This article continues our #Bodhicaryavatara series on Shantideva’s ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ translated by Stephen Batchelor (ISBN: 8185102597). This text is frequently quoted by HH Dalai Lama as a source to develop universal compassion and loving kindness for both ourselves and all others.
Chapter VI Patience – 27-34
In verses 27-34, Shantideva continues the discussion on chapter VI on Patience by raising the topic of Dependent Arising. Dependent Arising is also part of a wider discussion on emptiness that is covered in more detail in the chapter IX on Wisdom. Lama Tsonkhapa described Dependent Arising as the meaning of emptiness, so Dependent Arising is an important subject to understand. As described in verse #31:
Hence everything is governed by other factors (which in turn are governed by others),
And in this way nothing governs itself.
Having understood this, I should not become angry
With phenomena, which are like apparitions.
In verse #31 Shantideva is not talking just about the law of karma that is also known as the law of cause and effect, although karma is an important cause for our experiences. Shantideva is talking about Dependent Arising whereby the outside world is an endless stream of cause and effect events. For example, the shirt on your back depends on cotton that was grown, picked, packed, dyed a specific color, woven into cotton fabric and transported between factories as cotton, as untreated cotton, finally as woven cotton fabric. So many people were involved in that process, from farmers to truck drivers to mechanics that maintained the dye machines or the weaving machines. All of this depended on the right conditions in place, including the economic conditions to allow separate companies to do business with each other. In-turn the cotton plants depended on cotton seeds being sewn, the right conditions for the cotton seeds to be planted and picked at the right times, to grow in fertile soil full of nutrients and correct soil acidity, to receive sunshine and rainwater, and to avoid insects and infection. This is all before anybody thought of designing a shirt, cutting and sewing a shirt together, adding buttons, selling it through a shop, or getting the shirt to your doorstep. In the future, the shirt will eventually be passed on to somebody else to wear or use as a rag, and eventually go to a rubbish dump. The shirt will eventually break down and play a part in the growth of a new plant.
In brief, even something as simple as the shirt on your back is part of an endless stream of cause and effect events that involved the contribution of a multitude of people, causes, and conditions. The status of the shirt on your back is temporary and it will one day break down and play a part in the growth of a new plant. In the same way, somebody becoming angry or behaving in an unusual way towards you is part of a much wider stream of cause and effect. We often want a single problem, a single cause to point to and say “it’s your fault” and make that the enemy, when actually there is a multitude of causes and conditions influencing all of our experiences. Many of those causes are the results of our own past actions. The role of karma in our experiences is described in further detail in this article:
With this in mind, Shantideva returns back to the source of karma as the most important cause for our experiences:
So when one sees an enemy or even a friend
Committing an improper action,
By thinking that such things arise from conditions
I shall remain in a happy frame of mind.
We hope that you are able to remain calm and peaceful, and recognise that there are so many cause and effect events that we can’t possibly understand.