine teacher himself has taught that every fear as well as all this boundless suffering originates from the mind.
Read More: Man Jeetai Jagjeet, Control your mind, A lecture by Harbhajan Yogi
Who intentionally forged the weapons in hell? Who constructed the burning iron floors? Where did all the women spring from? The Buddha taught that all such things show the presence of an evil mind. Hence within this triple world there is nothing to fear but the mind.
If the perfection of giving were realized by eliminating all poverty in the world, then how could the previous Buddhas have perfected it? For destitute people still exist today. But it has been taught that giving is brought to perfection through the intention to give away everything one has (including the fruits of such deeds) to all beings. Hence it is simply a state of mind.
Is there any place on earth where the killing of fish and other animals has stopped? It has been explained that the perfection of morality proceeds from the attainment of a mind which renounces such deeds.

Troublesome beings are like space; it is impossible to destroy them all. But if angry thoughts alone are overcome, it is equivalent to conquering all one’s enemies. Where, for example, could one ever find enough leather with which to cover the surface of the earth? Yet the leather on the soles of one’s shoes can cover every inch of the earth’s surface. Likewise it is impossible for me to restrain all external events. But if I manage to restrain my mind, there would be no need to restrain anything else.

Because their activity is weaker, thoughts accompanied by physical and vocal expressions cannot produce such fruits as the heavens of Brahma in which the cultivation of a solitary lucid thought can result. And even when physical austerities and recitation are performed over a long period of time, the knower of reality has declared them as meaningless should one’s thoughts have been distracted elsewhere.

Hence those who wish to gain happiness and destroy misery will drift meaninglessly hither and thither if they fail to understand the mystery of mind: the supreme principle of Dharma.
I must firmly take hold of this mind and protect it well. For what use will numerous disciplines be if they do not include the discipline of protecting the mind.
Stone Buddhas Photo © @KyotoDailyPhotoJust as you would be extremely careful of a wound when in the midst of a bustling, restless crowd, so always protect this wound of the mind when among a group of unreliable people. Afraid of just a little pain you would be very attentive about that wound. So why do you not protect the wound of the mind through fear of being crushed by the mountains of hell? Were I to conduct myself in such a way as this, then even when surrounded by hostile men or enticing women the integrity of my commitment would not be impaired. Let my wealth, reputation, body, life and other virtues go to ruin: but I will never let the mind degenerate.

I entreat all of those who want to protect their minds: ‘At all times energetically protect mindfulness and awareness!’ For just as people tormented by disease lack the strength to do anything, so does a mind afflicted with confusion have no power to engage in any action.

Like water in a leaking jug, whatever has been learnt, reflected and meditated upon by one whose mind lacks awareness will not be retained in his memory. Such treacherous unawareness will cause even those who are learned, devout and energetic to be corrupted by a moral fall.

The thieves of unawareness follow upon the breakdown of mindfulness. They then plunder the goodness we have accumulated so that we proceed to an unfortunate state. These thieving bands of emotion lie in wait for the right opportunity. Having seized it they rob us of our wholesome qualities and destroy the life force of a happy destiny. Therefore, never allow mindfulness to depart from the doorway of the mind. If it does, then recollect the misfortunes of an evil destiny and firmly replace it there.

Through friendship with a teacher, instructions from an abbot, and even out of fear, mindfulness can be easily aroused in fortunate and respectful people. And if I reflect that I am constantly living in the presence of Buddhas and bodhisattvas who perceive everything without any hindrance, I shall also be filled with shame, respect and fear. Moreover, this will make me repeatedly recollect the Buddha.
When mindfulness stands as a guardian at the doorway of the mind, then awareness will appear, and even that which had departed shall return. Being aware the moment it occurs that a certain thought is charged with emotion, then remain immobile like a piece of wood!
Early morning at Yogen-in. Photo © @KyotoDailyPhoto


One should never look at anything distractedly for no reason. With concentrated vision always look about with a resolute intent. In order to relax the gaze then occasionally look into the distance. Should someone appear in the field of vision, look at him and greet him. To check whether there are any dangers on the path, now and again look ahead, to the left and to the right. Calmly turn the head around and look behind. When front and back have both been examined, then proceed either to come or go.

Likewise, in every situation recognize what has to be done and then act accordingly. Prepare for the action with the thought, ‘My body will behave in such and such a way’ Then from time to time observe it and ask, ‘How is it behaving now?’ As for this crazy elephant of the mind, make every effort to check that it is still tied to the sturdy pillar of thinking about Dharma and has not managed to break free. Those who are trying to develop concentration should minutely examine their thoughts. ‘What is my mind doing now?’ they should ask, and not allow it to wander off for even a second.

But if this is impossible when you encounter danger or attend a great festival, then use your discretion. It has been taught, for example, that one can be indifferent towards one’s moral precepts at times of generosity.

Once you have decided to do one thing, do not consider something else. With your attention focused upon that task, give yourself the time to accomplish it. In this way both things will be successfully achieved; if not, neither will get done. And in addition emotional unawareness will prevail.

If one becomes involved in foolish chatter or finds oneself at some amazing spectacle, do not become attached to it. If one discovers oneself pointlessly breaking up earth, picking grass or drawing pictures on the ground, recollect the Buddhist training and immediately stop out of shock.

Whenever the desire to move or say something occurs, first examine the mind and only act when it is firm and still. Should attachment or a wish to express anger be present in your thoughts, then do not budge or say a word: remain like a piece of wood. Likewise, if you feel agitated or sarcastic, puffed up or conceited, spiteful, pretentious or full of deceit, when you long to praise yourself and put others down, if you feel contempt or aggression, then remain like a piece of wood. If you want to say something out of a wish to reject or reduce others, being intent on your own personal satisfaction and seeking to impress those around you, then stay like a piece of wood. When you are impatient, lazy and frightened or overbearing, garrulous and prejudiced, then too, be like a piece of wood!
Having thus analyzed his mind for obsessive emotions and meaningless ideas, the hero should hold it steady by applying the counteractive remedies. He should strive to be very resolute and faithful, reliable, dignified and respectful, with a sense of shame and fear, serenely identified with the happiness of others. Without becoming discouraged by the contradictory desires of the childish, he should be filled with tenderness knowing their attitudes to be the products of their emotions. Thus he places both himself and others at the disposal of what is wholesome, while always regarding his own attitudes as magical emanations devoid of self.

Constantly be mindful that after long, long ages I have now won this supreme freedom. Secure this thought within the heart as unshakable as the king of mountains!
If, mind, you are not upset when vultures hungry for flesh drag this body here and there, why do you cherish it now? Why do you regard it as yours and protect it so? If you and it are separate, what can it really do for you? Why, foolish mind, do you not attach yourself to a clean, wooden statue? What does it serve to look after this putrid machine composed of filth? Just peel off the layers of skin with your imagination, remove the flesh from the skeletal frame with the scalpel of discrimination, break apart the bones themselves, then look right into the marrow and ask yourself, ‘What essence does this have?’ If you cannot perceive any essence there in spite of a thorough search with your own powers of analysis, why then do you still protect this body with such attachment? What good is it to you if you cannot eat its unclean flesh, drink its blood, nor suck its intestines? All you are doing is looking after the food of foxes and vultures.

This body of a human being is simply something to be put to use. No matter how well you carefully protect it, when the uncompassionate lord of death steals it and delivers it to the birds and dogs, there is nothing you will be able to do. If a servant is given neither clothing nor anything else if he is incapable of being put to use, why should you incur the expense of maintaining the body when it only goes elsewhere? Having paid the body its wages, now make it do something truly meaningful for you. But do not give it anything if it is of no benefit. Think of the body as a boat, as a mere support for coming and going. And in order to realize the welfare of others, transform it into an all-accomplishing body.

Now that I can exercise free will, let me always show a smiling face and cease to contract it with expressions of annoyance. I shall act as a sincere and truthful friend towards the world.
Do not inconsiderately move around chairs and such things with a great deal of noise. And do not forcefully open doors. Always delight in silence. The stork, the cat and the thief achieve what they desire by proceeding quietly and attentively. The practitioner too should always act in such a way.
Respectfully should I pay heed to the words of those who are skilled in the spiritual direction of others and are of help even when it is not required of them. I should always be the student of everyone. I should express my agreement with those who speak what is good and wholesome, and if I see someone performing a virtuous deed, I should applaud him and be truly glad. I should discreetly tell others of their good qualities but if they are spoken of publicly I should openly affirm them. If something positive is said about myself, then I should consciously be aware that such qualities exist.

This joy which every exertion creates can hardly be bought with money. And I intend to enjoy this happiness which results from those virtues which make others [content]. Then in this life I will suffer no loss and in future too my happiness will be assured. But through hatred there will be no joy. It creates suffering now and even greater misery in the future.
Buddha Photo from #endangeredarchives @bl_eap, Ulaanbaatar

I should speak confidently and coherently, the point being clearly made and the words a delight to hear, unmotivated by desire or hatred, in soft and measured tones. And I should look at others with unwavering and loving eyes, fully aware that in dependence upon them alone can I become a Buddha.

Immense goodness will emerge from constancy of intent, application of the counteractive remedies, the field of good qualities, the field of those who benefit and the field of those who suffer. So skilfully and energetically I should always engage in what has to be done. And in every such undertaking I will never rely upon another.

The six perfections are ordered according to their respective merits. However, one should not forsake a greater one on account of upholding a minor one. Primarily consider what will be of advantage to others and with this understanding constantly dedicate oneself to their service. Remember too that the far-sighted and compassionate Buddha has allowed a bodhisattva to do what for others has been forbidden.

Sharing my food with those who have fallen into misery, those who are uncared for, and those who are engaged in the practice, I should eat with moderation. I can give everything away except for my three robes. But if the benefit is only slight, then I should not risk injuring this body which is used for the practice of the noble Dharma. And on no account should I give away my body when my compassionate intention is still impure. Instead, both here and elsewhere, I should dedicate it to the realization of the great purpose. In this way the hopes of others will be swiftly fulfilled.

Do not expound the Dharma to those who lack respect, nor to those who haughtily wear hats, those who carry umbrellas, sticks or weapons, and those who cover their heads in any way. And do not instruct a woman when no man is present. [Anyone like to comment on this? eds. ] Do not explain what is vast and profound to those suited for simpler teachings. Likewise, do not reveal simple Dharma to those who are capable of receiving vast Dharma. However, always pay equal respect to the higher and lower Dharmas. But never be tempted just to read sutras and recite mantras and thereby forsake the actual practice.

If you throw away a toothstick or spit something onto the ground, then cover it up. And it is most offensive to urinate and so forth in water or on land which is being used by others. Do not eat with a great deal of noise, with your mouth wide open, or by stuffing it with food. Do not sit with outstretched legs and do not wipe both hands simultaneously.

Never be alone with someone else’s wife in a vehicle, on a bench, or in a room. Having made inquiries and observed what goes on, avoid whatever is regarded by society as scandalous.

Do not give directions with a single finger but respectfully indicate the way with the whole of your right hand. Make slight gestures with your arm but do not wildly wave it around. When need be make your point with such noises as a fingersnap. Otherwise your actions are liable to become discourteous.

Just as the lord lay down to pass into parinirvana, so should you sleep in the direction of your choice. Lie down with awareness and before falling asleep make a firm resolution to get up again soon.

Limitless are the practices of the bodhisattva; but first of all you should engage in the practice of purifying the mind. Thus three times by day and three times by night apply the three ‘consolidating factors’ [of openness, rejoicing and dedication]. In reliance upon the Buddhas and the spirit of enlightenment you will be able to erase the residue of your downfalls.

Whatever kind of activity you are involved in, either of your own free will or on behalf of someone else, zealously apply whatever training has been deemed appropriate for that situation. There is nothing whatsoever that bodhisattvas cannot consider as part of their training. Thus for one who is skilled in living in this way there is nothing which does not turn into goodness.
Bodhisattva Photo from #endangeredarchives @bl_eap, Ulaanbaatar
Whether directly or indirectly avoid doing anything which does not contribute to the welfare of others. Solely for the sake of sentient beings, dedicate everything toenlightenment.

Never forsake, even at the cost of one’s life, those spiritual friends who understand the meaning of the great way and personify the bodhisattva’s practice. The manner in which to behave towards such teachers can be learnt from the biography of the noble Sambhava.

These as well as other teachings proclaimed by the Buddha have been made known to me through reading the sutras. One should study the sutras because it is from them that the training comes to light. First of all, one should look at the Akashagarbha Sutra. One could also make a thorough study of the Compendium of Trainings; for in this work what is to be constantly practised has been extensively compiled. Alternatively, one could sometimes refer to the more condensed Compendium of Sutras. Also make an effort to read the two works of the same title by the exalted Nagarjuna. One can then put into practice whatever is not rejected in those texts. Being aware of what the training is, live it genuinely in order to fortify the minds of those in this world.

In brief, the defining characteristic of protecting awareness is simply this: constant analysis of one’s physical and mental states.


I must embody these teachings in practice. What can be gained by merely discussing the words?

Will the patient be cured Just by reading the medical texts?