Polishing the Mind

In Chinese-Buddhist literature, the influential treatise Cheng Wei Shi Lun (成唯識論) contains the following quote, translated in the book Living Yogacara:1

Polishing their minds, the courageous do not waver.

trans. Professor A. Charles Muller

This treatise was written by the famous Chinese monk, Xuanzang (玄奘), whom I talked about recently. From his journeys in India, Xuanzang brought back considerable information and texts to help the Yogacara Buddhism tradition flourish in China, along with many other important Buddhist texts and observations. Upon his return he wrote extensively and translated many works with Imperial support.

The Cheng Wei Shi Lun, is one of the foundational texts for East Asian Yogacara thought including the descendant Hossō school in Japan, and the treatise is quoted multiple times in Living Yogacara.

When I read this passage, I feel it is an encouragement for people who walk the Buddhist path. Life really can bring you down, and when you’re tired and exhausted, it is so easy to want to backslide and wallow in self-pity or take the low-road which is so much easier up front.

However, every action and thought committed “perfumes the mind” in Yogacara-speak, and its important to bear this in mind. There’s no such thing as a free lunch,2 so every deed or intention has its price, and the only way to break free from the constant up and down cycle, the constant upkeep, is to purify the mind once and for all, bit by bit. As the Yogacara school of thought teaches that Enlightenment takes 3 massive eons to complete (literally “three asaṃkhya kalpa”), it’s a gradual process. However, in Buddhism there is a lovely passage from the Immeasurable Life Sutra that I was also contemplating lately:

“At that time the Buddha Lokeshvararaja recognized the Bhiksu Dharmakara’s noble and high aspirations, and taught him as follows: ‘If, for example, one keeps on bailing water out of a great ocean with a pint-measure, one will be able to reach the bottom after many kalpas and then obtain rare treasures. Likewise, if one sincerely, diligently and unceasingly seeks the Way, one will be able to reach one’s destination. What vow is there which cannot be fulfilled?’

Nothing worthwhile in life comes easily, and hence Xuan-Zang’s statement that the courageous do not waver. They have everything to gain in the process.

Namu Amida Butsu

1 Compare to the ancient Dhammapada, verse 183:

The non-doing of any evil, the performance of what’s skillful, the cleansing of one’s own mind: this is the teaching of the Awakened.

2 See Heinlein’s novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. 🙂

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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