Bodhichitta in intention bears rich fruit
For those still wandering in samsara
And yet a ceaseless stream of merit does not flow
For this will rise alone from active bodhichitta.
For when, with irreversible intent,
The mind embraces bodhichitta,
Willing to set free the endless multitudes of beings,
At that instant, from that moment on,
A great and unremitting stream,
A strength of wholesome merit,
Even during sleep and inattention,
Rises equal to the vastness of the sky.
This the Tathagata,
In the sutra Subahu requested,
Said with reasoned demonstration,
Teaching those inclined to lesser paths.
If with kindly generosity
One merely has the wish to sooth
The aching heads of other beings,
Such merit knows no bounds.
No need to speak, then, of the wish
To drive away the endless pain
Of each and every living being,
Bringing them unbounded virtues.
Could our fathers or our mothers
Ever have so generous a wish?
Do the very gods, the rishis, even Brahma
Harbor such benevolence as this?
For in the past they never,
Even in their dreams, conceived
Such profit even for themselves.
How could they have such aims for others’ sake?
For beings do not wish their own true good,
So how could they intend such good for others’ sake?
This state of mind so precious and so rare
Arises truly wondrous, never seen before.
The pain-dispelling draft,
This cause of joy for those who wander through the
This precious attitude, this jewel of mind,
How shall it be gauged or quantified?
For if the simple thought to be of help to others
Exceeds in worth the worship of the buddhas,
What need is there to speak of actual deeds
That bring about the weal and benefit of beings?
For beings long to free themselves from misery,
But misery itself they follow and pursue.
They long for joy, but in their ignorance
Destroy it, as they would a hated enemy.
Commentary on 1.27 and 1.28
Again Shantideva praises the benefits of an ordinary, altruistic thought, while adding how much greater it is to actually follow through. To help others at the most meaningful level, however, we first address our own confusion.
As Shantideva points out, although we long to free ourselves from misery, it is misery itself we follow and pursue. We may assume we do crazy things intentionally, but in truth these actions aren’t always volitional. Our conditioning is sometimes so deep that we cause harm without even realizing it. We long for joy and do the very things that destroy our peace of mind. Again and again, we unwittingly make matters worse. If we’re going to help other people get free, we have to work compassionately with our own unfortunate tendencies. Shantideva, we will find, is an expert in dismantling these repeating patterns.