35. To use mindfulness and vigilance to crush emotional reactions
Once reactivity becomes a habit / it’s hard to turn its energy around.
To overpower it without delay, / by wielding mindfulness and vigilance,
The moment a reaction first begins — / attachment or another poison:
This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Verse 35 audio above
36. To use mindfulness and vigilance to benefit others
To sum it up, whatever I am doing, / in all my conduct and my practices,
Through constant mindfulness and vigilance / to monitor the state of mind I’m in,
Directing it to others’ benefit: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Verse 36 audio above. Note that the audio places “constant” in a different position in line 3. The written translation is the updated version.
In these two verses, Tokme Zangpo sums up the bodhisattva path into the partnership of mindfulness and vigilance, and shows us two ways to work with these two qualities to achieve a bodhisattva’s aims. If we reflect on the preceding 34 practices, each and every one of them depends on mindfulness and vigilance, and we develop each practice by stabilizing our mindfulness and vigilance more and more so that they become more and more continuous.
What is meant by mindfulness and vigilance? Last week, Lama Jinzang shared with us the definitions given by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, in his recent teachings on the 37 practices in New York City. I haven’t listened to session 5 yet, in which he teaches these verses, so I will pass along his definition based on my notes from Lama Jinzang’s summary: mindfulness is remembering what is right and what is wrong, and vigilance (aka, alertness) is remaining conscious of what our body, speech, and mind are actually doing, i.e., being aware of whether we are practicing according to our understanding of the dharma — or not.
In his indispensable online Tibetan-English dictionary The Illuminator, Lama Tony Duff defines mindfulness as follows: “In the context of calm abiding, mindfulness holds the mind in place and alertness keeps watch over the situation to ensure that mindfulness is operative.” Off the cushion, mindfulness can be applied in any situation, and vigilance or alertness is also on the job to monitor whether we are being mindful — or distracted, e.g., under the influence of a negative emotion — in any given moment. Lama Tony describes mindfulness and alertness as “necessary co-partners.”
So, then, what are the specific applications of mindfulness and alertness on the bodhisattva path? That is what verses 35 and 36 are here to tell us.