Guarding the Mind


Review of Chapter 5 verses 16 – 25.

What is concentration? What role does concentration play in our spiritual practice?

What are some of the benefits of guarding the mind?

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6 thoughts on “Guarding the Mind

  1. To try to simplify something rather complex I would say that it does three things for us: Physically speaking, presence can even save our lives by helping us be aware of what is coming at us; mentally, it will eliminate stress because stress dwells either in a non-existent future or a past that we refuse to let go; and spiritually, it will help us to see that we are never separate from the Source–“be still and know that I am God”–psalms 46:10.

  2. Shantideva states that an unguarded mind is unfit for any work, faith alone is not enough. Mind training, disciplining the mind, acting with restraint and conscientiousness are the first steps we must take in order to develop a clear mind. The body passes away and can not be relied upon, we must be diligent and focused on guarding the mind and in introspection (concentration). In verse 22-23 Shantideva states it plainly “Let my possessions freely vanish, let my honor, my body, livelihood and everything else pass away. But may my virtuous mind never be lost. I appeal to those desiring to guard their minds: always diligently guard your mindfulness and introspection.” So, cultivating and guarding the mind are at their root the very essence of dharma practice, without this one can only “uselessly wander in space …” This is how we build a foundation for our spiritual practice.

    • Thanks, Rebecca — well said and a great quote! I agree with you — concentration is necessary to keep us focused on virtue and to prevent us from getting distracted by non-virtue and delusions. If you can concentrate completely on your practice — whether it’s lighting a stick of incense or reciting a prayer, the benefits are much greater than if you do the same action with a weak motivation and unfocused mind.

  3. In thinking about concentration, the first consideration is to cultivate right motivation. If this is not done then the meaning of concentration will be worldly. In a non-worldly sense, concentration would be the ability to stay with proper motivation – the motivation of the altruistic mind and the resulting reasoned abandoning of self-cherishing. The role of concentration is to bring one’s self back to proper motivation. In this way, an undistracted mind means one that is not concerned with worldly gain and composed instead of the altruisitic mind wishing to benefit beings. Practice without concentration would be one that is devoid of meaning. Practice with concentration allows room for conscience as well as proper respect for those who have attained and shown the path to buddhahood.

    The benefits of guarding the mind are to eliminate worldly concerns. If you don’t guard the mind and be watchful and ready to eliminate wrong motivation, than the enemy of self-cherishing will have a way to enter.

    In verses 16-25 there is no direct mention of motivation, but in verse 17 it says “Those who have not cultivated the mind…” this cultivation I am interpreting to mean right motivation. And verse 16 says “…all recitations and austerities, even though performed for a long time, are actually useless if the mind is on something else or is dull”, here “on something else” could mean daydreamiing, thinking about the chores of the day or such, but it can perhaps also mean anything but right motivation being always with recitations and austerities. Like cultivating a field with proper tools and in a proper manner so that the harvest will be one that benefits beings.

    ? In verses 19&20 it says “wounds of the mind”, is this simply any negative emotion?

    • Lisa — great! I agree with you that concentration is critical to ensuring that our daily activities are virtuous by helping us set and maintain a positive motivation for every action of our bodies, speech, and mind.

      Regarding your question, according to Geshe Chonyi’s commentary, “wound of my mind” refers to thinking of the mind as a wound in terms of a vulnerability — susceptible to the diseases of attachment and desire, and aversion. We want to guard the mind to protect it from becoming infected and causing us more suffering. What a powerful analogy — one we can all relate to, it makes me wince just thinking about it!

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