Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shantideva's Vigilance and Confucius' Propriety

Vigilance and Propriety
In his chapter on vigilance Shantideva elucidates time and time again that which in Confucian terms is known as the importance of the practice loyalty to one’s self by acting in propriety: “Those who wish to keep a rule of life must guard their minds in perfect self possession…our fears will come to nothing, every virtue drop into our hands.” This self possession is like Confucian propriety. Propriety is the practice of taming ourselves to act within the appropriate boundaries, within our own frame. Restraining ourselves from acting inappropriately, returning to what it is we should do, avoiding action that may harm our virtue, is the vigilant practice of the superior person. This is self respect within and decorum without. When we act in accord with propriety, we cautiously and vigilantly guard our appropriate boundaries. We maintain and cultivate the energy that is accorded us for the appropriate circumstance. Tethering ourselves within the frame of propriety we maximize our spiritual energy, living in simplicity, growing strong within our space like bamboo grows strong within its joints. This is the same vigilant cultivation Shantideva praises.
In Shantideva’s chapter on vigilance another similarity to Confucius arises. This similarity relates to their style of teaching. Shantideva, like Confucius himself, is moved to give specific instructions, fit to daily life to help aid us in the guarding our minds. Shantideva describes the proper way for the bodhisattva to walk and to rest, the proper demeanor, and the proper way to protect virtue, living in the world among the people for their benefit. This is the essence of propriety’s practice for the superior person as well. The superior person must find their place in the world for the benefit of others in the same way, vigilantly following righteousness for appropriate action. Superior people must practice loyalty to their selves, guarding their minds against anything harmful to their virtue. Both the superior person and the bodhisattva take great care, acting cautiously, continuing to again and again return to the righteous way, to live in propriety.
The superior person sees what is presented to them in their outer life as their destiny from heaven. That is to say that their life situation is as it should be according to the principle of heaven manifest here and now in this very specific way. This specific way is their own frame, their propriety. In this way the superior persons follows propriety, step by step according to the time, without imposing their own desires or preconceptions onto life. The bodhisattva too understands that their life is not theirs to enjoy or despise. The bodhisattva and the superior person accept challenges without complaining. This means that the superior person has no use for judging themselves or others, only for acting to propagate true happiness for others. Thus the superior person acts within their framework of propriety to ensure harmony among those within their sphere of influence. The superior person takes action to correct potentially detrimental behavior but then returns to gentleness and harmony with tact. Shantideva insists that the bodhisattva follow this same gentle way in dealing with others in order to best cultivate their happiness.

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